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Manny V. Pangilinan: The MVP of Filipino sports and business

In the Philippine business landscape, Manuel V. Pangilinan, more popularly known as MVP, is one of the most respected, influential and powerful people. At 73, he’s still at the helm of some of the largest companies in the country today, which, amid tremendous social, economic and technological changes, continue to prosper and make immense contributions to the economy.

To say he’s come a long way may be an understatement. “I grew up in Little Baguio, San Juan. Our house stood right on the boundary of a squatter settlement. From my bedroom window, I could see, smell, and feel the lives of the poor, and see its face,” he told graduates of The Manila Tytana Colleges in 2017. His father was a messenger at a bank and his mother was a housewife.

He said that during his elementary and high school years, his daily allowance was only 25 cents. He went to Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) to pursue a college degree and afterward wanted to study for an MBA in the US. But because he knew his parents couldn’t afford to fund his studies abroad, he joined a competition by a consumer goods company and won the prize — a scholarship to The Wharton’s School of the University of Pennsylvania.

After working for several years here and believing that he was “young enough to make mistakes, to be independent and accountable to myself and my career,” Mr. Pangilinan went to Hong Kong. “I knew that if I waited any longer, I’d be too afraid to take risks. I formed First Pacific in 1981 starting from a rented space — 50 square meters, no bigger than your typical classroom — with a team of only six people using modest start-up capital,” he said.

Now, First Pacific Company Ltd., which is still based in Hong Kong, is a large investment management and holding company with operations in several Asia-Pacific countries, including the Philippines. Its principal business investments are in consumer food products, infrastructure, natural resources, and telecommunications. In 2018, it had a turnover of $7.74 billion, up 6% from $7.3 billion in 2017. Its profit for the year grew 8% from $608.7 million from $561.3 million. Last year, the company employed 110,394 people.

In First Pacific’s 2018 annual report, Mr. Pangilinan, who is the company’s managing director and chief executive officer, said: “The renewed focus on our core businesses is observing results. PLDT, the biggest telecommunications company in the Philippines, is seeing growth in subscriber numbers and telco earnings as a direct consequence of a multibillion-dollar multi-year capital expenditures program that has seen the buildout of the best and most sophisticated telecommunications network in the country. This company can now look ahead to perhaps its best years yet.”

PLDT, Inc., of which Mr. Pangilinan is the chairman, president and chief executive officer, earned revenues of P164.75 billion in 2018, which was a 3% jump from 2017’s P159.93 billion. The net income of the company for the year rose a remarkable 41% from P13.47 billion to P18.97 billion. In the company’s 2018 annual report, Mr. Pangilinan described last year as a “breakout” one for PLDT. “In 2018, after sustained efforts over the past three years, PLDT has put its overall business firmly back on the growth path. We are now better positioned to pursue a higher level of growth even as we gear up for a new wave of digital innovation that will be unleashed by new technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and the Internet of things (IoT),” he said.

Meanwhile, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), an investment management and holding company of First Pacific that operates in the country, also had a great 2018. Mr. Pangilinan said in First Pacific’s report, “MPIC continues to grow in its 10th year of ever-stronger earnings thanks to the fruits of large and focused spending on building out its capacity to deliver more electricity, more road traffic and more water to the consumers living in the service areas of its largest investments. MPIC’s hospitals business is now up to 14 such institutions and continues to seek new investments around the Philippines while smaller investments in light rail and logistics continue to invest for growth.”

MPIC has varying interests in Manila Electric Company or Meralco, the largest electricity distribution company in the Philippines; Global Business Power Corp., a leading energy company in Visayas; Maynilad Water Services, Inc., which provides clean water and wastewater services to the west zone of the greater Metro Manila area; Metro Pacific Water, which focuses on water projects outside of Metro Manila; Metro Pacific Tollways Corp., which operates and maintains hundreds of kilometers of expressway across several major Philippine toll road systems; Light Rail Manila Corp., which operates and maintains the Manila Light Rail Transit System Line 1; and Metro Pacific Hospital Holdings, Inc., the largest hospital operator in the Philippines. In 2018, MPIC’s revenues reached P83.03 billion, up 33% from P62.51 billion in 2017, while its core income increased 7% to P15.06 billion from P14.1 billion.

Meanwhile, Philex Mining Corp. of First Pacific, which is primarily engaged in the exploration and mining mineral resources, is, according to Mr. Pangilinan, “turning its focus to development of the Silangan project in the south of the Philippines while PXP seeks to capitalize on potential cooperation between the Chinese and Philippine governments in development of energy assets.” PXP Energy Corp. is an upstream oil and gas company.

In the graduation ceremony he graced in 2017, Mr. Pangilinan recalled another commencement speech he gave to graduates of his alma mater, ADMU. “I found myself talking about my past and the young graduates’ future. And I let them in on the greatest secret of all — that when it comes to success, there are no secrets, no magic, no mystery,” he said. “I told them that success springs from old-fashioned values — values as fundamental as being honest and truthful — with yourself and with others. And so is being diligent, hard-working and disciplined.” He continued, “But most of all, success is about passion — passion to succeed, passion for excellence, passion to compete.”