Thoughts on being a steward


Business World (06/26/2017 – p.S1/2)

After some 34 years in SGV, I will be retiring from the firm in five days. Many thoughts crowd in my head — my mentors through the years, the lives of people whom I have touched, the opportunities won and lost, the challenges and lessons learned, the ups and downs of the economy, the technological advancements that reshaped the work force, the disruptions facing the professional services sector and business in general, and most importantly, if I had fulfilled my role as a steward because it is one that I have never taken lightly.

In fact, I had once said that the strength and success of SGV are due in large part to the legacy of quality, professionalism, integrity, and stewardship — the values carried on by its alumni. That as stewards we accept that we are just caretakers of the Firm to ensure that it will remain strong for future generations of professionals. And this value of stewardship has expanded not just to SGV, but also to our country and to communities in need. Our work should make a difference in the lives of others, just as the quality of our professional services and professionalism continually makes a difference for our clients.

When I started as a new lawyer in SGV’s tax division, I hadn’t the faintest idea that I would one day have to lead a 6,000-strong professional services company. The responsibilities, experiences, realizations, and challenges have provided me now with a modest amount of wisdom on how to run an institution. Allow me to share some learnings on being a steward.

First, disruption is continuous both internally and externally. There will always be disruptions, if not distractions, whether local or global in magnitude, caused by competition, geopolitical factors, the regulatory environment, even preferences and complexions in operating business. In such scenarios, an organization must be nimble, agile and flexible, because business models are never static. Change should not be contained; instead it should inspire. Change is proactively addressed and not merely reacted to. This is how to stay and consistently be on top of the game.

Second, because of challenges brought about by change, one must adhere to the organization’s core values because these provide stability and a common ground. If you are a market leader, your behavior should match your values. You cannot be remiss because with leadership comes this heavy responsibility of being an example to others.

Third, your core values need to support your vision. While values and vision are meant to endure, it is your strategy that can be tweaked to make it relevant to the times. As I’ve said, disruption is constant and relentless, and there will be occasions when an organization would have to revisit the usefulness and relevance of its strategy. Be open to reinventing and innovating your organization and act quickly.

Fourth, be committed to spending the time and effort to connect and reconnect as needed with your stakeholders. Reach out and engage with your clients, your people and communities. Be consistent and deliberate in communicating and collaborating with them because this builds trust — a key factor in doing business.

Fifth, as a leader you have to keep a keen eye on everything without getting bogged down by minute details. You have to see the proverbial big picture and how each unit interfaces with another; how synergy is produced and/or enhanced. You need to learn how to harness strengths and manage, if not mitigate, discontent.

Sixth, in any organization large or small, not everyone will always be happy with your decisions. That is fine because you have to consider not what makes you popular but what will benefit the whole rather than the individual parts. There are times when you have to resort to tough love, but always with the best of intentions.

Seventh, when the playing field becomes too restrictive, you must take the risk to explore beyond that space. It may sound cliché, but the world is, indeed, your oyster.

The Philippines is poised to go beyond its territorial market to address the professional growth of its labor force. This is part of SGV’s commitment to taking care and developing the potential of our people.

Eighth, organizations exist because of people. Despite much talk about robotics, artificial intelligence and the like, a company’s greatest asset is still its human resources. And because of that, we need to be always conscious of every employee’s growth and development by providing training and other learning opportunities. Because we are managing their careers and future, their competence will consequently redound on the progress of the nation. The learning should never stop; it is a lifelong commitment. This has been the vision of SGV Founder Washington SyCip — to develop world-class Filipino professionals competing in the global market. This is SGV’s legacy — it’s payback to the country.

I was very fortunate to have had as a role model Mr. SyCip, who is acknowledged as one of the greatest stewards in Philippine business. When he founded SGV in 1946, he already envisioned its role, not only in the Philippines but also in the world. It is because of his timeless vision that we — and future SGV professionals — can continue to contribute to the country’s development through our services and by becoming the best professionals possible. To him, I will be forever grateful.

This is my very last article for this column and I take this rare opportunity to thank our readers for taking an interest in our thought leadership program. In bidding farewell, one journey ends but another begins.

This article 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.

Cirilo P. Noel is the Chairman of SGV & Co.