Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lost in transition

We need continuity, not an overhaul.

I attended a dinner party Friday night, organized to kick off the retirement of Mr. Remy Tigulo, president of SB Capital Investment Corporation. It was a good evening of re-connecting with former colleagues and friends.

I spent a considerably long period of my professional life, prior to joining the print media, in the investment banking arm of Security Bank. Although my degree was in English literature, I was employed by SB Equities (member of the Philippine Stock Exchange) as part of its research team a few months after my graduation. My job was to write economic and stock information and analysis in a way that was more understandable and less intimidating to ordinary investors. I moved to SB Capital, which owned the brokerage, as an offshoot of the 1997 financial crisis. There I was assigned to its planning and research group – which functioned directly under the Office of the President.

My colleagues, many of whom were in my age group, and I were exposed to Mr. Tigulo's rigorous – and sometimes unforgiving – work ethic. His leadership compelled you to always be on your toes. He demanded excellence in big and little things alike. He was not the easiest boss to have around; a message from his secretary that he wanted you in his office occasioned something akin to dread.

In hindsight, Mr. Tigulo gave me my first lessons in professional excellence. Of course I did not see it as such at that time. Then, I was a young mother who lived so far away from the office. I had plenty of excuses. But at some point you have to stop making excuses and start getting the job done. I resigned after two and a half years when I was pregnant with my daughter Sophie. The company was generous enough to invite me to return a few years later to take the place of my former immediate boss in research, Roque Fortu, who had gone to Australia.

I arrived at the party in time to hear our former boss making his speech, reminding me at once of staff meetings we used to have every Monday morning. Mr. Tigulo had turned 70 in December but stayed on for the first five months of the year to see through some loose ends for the company. Now he said he was retiring to pursue an “apostolic mission” -- he would take care of his grandchildren. His wife, ever pleasant and unassuming, smiled from one of the tables. She later on told me her husband was better at putting babies to sleep than she was.

Leah Aguilar, who served as assistant vice president for administration and finance and who is now with SB Cards, spoke for everybody when she said that Tigulo's influence in our attitude towards work stayed with us even as were already with other organizations.

Mylet Gonzalez said that in the 13 years she spent as Tigulo's secretary, she could hardly remember a time when he asked her to do personal errands for him. Most bosses would tend to blur the line between personal and professional chores especially when they have been accustomed to their secretaries sorting the mundane details of their lives for them. The firm delineations probably came from Tigulo's military background. He was a member of the 1962 class of the Philippine Military Academy and, prior to joining the business sector, was a general of the Armed Forces.

One marvels at how things stayed the same and how they have changed through the years. Marvin Matias, who worked with me in research at the time when he was juggling his job with his MBA studies, is now performing core business functions. That evening he sported a yellow baller with his business get-up and regaled me with stories of his involvement in the previous campaign. Monina Ojacastro and Kaye Consolacion provided excellent staff support as always – and Kaye was quick to post the pictures on Facebook, besides.

I was glad to see executive vice president Conrado Gloria as groovy and game as before. You tend to forget how serious Mr. Gloria could be with work until you see him in action. That evening, he was gushing about his Amazon Kindle, telling us how he rarely went anywhere without it. Eden Dizon, who used to be vice president for investment banking and who is now with the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp's examination group, was surprised to see my 14-year-old son Josh (who chaperoned me that evening) in a long-sleeved shirt, already taller than I was. She remembered him as a kid who ran around everywhere when I brought him at Christmas or during summer outings. Ron Batac, who is now with Citibank, suggested another gathering for former employees.

Work was hard in those days but we remember our days in the company most for our lunch outs, after-office movies, videoke nights, and Christmas parties complete with dance numbers from employees who rehearsed not for a competition but for plain fun. Two of my former colleagues, who unfortunately were not able to come that evening, became Sophie's godmothers.

The announcement of the replacement for Tigulo, who served as president since the start of the company's operations in 1995, will be made soon. I am sure the succession will be executed well and will start another good period in the investment house's history. That night, present and former employees were simply happy to be re-united. And to Mr. Tigulo, enjoy your well deserved retirement, sir.

**

I have been wanting to write about transition efforts from the outgoing to the incoming administration for the longest time, but there does not seem to be enough information – and insight -- from anybody from either side. Whether the “mystery” is deliberate is another matter altogether.

This much we know: Administrative Order 285 issued the day before the elections created the Presidential Transition Cooperation Team and the Agency Transition Cooperation Team.

The first team is responsible for the “overall implementation, coordination and supervision of the entire transition blueprint,” providing sort of a macro-view to the transition process. The second team is agency-based. A transition planning session was supposed to have transpired on May 21 and 22.

Unfortunately, outside of assurances that we will have a “seamless transition” from the Arroyo to the Aquino administration, the public gets no details whatsoever on what should be expected and what is actually going on.

Lawyer Edwin Lacierda, spokesman of Senator Benigno Aquino III, offered profuse apologies at not being able to help link me up with anybody from their transition team. “Nobody is authorized to talk about the transition team yet,” his text message read, although he did assure me that its composition had been determined. “We are still waiting for [Senator Aquino's] go.”

Frustrating, really. We had hoped for a more transparent conduct of affairs, especially since the Aquino campaign grounded itself on the principles of transparency and accountability.

The incoming administration's initial steps certainly don't give the impression of seamlessness. If we are to go by what we see, Mr. Aquino seems hell bent on dismantling anything identified with Mrs. Arroyo, good or bad. For instance, I wonder how much thought Mr. Aquino is giving to the advice to retain some performing members of the Arroyo Cabinet.

What the public doesn't want to see are recycled faces with their fair share of baggages and the same promotion-by-association philosophy. The promise of change may have catapulted Mr. Aquino to the top spot. Now we will be watching these first appointments as these will be the first indications of whether he was sincere in his promises in the first place.

We are also awaiting Aquino's plans in dealing with the systemic and overwhelming corruption at all levels of the bureaucracy. Mr. Aquino may have promised not to be corrupt – but will he be helpless before all the corruption that has always been there?

Precisely because Mr. Aquino is not the anointed one of the outgoing Mrs. Arroyo (indeed he may be its nemesis), it is a stretch of the imagination to say that the transition will be smooth. But we hope that Aquino will not be as ill-advised as to effect an overhaul. The good projects and the deserving people have to stay on course. The fact that the economy grew at a surprisingly strong 7.3 percent in the first quarter, among other indicators, means something is being done right somewhere.

Sure, the inadequate, excessive or misdirected initiatives have to be fixed. But Aquino should show the millions of Filipinos who voted for him, and more so the others who did not, that his decisions will not be determined by spite. Or else, much will be lost, all the goodwill and the great expectations will amount to nothing, and the country will remain adrift for the next six years.

No comments: