BOSSES of some of the country’s conglomerates believe that businesses “can do more” to improve lives as they scour the fast-growing general economy for opportunities.

Fernando Zobel
Ayala Corp. (AC) President and Chief Operating Officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala delivers his speech at the SharePHIL annual summit on Aug. 31, 2017 at the Dusit Thani Manila — Photo by Arra B. Francia via Twitter

Speaking in a panel discussion during the Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines’ (SharePHIL) annual summit — themed “Creating and sustaining value through principled corporate stewardship” — at the Dusit Thani Manila hotel in Makati City, Ayala Corp. (AC) President and Chief Operating Officer Fernando Zobel de Ayala said businesses “can be involved in basic services whether it’s water, whether it’s rail.”

“And I do think the private sector can play a very important role in getting many of these things to solve problems in our country. I wish we can do more, business groups can do more,” he said.

“Just by having social conscience, doing things correctly and properly and just… [bringing] these services to the larger segment of the population for profit, for a modest profit, then all of a sudden the scale with which we do things is so much larger. And I think that’s what’s important.”

He cited his group’s partnership with Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) for the rehabilitation of the Light Rail Transit Line 1 (LRT 1).

“We’re involved with Joey (MPIC President and Chief Executive Officer Jose Ma. K. Lim) with the LRT 1… In one year there has already been a dramatic difference and I hope anyone who uses of the LRT 1 will agree,” the Ayala president said.

“What I’m saying is when you get the private sector to get involved with key problems in our country, we get to do something.”

Mr. Lim, for his part, noted that “there are people in government who listen to the private sector.”

“It is a question of getting your message across to them. You have to convince them that the solution that you have or the proposal that you have is something that benefits the people,” Mr. Lim said.

“I find that in today’s environment with this administration, the openness of the economic team has improved much compared to the previous administrations,” he added.

“So I think there is a role, that there is a way that the private sector can influence the government and change their thinking. So you have to be patient and find ways to educate them.”

AC Chairman and CEO Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, meanwhile, said there are certain institutions that can especially benefit from private sector participation, particularly citing education.

“I think there’s a role for the private sector to play in the development of this country… There are really institutions in the public sphere that perhaps the private sector can contribute to,” the Ayala chairman said.

The Ayala group currently has an education arm — Ayala Education, Inc. — which controls the University of Nueva Caceres in Naga City and runs the Affordable Private Education Center (APEC) Schools.

“We started to ask ourselves, ‘What’s missing?’ ‘Why aren’t we training more people at school to be employable as soon as they leave high school?’” the Ayala president said.

“They’ll go to college at some point, but at a particular time that we were looking at that, what is it we need to do in the high school system that could train people so that more of them would get employed?” he recalled.

“That’s when we began to be involved in the APEC schools.”

This sense of giving back is an attitude the Ayalas have been ingraining in their group’s younger generation of leaders.

“Our group has also a commitment to nation-building, which strives to align our business objectives to the broader development agenda of the country,” the Ayala chairman said in his keynote speech.

“The reason here is because it has become clear to us that businesses cannot operate in a vacuum.”

The group’s new generation of leaders are also schooled on the difference between stewardship and mere ownership, as well as the importance of a strong work ethic.

Asked if the Ayala group will ever see someone from outside the family sit at the helm of the 183-year-old conglomerate, the company’s chairman replied: “There has to be a mechanism to select the next generation [of leaders in the conglomerate],” adding that their “value will be based on merit, fairness and it will be put under discussion.” — A. B. Francia