Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Book Launching

Last Thursday, November 24, I attended the launching of my professor, Elfren Sicangco Cruz’s first book entitled, “Setting Framework: Family Business and Strategic Management”. It was my first time to be invited to such an event and boy, it was a “star – studded” event. By star – studded, I didn’t mean that showbiz celebrities attended the affair, in fact there was none of them instead I saw some of the biggest name in politics, academe, and business to have grace the event. There was Senator Joker Arroyo, my professor’s boss during the Aquino Administration (my professor is the Presidential Management Staff Secretary and Metropolitan Manila Governor and later on, MMDA Chairman while the good senator was the executive secretary), Supreme Court Justice Adolf Azcuna, who was his colleague during the Aquino Administration, being the President’s Chief Legal Counsel, Secretary Angelo Reyes, a personal friend of my professor, former Manila vice – mayoralty candidate, Dondon Bagatsing, one of his buddies at the Rotary Club. I also happen to see Teresita Ang See and almost all my professors in DLSU – GSB – MBA. Among the business legends to grace the event was Jake Almeda, the former top honco of ABS – CBN, who also happened to be my profesor’s first boss – mentor. Then, there are of course, the most important guests of the evening, me and my fellow graduates of DLSU MBA, his students, the future leaders of corporate Philippines. In fact, one could really say that the entire event was really oriented towards us, his former students for not only we make up the bulk of the attendees but the structure of the book was so familiar to us. I think this is his way to teach us and update us on Strategic Management in out post – graduate life. What can I say, we are his hope, his life work. Professor Elfren Cruz was a student activists/leader in his college days at DLSU during the martial law era. And like many of the middle class intellectuals of his day, he was a communist sympathizer if not a communist himself. Funny but come to think about it now, he is a former communist teaching a capitalist subject. Anyway, he was the type of person who felt so indignant and angry with poverty and the apparent indifference of the ruling elite on their plight. So much so, that he ventured to understand the poor and he did by “living” with a squatter family for a year. I remembered him telling us during the end of the term that he endured all hardship and eventually “learned” to live and adapt to a life in the slum including the smell, the hunger, and the hard work except for one aspect, personal hygiene and sanitation, i.e., he couldn’t get himself to unload his metabolic waste anywhere around the corner but instead he uses the toilet of a nearby cinema. Later on, he went to work for companies and taking up his MBA at AIM and then was recruited to be the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) Secretary of President Aquino. After his stint in government, he went on to teach at DLSU MBA, write a column at BusinessWorld and work as a strategic management consultant to a number of Philippine firms, majority of them Filipino – Chinese family businesses serving as their board chairman or chairman of their management committee. Even with such responsibility, his fervor for the alleviation of poverty among the poor didn’t diminish but somehow I think he realizes that he couldn’t do it alone nor could he do it in his lifetime and which is probably why he teaches. To train future leaders who could carry out his vision of alleviating poverty economically through secure employment by healthy and competitive Philippine companies lead by visionary leaders, a noble goal worthy of praise, support, and emulation. This is why he wrote the book because 90% of Philippine businesses are family businesses and most of them are small to medium scale and probably a number of his students are actually working in family businesses if not owning one. In his experience, strategic planning and management is notably absent in family businesses and few of the businesses survived through the generational shift because of the inability to plan for the future. It so happen also that there is a dearth of books regarding strategic planning in family businesses, more so, in the Philippine setting and in a Filipino – Chinese setting. He wants to share his experience, impart his wisdom, and hopefully, his vision hoping someday we would succeed…. As the night withered away in laughter and exchanging of stories among old friends in business school in the midst of all the finger foods, cocktails, and wine, I can’t help but to keep returning to a part of his speech earlier on. In that part of the speech, my professor offered his gratitude to three of his mentors, Jake Almeda, Macalintal, and Senator Joker Arroyo. He is a lucky man for mentors are hard to come by. There are many teachers of course, people that teaches you skills to survive, to earn a living but there are only a few mentors in life who not only teach you skills, but also taught you how to live, show you a way to the future, and inspire you to move towards it. Very few people could find one but everybody needs one, even geniuses need a mentor, for without mentors, they could never blossom. My professor has 3 and though I’m no genius, I’m lucky to have 2 and my professor is one of them.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

68 More Visits to the Grave………..

There was a slight drizzle this morning greeting the pilgrims to the stone city. It was as if heaven was silently weeping reminding us the solemn occasion. The teardrops from heaven awaken us to the painful and gloomy memories of the past and reminded us also of what future lies ahead, that someday we will be dead and share a space however small in this city of stone. It is in this backdrop that the city of the dead suddenly became bustling with life with the living haunting the dead and breaking the eerie silence. I was one of pilgrims this morning and like everyone else, I came to visit the dead. Visit, what an inappropriate word used to describe the act for as if the dead ever knew or even expect that somebody was coming to see them. The proper term for such act should be to come and pay my respect for the dead. Anyway, like every year, I first visited my father’s grave, lay out the offerings and pay my homage by inserting 4 lighted incense sticks on a small mound of sand in front of his tombstone along with my whispered message. After which, I lay the paper money on top of his grave and hike off to do the same with my grandfather, which happens to be located on the farther end of the stone city. It is actually a very frantic day filled with formulaic rituals and cumbersome ceremonies. In the midst of this frenzy, I actually forgot to “tell” both my grandfather and my father the good news that I graduated from my masters a month ago. I was meaning to “tell” them the Sunday after the graduation but somehow the mundane tasks of living allowed me the excuse to postpone again and again and now I was there and I forgot to “tell” them. Actually, I’d never believe in rituals and ceremonies neither in any religion that supports such. Nevertheless, I still perform the rituals and ceremonies because human beings are such a succor for rituals even if they don’t understand them neither would they care to understand them. As for me, I do understand them, i.e., those rituals and ceremonies. The things we do like offering incense, offering foods, burning paper money, etc., are done to remind us of our departed love ones. Those formulaic acts are devised to institutionalize their past existence into our memories by expressing our love to them however futile and useless it maybe by now. There are not acts of worship as some foreign, close – minded religion suggests because I never view my father as a “god”. He would always be my father. I remember a story my elementary school teacher once relates to me in class. The story begins with a Westerner chiding a Chinese for preparing an elaborate banquet as an offering to the dead saying that the dead wouldn’t rise up to eat the foods being offered to them and to which the Chinese shot back, neither would your dead rise up to smell the flowers you put in their grave. The point of this little anecdote is that the acts and rituals we do aren’t meant for the dead. It is actually a way we comfort ourselves of their “missing” presence. It is a way we try to remember them amidst a fading memory. And what better way to remember our departed love ones than to labor on their favorite dishes and offer it to them? As for the other rituals and ceremonies, though their origins has religious connotations, I still performs them even though I don’t believe in them anymore. My reason is simple. Why should I forsake a cultural tradition that I’m familiar with in favor of a tradition that is totally alien to me? Wasn’t it the thought that counts rather than the action? If it is so, why the insistence? My mother once told me a long time ago, that she wanted to be “worshipped” like her ancestors before by the time she pass away (She is still very much alive). It is then I realize the essence of perpetuating “old” traditions. “Old” traditions are an assurance that the living will be remembered when they’re gone. It is when traditions are passed from one generation to the next that that assurance will be affirmed. This brings me to another question. How do I want to be remembered? Looking around, I’d only found tombstone with pictures and names written along with their date of birth and their date of death and nothing else. These dead lived their entire life and what do they have to show for? A blank tablet. Was this tablet enough a description of their existence? Is that will be my epitaph? “Here lies Mr. XXXXXX, born XXXX, died XXXX”. It is so short and so unfair and so unjust but an inescapable fact except for a kindred few. History immortalizes the memories of these exceptional few. They are rare because their exploits are also rare. It is as if they are the only ones living in their times while the silent many were simply nothing or didn’t exist. Funny, but wasn’t that silent many that remembers the exceptional few? Or perhaps, I’m looking at the wrong signs. It is not the epitaph that perpetuates memory rather it is the number of incense sticks that protrude from the sacred ground. It is the offspring that comes every year to offer food and incense that perpetuates the memory of that person, proving that once he or she existed and that although he or she didn’t do great feats worthy of historical records, he or she will be remembered nonetheless because he or she was their love ones. As I was engrossed with this thought, I began counting. I’m now 31. The average Filipino male lived up to 65 and for a Chinese, we visit the dead twice a year, one on November 1 and the other during the Ching Ming, that means I had 68 more “visits” to go before it would be my time to lie on the ground 6 feet under. Plenty of time to live, to build an edifice, and to raise a family to pass on the tradition and hence, be remembered for.