What A Cracking Ice Floe Taught Victor Consunji About Business
Most people’s epiphanies happen in a slightly less dramatic way than Victor Consunji’s, which sounds more like a scene from a Jason Bourne film than your typical ‘Ah-ha moment’. The property developer, construction heir and Filipino mega-athlete spent 48 hours stranded on a cracking ice floe on the North Pole in 2016, unsure if he would survive to see his family again. Unsurprisingly, it changed his outlook on life.
“Getting to the North Pole was straight-forward enough,” he says, breezily on the phone from Manila, describing his icy marathon. “I did a GPS reading, laced up my boots and set off. But there are a few major problems you face: the first is the actual running. When the temperature outside is -40°C, you are trying to keep warm, but equally you know you can’t sweat, as that ends with you looking like a popsicle and most likely getting hypothermia. Then there are the bears. But most of all is the fact the North Pole is made of floating ice.”
Consunji—who is the only Filipino to have run a marathon on all seven continents—had taken 10 days out of his schedule to sprint towards the earth’s northernmost point. But on his way home, he found himself trapped on some particularly unstable ice.
“The year I did it, the ice was particularly thin, and you suddenly realise that one wrong move can obliterate your chances of getting back to civilisation,” he continues. “There is nothing like feeling the ice cracking below your feet to put your problems back home into perspective. Most issues really are surmountable—but Mother Nature? That's a different story.”
Twenty years ago those same ice floes would have been up to five metres deep. But climate change has thinned them considerably—and personally experiencing the dramatic changes that have occurred in the Arctic turned Consunji one of the most environmentally conscious property developers in the Philippines.
“Sitting on floating ice in a tent hoping for the best definitely makes you confront the reality of climate change and the fact that the ice caps really are melting,” he says. “We now try to be as environmentally friendly as possible—and make all our structures carbon neutral. We cut back on wood, use energy saving light bulbs, and have high ceilings for air ventilation. All the materials we use are carbon friendly."
“But equally, we all have to be realistic about the fact climate change is coming,” he continues. “When we build, we are conscious of the fact that the buyers of today will want to pass on these homes to the next generation, and that the world then may be 5°C hotter, and that these apartments will have to withstand that.”
Consunji has business acumen in his blood. Born in the Philippines and brought up in the US, he is the grandson of the renowned David Mendoza Consunji—the chairman of mega construction company DMCI Holdings and a former government minister. When Victor was a graduate, he could have stayed in the US, or joined the family firm, but he decided he wanted to work on home turf and set up his own property company, which later became the Victor Consunji Development Corporation.
“A lot of people don’t understand why I went off on my own,” he says of his eponymous business, which focuses on building homes for the expanding middle classes. “When I mention my company versus the family company [which focuses on industrial construction], everyone assumes it’s one group, but it’s separate. The family company was very established, and I wanted to bring something new to table. It felt like I had to venture out and break into a new industry, which is why I focused on a higher-end housing market."
Today, the married father of one sits as DMCI’s director. As such, he is able to continue his grandfather’s legacy while building his own. "What is great is that my success now feels personal," he says. "So I am happy to work with my family. As a director of the family company, I feel like I can credibly bring my experiences and points of view in a way that I couldn’t have if I’d never launched my own business.”
My success now feels personal, so I am happy to work with my family. As a director of the family company, I feel like I can credibly bring my experiences and points of view in a way that I couldn’t have if I’d never launched my own business
— Victor Consunji
He enjoys the human element of his work in particular, and the fact that through his development, he is enhancing lives and creating memories. “I literally build neighbourhoods for people who are buying their first or second home,” he says. “Here in the Philippines, real estate prices are astronomical. Aside from the high price people pay, is the fact they often end up with very small spaces or are stuck in a very distant location. We want to give people good-quality homes, with enough space for a growing family, that are close enough to the CBD, so they won’t lose hours of their day commuting in and out.”
And while his houses aren't cheap, they are built to endure—and, more importantly, pass on to the next generation. “I often say, you need to spend money on three things," he says. "Good homes, good pillows and good shoes, as you’re always in or on one of them.”
As an Arctic explorer who pushed himself to breaking point on all seven continents, his advice is probably worth taking.