“People come first” by Vincent O. Abella (September 19, 2011)

SUITS THE C-SUITE By Vincent O. Abella
Business World (09/19/2011)

Ours is not the only company to claim that people are our greatest asset.

Essentially, every organization would attribute much of its success to its employees because, quite simply, without people who would do most of the work?

However, in SGV we have, over time, proven that our people are among the best of the best — either in the past or present (and I dare say, in the future).

Since 1946, we have had some 32,000 men and women go through our doors. These alumni underwent the legendary SGV training and have carved names for themselves in business, government or in their own enterprises. There are those who have taken advantage of SGV scholarships to graduate schools where they acquire degrees to boost their skills and qualifications. There is, in fact, a saying within the firm that SGV is run as an institution of continuous learning.

On the 65th anniversary of SGV this year, we have taken a collective pause to reassess how we do things and to reflect on what we have done right. The natural inclination is to keep what works. But what worked in the past may not necessarily be effective in the 21st century.

In a previous article in this column, I had described the traits of a Generation Y (or Gen Y) employee: highly mobile, concerned with more altruistic issues like life-work balance or the environment, has shorter-term life and career goals.

The median age of SGV staff members is 25. How, then, do we keep this group happy?

We listened to our people and addressed their concerns. You can say that it boiled down to the basic needs of shelter, food, health and relaxation.

Let me explain.

One of the major concerns of our new hires is the matter of housing. This is especially true for those who come from the provinces and have to find accommodations in boarding houses. Renting even a bed space in Makati can be very expensive, but living far from the office can mean long commutes and tardiness. To address this concern, SGV invested in converting a small building in Makati into a temporary dorm for its new employees while they transition and adjust to city life.

We also noted an increase in our staff members’ cholesterol levels… and that meant our cafeteria needed to review its menu offerings. The eCafé, a state-of-the-art cafeteria when it was unveiled in 2000, was overhauled structurally. It was redesigned to cater to Gen Y tastes — from food to lounge areas to free Wi-Fi access where they can sip coffee while working on their laptops or iPads, and to a giant-screen projector for news reports at lunchtime. A mini food court with healthy options like fresh juice shakes, frozen yoghurt and others was also added.

Nestled within the eCafé is a new area called the SGV Alumni Center — a place for both our current and former staff members. It serves as a hub for our alumni where they can update contact information, meet with friends or buy some souvenirs from the SGV Store. Operated by the SGV Foundation, the store carries commemorative items that show the SGV team spirit. All proceeds from the store are earmarked for the corporate social responsibility projects of the foundation.

Then, there is the concern for wellness. SGV has been running a gym within its premises for the last 10 years, complete with a trainer to guide its users. Recently, Gen Y health buffs clamored for our own Running Club. Under the guidance of a coach, members have participated in running events and some have become confident enough to run full marathons. In fact, SGV will be hosting a running event in November as part of our 65th-anniversary celebrations.

With the “basic” needs met, we continue to organize events (akin to extracurricular activities) to help our people become more well-rounded individuals. The OWL SGV Camera Club was formed to allow our photography enthusiasts to share their passion. We also have our Liberal Arts Program, which has been an SGV offering since the 1970s and has been written about at length in this column. Topics change with the times. Its most recent lecture, for example, was conducted by popular writer/blogger Jessica Zafra on the pitfalls of social networking.

To kick off our 65th-anniversary events, we held three activities beginning with the opening of the SGV Museum (a project with the Ayala Museum), the launch of the Washington SyCip Park Presents program, and the first-ever SGV’s Got Talent competition. These were all aimed at tapping the more creative side of our people.

Named after our founder on the occasion of his 85th birthday in 2006, Washington SyCip Park is a green refuge in the middle of the Makati Central Business District. Washington SyCip Park Presents debuted with a performance of “Crisostomo Ibarra” by Ballet Philippines to jointly commemorate the 150th birthday of Jose Rizal and SGV’s own milestone year. The park became an open auditorium and the public was welcome. Other cultural performances are being scheduled in the coming months.

The following day, the park was venue to SGV’s Got Talent that showcased 14 staff members who qualified as finalists after grueling auditions in song, dance, and other talents. True to Gen Y’s form, most of their votes were cast for the lone beat box performer rather than the more traditional balladeers or dancers. Staff members are looking forward to Season Two of the competition next year.

With many Gen Ys in our roster, it is a continuing BUT happy challenge for the 65-year-old institution that is SGV to keep in step and in touch with these young professionals while, at the same time, preserving the values and the work ethic that generations before them have taken to heart. In all of these, what we do is listen well to our Gen Ys and try our very best to make their careers with us a worthwhile journey that will set them for life.

(Vincent O. Abella is a Principal in the Advisory Services Group and the People Leader of SGV & Co.)

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld newspaper. It is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.