Ateneo Graduate School of Business and Ateneo School of Government Commencement Speech
August 31, 2012
Who were the commencement speakers for the Ateneo Graduate School of Business for the last four or five years? They have been members of the Society of Jesus and Presidents or past Presidents of the University in the persons of Fathers Villarin, Nebres and Bernas and someone who is as Jesuit as anyone can be without being formally professed, in the person of Dr. Alfredo “Alran” Bengzon. They are all men steeped in the mission and tradition of the Jesuit educational apostolate.
This year, your Dean, Dr. Albert Buenviaje, told me he thought of choosing someone from outside the academe, someone from the business world, to address you. I was not quick-witted enough to say, “Hey, I am retired! No longer qualified!” I have not been in active management for the last nine years.
I have spent most of my working life in banking and finance, I joined the Executive Training Program of the then First National City Bank in 1963 then rose to various positions. I assumed the President’s position at Philippine Bank of Communications in 1974. I was also Chair at China Bank, President at Philbank and AsianBank and finally, for 18 months Chairman and CEO of United Coconut Planters Bank ending in August 2003. Bankers are usually not very well liked. Those of you who are familiar with the financial district of San Francisco would know about a huge black granite monument in front of the former Bank of America Headquarters. People say it represented the black heart of a banker, mercilessly squeezing every cent out of every client.
It is good that my friends and clients through the years do not consider me to be like that. There is basis for a nicer me. Some 50 years ago, like most of you, I, too, was a working student. Today, I think we call it continuing education or education in the work place. Mas maganda yata pakinggan. I spent about two or more years at what was then known as the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and Economics at Padre Faura. I completed most of the course requirements but, unlike you, I did not have the fortitude to write the required thesis. But I will assert that those were time and effort well spent. We had excellent professors, as I am sure you do have, and I truly learned from them. I owe them for what I have achieved in my business career. You see, I started college with a desire to be a Physician, enrolling for A.B. Pre-Medicine; then when I discovered that I disliked dissecting a cat and would dislike even more dissecting a human cadaver, I wanted to be a chemical scientist. But I did not believe there was much opportunity for such in our country. Then, I decided it was time to get a job and take business studies in the evenings.
After some 40 years of active management of organizations, I finally “retired” in 2003. I never defined “retirement” as playing golf everyday or planting flowers and vegetables in some little farm or lying around the beach the whole day. To me retirement meant no longer being responsible for the day-by-day management of organizations but still remaining involved both on the boards of business organizations as well as civil society organizations. I purposely maintained my membership in the Management Association of the Philippines to remain in touch with happenings in business and with former colleagues. Today, I sit on some one dozen boards—some for profit organizations; both listed and unlisted; some not for profit, including the Board of Trustees of our beloved University where we get no compensation. We do get very precious tickets to UAAP Basketball games!
What message then can I give the Class of 2012 of the Ateneo de Manila University Graduate School of Business and the School of Government? I notice that we are conferring Masteral degrees on more than 400 of you who are engaged in varied fields: health, information technology, entrepreneurship, government service and management in general. The common denominator is that you are not just “coming down from the hill” but you are already immersed in God’s world. What can I tell you that will help you succeed in putting your experience at the Ateneo to good use? Success was my goal. I am sure it is yours, too.
I am a simple person. I would like to dwell on the familiar—something that you must have heard again and again. I would like to recall for you and reflect with you a sentence in the Vision and Mission statement of the AGSB, which I am sure the ASOG also shares:
“We believe that expertise without integrity is empty, integrity without expertise is ineffectual, and expertise and integrity without service is irrelevant.”
In sum, this is what you and your faculty and counselors have been working on for
the last few years. Today, we recognize you have arrived. Certainly, you have improved your knowledge and skills or you would not have persevered. In the process, we believe you have imbibed Ignatian Spirituality to reinforce your commitment to unquestioned integrity in the service of God, your family, the country and your fellowmen.
Like you, my studies at the then Graduate School of Business and Economics prepared me well for the increasing responsibilities I assumed.
But integrity is not something we learned only at school. Our training for honesty and truthfulness started at home. We learned from the examples of our parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents and other relatives. Hopefully, this has been reinforced with the Ignatian Spirit of magis – doing more. Throughout our lives, we will be challenged in the area of integrity. In Citibank, when we were hired, in addition to all the employment forms, we signed off to acknowledge that we had received the Company’s statement on conflicts of interest. Very simply, we were told that if for any reason we could not make an unbiased decision on a matter before us, we should declare such conflict and let someone, usually higher than us, make the decision. Others were we should not allow ourselves to be entertained or receive gifts from anyone, unless we could reciprocate and get reimbursement from the bank. Nobody told you outright, “Here’s P500,000. Please approve this for me”. Once, someone who controlled an oil exploration firm was then offering shares for subscription at P0.01 each. “Eddie”, he said, “The shares of XXX are now trading at P0.03 per share. I can let you subscribe to 5 Million shares. You have to pay only 25% or P12,500 only and you can turn around and sell it immediately”. I would have made P100,000! P100,000 then would be equivalent to P1Mn today! I told him I would place myself in potential conflict of interest since he was a client of the bank. He argued there was no conflict since he was not borrowing from the bank. I had to flatly say “no”.
Years later, in another bank after the Board had approved lines for a certain company, the President and majority owner of the Company invited me for a drink. He thanked me for the approval of the credit facilities. Then, he said, “I have to have the mortgaged assets insured and I do not know any insurance company. Maybe, you or your relatives may be agents for some insurance company and I can get the insurance through you”. I politely said, “no” and politely told him he can choose any insurance company from a list that the bank had approved. Maybe these two gentlemen really sincerely wanted to help me and did not want anything in return. But I chose not to risk being put on the spot in the future. Your reputation for either proper or improper conduct spreads. There are very little “secrets” that remain secret for long. Maintaining a reputation for honesty will give you much reward as you move up in your career or business. Permit me to say that my having been invited to join the boards of many companies, and heading audit committees of the boards, have not been due to so much talent that I bring to the organizations but I believe more because they believe I can be trusted.
Two major financial scandals have recently been reported. The first involved a major New York bank, where the CEO reported that the office of the Chief Investment Officer incurred an unreported loss of some US$2B, which later grew some more. But there was no apparent determination of criminal liability, simply that the officer has resigned and has forgone his or her bonuses. Is that enough? To me what was wrong was not to have made the wrong decision and lost; the greater fault is to have concealed the loss. But probably the same officer made a lot of money for the bank in the past and the loss of employment was deemed sufficient punishment. The other scandal involved the alleged manipulation of what is known as the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (or LIBOR Rate). This rate is based on quotes not on done transactions. But LIBOR is used as reference rate in many transactions among financial institutions and between financial institutions and their clients. It seems banks and/or bankers submitted false quotes and in the process probably made bigger spreads. This case is still under investigation. I mention these only to show that given the pressure to make money in a difficult environment, ethical standards are easily forgotten. The players in this situation did not see themselves as having cheated someone with a face they knew. They were dealing with a faceless market and did not care who got hurt.
You and I know that the other ingredient for success is none other than hard work and hard work. There is no substitute for it. Early in my career, in a management seminar conducted by a management guru, Dr. Anacleto del Rosario, I learned ten little mono-syllabic words that I have not forgotten up to today, “If it is to be, it is up to me!” Reflect on this often, especially when you are feeling low. Whatever you achieve in life, whatever you become, it is really up to you. Then you may asked, “what about God’s help?” Are we not told, “Pray as if everything depended on God, and work as if everything depended on us”.
Your reputation for hard work also spreads through the community. Head hunters are able to check you out. I remember an incident early in my presidency of Philippine Bank of Communications, when an officer of a US correspondent bank came to pay a courtesy call on me, as we shook hands, he said, “I have been waiting to meet the bank president who works from seven to seven”. He said my work habit is talked about among New York bankers who visit the region. I come to work early to get my paper work done, as during banking hours, clients always drop by. We had a client in the copra/coconut oil industry who dropped by for a cup of coffee at 9 and stayed 15 minutes every morning. He maintained millions in his company’s checking account! In the evening, I left at 7 to avoid the 5 o’clock rush.
Why do we want to work hard? Personal satisfaction? To enhance our own self-worth? To know that we have made good use of the talents God has blessed us with and the expertise we have acquired? That’ s a proper reason. Then comes service. At home, we try to improve the lives of our children and sometimes grandchildren. In the workplace, we determine to be fair to those who work with us and give them the best opportunity to improve themselves. I have always considered this an obligation. If the companies I worked with in my early days did not do this for me, I would not have developed as I have. Then, it is my turn to do the same for others. As we grow in responsibility, we are later able to contribute to helping our poorer countrymen enjoy a better life through the implementation of corporate social programs.
Let me end my long-winded story by going back to what I quoted in the beginning:
“We believe expertise without integrity is empty, integrity without expertise is ineffectual, and expertise and integrity without service is irrelevant.”
Let us go forth and become relevant citizens of our country. I hope some 10 or more years from now, you will have the opportunity to reflect and say the message I received at graduation has helped me move forward – has helped me to be a better person. Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
– Mr. Edward Go