In the world of business, there are few forces that are more powerful than a united group of people who passionately believe in creating something great beyond corporate profit.

This collaborative spirit to effect transformative social change and achieve shared values is at the core of the entrepreneurial vision of Fernando Zobel de Ayala, this year’s MAP Management Man of the Year.

In tandem with brother Jaime Augusto, and guided by the mentorship of their father Jaime Zobel (both previous MAP Management Man of the Year winners), Fernando Zobel de Ayala ushered in a new era in the nearly 200-year history of the Ayala group by changing how the conglomerate understands and realizes profit and business gains.

Agents of sustainable change

Ayala is a pioneer in bringing the concepts of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development straight into the boardrooms of top Philippine corporations.

The company’s development arm, Ayala Foundation, operating since the 1960s, is not only one of the first corporate foundations in the Philippines. It is also one of the first to channel significant percentages of profit into developmental concerns, such as inclusive access to quality education, livelihood programs, and the best in Philippine art and culture through the Ayala Museum.

In the 2000s, Ayala companies were among the first in the region to voluntarily subscribe to sustainability reporting. The group was also one of the first large-scale corporate supporters of the government’s public-private partnership programs, resulting into the establishment of business platforms that directly address public-sector challenges.

Their vision and daring enabled the creation of Manila Water, considered by many as one of the most successful privatization programs of a water utility in the world. This same vision is now also transforming Ayala Land — long renowned for high-end property development — into a developer for all income groups, and a staunch supporter of sustainable city planning and sustainable tourism.

In 2016, Ayala became the first Philippine company to create an internal business framework that aligns overall business strategies to Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The company has since become a founding member of the UN Global Compact Network and a significant private-sector contributor to development cooperation channels.

Well-rounded approach

According to the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), they are bestowing their Man of the Year prize on Mr. Zobel not only for steering the Ayala Group into heightened profitability, corporate governance, and overall management excellence.

Beyond the boardroom and bottom line, the MAP is recognizing Mr. Zobel for his active and longstanding involvement in nonprofits and artistic programs. This is evident in his “support and leadership in nation-building organizations, such as Centex (education), Habitat for Humanity (housing), HERO Foundation (fallen soldiers), Caritas (church), Asia Society (culture) and National Museum of the Philippines (arts).”

This well-rounded approach to managerial excellence appears to be the distinguishing mark of Mr. Zobel’s leadership, as he continues to bring the Ayala group into the future by integrating development models and other fresh strategies into traditional business approaches.

“[At Ayala,] we would like to be defined as a business group with a strong commitment to improving the lives of the communities we serve. With our group’s unique attributes in diversity, scale, and brand equity, we believe we can have a meaningful, positive impact on society and our country.”

Secret to Ayala’s success

When asked about the enduring success of the Ayala group, Mr. Zobel reveals that a major factor in the company’s longevity is not business cunning or a complicated mix of entrepreneurial tactics. It is all about nation-building.

“I believe a critical factor in Ayala’s success is the challenge we impose on ourselves to remain relevant not only to our stakeholders, but more importantly to the country,” he said. “We constantly strive to remain dynamic and seek new ways to evolve in line with the development of our country and the people we serve. We develop businesses to participate in the broader national development agenda.”

By merging social and environmental development indicators into managerial results frameworks, the Ayala group has now become a leader in sustainable development in the region.

In recent years, the group continues to surprise many by entering into business lines that appear to be well outside the sphere of the company’s interests. The group, for instance, has recently claimed major stakes in education (University of Nueva Caceres and National Teacher’s College), health care (Generika and FamilyDOC), and transport infrastructure (LRT-1 and Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway), among various other shared-value and socially inclusive business solutions to development problems.

“We would like to be defined as a business group with a strong commitment to improving the lives of the communities we serve. With our group’s unique attributes in diversity, scale, and brand equity, we believe we can have a meaningful, positive impact on society and our country,” he said.

Man of the Year 2018

According to the MAP, the conferment of the MAP Management Man of the Year award follows a thorough and stringent selection process. The prize has been running for around 50 years now and it has only been conferred 42 times to now iconic names in business and government.