Saturday, October 13, 2012

Positive thinking not que sera, sera

As the Greeks continue to deal with their economic woes, my Eastern European friends couldn’t help but dissect the genesis of the crisis. In fairness, they recognize and are grateful that the Greeks were among the first to invest in Eastern Europe following the end of Soviet rule. But as they relate very specific anecdotes about their Greek friends, I am reminded of the Italians, the Spaniards and even us, Filipinos. The Greeks love life and can laugh at themselves and their mistakes. Just like us they are among the happiest people. Not surprisingly, Greece, Italy and Spain are favorite tourist destinations – and which should also apply to PHL if indeed we get our infrastructure developed.

As I was reviewing the 2013 budget prep calendar of my friends and some of the major projects that are ongoing, I realized that these Eastern Europeans have in fact changed from when they first had to deal with the hard-charging ways that I was impressing upon them: “We’re competing with global behemoths; they don’t hold their punches.” In the beginning they thought I was coming from my corporate background while they were in their heart entrepreneurial – until they realized that to feel positive may be a great feeling yet they could in fact be falling into the trap of “que sera, sera.” It is why to be proactive is elusive; and the key is to start with the end in view.

I also have specific anecdotes of why we’ve had a love-hate relationship with expatriates in the Philippines; and it comes down to: “mga suplado sila”! They’re too task-oriented and cold – and thus heartless! And as my wife would remind herself all the time, “even my siblings think I am heartless”! Where is it coming from? For example, we like to develop our timelines of when things or events would occur with lots of optimism. [“Ay, sorry, I am late, sobra ang traffic sa EDSA.”] And we like to say that we are eternal optimists and would always see ‘the glass as half full.’ The same would apply to the Greeks; and the problem is when optimism equates to committing less than adequate resources to the undertaking – “pwede na ‘yan.”

Exporters now consider their 10 percent growth goal this year a fighting target indicating the sector’s strong likelihood to miss its goal owing to difficulties in the country’s major export markets US, EU and China, coupled with the rise of the local currency against the US dollar.” [10% Exports Growth Looks Dimmer, Manila Bulletin, 9th Sept 2012] “Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation (Philexport), admitted that the 10 percent growth target has become harder to sustain . . . Before, the 10 percent target was like a walk in the park, but now it is a fighting target meaning we have to do a lot of efforts and hope for more luck.”

I just had my Eastern European friends listen to the webcast of a Fortune 500 CEO whose company is outperforming peer companies as well as the S&P index. They are in the same industry as my client but are marketing in 200 countries. They have been paying dividends for over 100 years and over the last 40 years they’ve had successive dividend increases. For one thing, their flagship brand has 45% share of the global market and their gross margins are close to 60% – both elevated by industry standards. And yet one of the numerous awards they’ve received is for the work-life balance they provide their people – the outcome of the three core values the CEO consistently talks about: caring, global teamwork and continuous improvement. Of course they’ve had to overcome aggressive competition, slowing economies, devaluing currencies and even the impact of the Arab Spring, etc. given they are doing business in 200 countries.

The good news for my Eastern European friends is they’ve internalized the challenge they face and recognize they are ways away from this Fortune-500 company. But they are consciously building their inner strength to sustain their “A game” – and clearly they want to avoid the fate of another Fortune 500 company that has become the industry pariah. They’ve realized positive thinking is a must yet it does not mean que sera, sera. (The thought came to me as the Market Development Manager of one of the business units drove me, and showing off his new luxury car, to my out-of-town hotel where they have their manufacturing facility after a celebration that went past midnight: “Do you know why your friend is smiling from ear to ear? At a time when Europe, and the world, is a mess we are growing 30% this year.”)

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