How Cultural Heritage Influences These Filipino Leaders
Gone are the days of the underdog. Filipinos have won many a battle in the boxing ring, the Broadway stage, and the technopreneurial field. The truth is that the case for the Philippines’ third world disadvantage has been overcome, what with our knack for innovation (or life hacks, essentially). More than that, it seems our cultural values have contributed to the last few decades’ display of Filipinos steadily claiming their spaces in unknown territories.
In the face of historical obstacles and foreign competition, Filipino leadership has shone through, guiding our countrymen in their ventures throughout the world. The achievements of Anne Arcenas-Gonzalez, Jacques Christophe Branellec, Christian Gonzalez, and Richard Heydarian, exhibit the most universal aspects of our cultural code when we do business in distant lands.
“The most trying challenge, I believe, is not the competition per se but rather making people in far flung places understand that a Filipino company can be, and is, a leader in its field,” says Christian Gonzalez, senior VP and Head of Asia Pacific Region for International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI). As one of five of the world’s major maritime terminal operators, the three-decade-old ICTSI has established ports from Laguna to Papua New Guinea, and most recently laid an investment in Iraq. “Unfortunately, and quite surprisingly for this day and age,” he continues, “there is still a perception that you need to be from an OECD [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development] country or be a State-owned enterprise to be a global leader. We have worked very hard to break through this stereotype and have been able to achieve this by sticking to our commitments regardless of the challenges we face in environments that even our biggest competitors avoid.”
Indeed, this stereotype has prevented many Filipinos before, but forging their own paths have made the road less travelled become a friendlier place for kababayans [countrymen] to tread. Jacques Christophe Branellec, EVP and Deputy CEO of Jewelmer Joaillerie, known for the celebrated South Sea Golden Pearl only found in Palawan, for example, shares, “When we meet with clients based abroad, sometimes we are the first point of contact they’ve ever had with the country. It was very important to show that the Filipino can, not only match, but exceed the quality demanded at such a high level.” In the business of jewellery especially, Jacques has entered markets with audiences far more mature, but his steadfast determination to produce only the best has allowed Jewelmer to embody the culture and move forward. “We are deeply proud of bringing the Jewelmer brand to Mitsukoshi, Japan,” cites Jacques, “Having produced pearls for decades, Japan represents the pinnacle of pearl jewellery. To introduce our brand to that global stage is truly an honour and a humbling experience.”
For her part, Anne Arcenas-Gonzalez— president of Terry S.A., which started as the distributor of Havaianas before growing its portfolio of retail brands, including locally- made CommonThread, says, “Passion and integrity are universal values that we embrace. Oftentimes our team goes over and above what is expected. There is genuine ownership and pride in the work that we do. We try to build a culture that encourages everyone to uphold their convictions and character.”
“Conviction,” Richard Heydarian would agree is essential not only in success, but in knowing “the more stable and sturdy core that constitutes our souls... Personal success has a lot to do with psychological self-confidence and internal strength.” The internationally-published author, political analyst, and academician continues, “The same is true for national development. I think our biggest challenge is that we are yet to establish a robust national identity, helping us to come together in moments of crisis and move forward as a nation in an increasingly competitive and chaotic global system.”
Even with the world for the taking, global domination doesn’t seem to be on the agenda of these frontiersmen (and woman). Their vantage points from across different sectors of international trade and policy lends them unique insight into pursuing objectives that benefit many over the few. “The spirit of bayanihan is a Filipino value that is strong in our organisation,” says Anne, “Everyone is very collaborative and eager to mentor and guide one another. We appreciate a common goal and the need to support one another to achieve it.”
In Christian’s dealings, he would agree. “Filipinos have extremely strong cultural empathy. I would like to think that we would never have been able to succeed across such a varied portfolio of countries (across six continents) without embodying this very strong Filipino value,” he says. “We have to remember that we are guests in the places we choose to operate and adapting to local cultures and customs is number one on the list of things that determine success.”
A student of logic, Richard presents an anti-thesis: “I know this will sound controversial, but my hunch is our strength—openness to other cultures—is arguably also our biggest weakness, since it tends to deprive us of a chance and the will to develop a distinct identity of our own.” The author of The Rise of Duterte: A Populist Revolt Against Elite Democracy, Richard feels like it is his job to recognise these nuances and, in so doing, inform fellow Filipinos of challenges that lay yet ahead.
In all honesty, success cannot be achieved alone. It takes a village to make something happen. We are, at our cores, a tribe: families, neighbours, and countrymen building upon the work of generations before them in order to produce a sense of nation.