Monday, March 4, 2013

Competition is people

Recently I was invited to sit through a half-day of training session (about how companies can attract and retain the best and the brightest) by a seminar organizer who has read the book I recently published, "Learning to Reinvent Ourselves: How to Make the Philippines a Winner in the 21st Century." And the two who led the session both had worked for Japanese companies and had an "outward-looking” (not parochial) perspective. There is no question that we are up-to-date with management techniques and that our enterprises are keen to train and develop their people and raise the caliber of their organizations.

I was later tasked to integrate the session. Instead of repeating the sound bites I heard, I asked the group of around 30 two questions: (1) who has never ever been to Starbucks, and (2) who does not have an Apple product. And in both cases no one raised their hands. The conclusion simply is both Starbucks and Apple are highly competitive. Because the 30 participants couldn't ask the group the same questions about their respective companies and get a perfect score like those two global brands. And I asked a couple of more questions: (1) does your typical employee know your organization's reason for being, and (2) can your enterprise claim competitive advantage. And again in both cases no one raised their hands.

And it applies to PHL. If competition is people Juan de la Cruz cannot claim competitive advantage? Because we keep looking at others instead of ourselves whenever we talk about our underdevelopment? We are underdeveloped because we are uncompetitive? What did our business community tell the NCC (National Competitiveness Council) is the challenge to our competitiveness – that it takes too much time to register a business or obtain business licenses and permits? What about Juan de la Cruz – is he the challenge to our competitiveness? Competition is people? We’re proud being among the happiest people on earth – but the widespread poverty and being stuck as a Third-World nation is our destiny?

Shooting the breeze with some of the participants, it wasn’t surprising to hear that people have yet to share the optimism of the administration though there was a unanimous vote of confidence re the uprightness of the president. But someone from the energy sector would declare: "We don't have the political will to address the power crisis. It looks as though we are champions of free enterprise but the reality is we don't have an energy master plan and don’t have the political will to craft one and doggedly pursue it.” How can we then focus on industrialization – like the 7 strategic industries from the (JFC) Joint Foreign Chambers?

Competitiveness remains abstract to us because a number of our enterprises haven’t defined what success or what winning is – because our culture has defined it for them by rewarding influence peddling and oligopoly? And so PHL is not synonymous to a dynamic economy and nation? Entrepreneurship is opportunistic yet even a Starbucks demonstrates dynamism in its business model. When a couple of entrepreneurs sought advice about an opportunity, I asked a series of questions to guide them sketch a simple business model – and they readily realized the gaps in their thought process. I also discussed the fundamentals of product architecture modeling and encouraged them “to stay ahead of the innovation curve" – and be forward-thinking. And they thought it was what many old-Filipino businesses missed and thus are no longer around.

But another business group would give reason for optimism – when the family owners had decided to leave the business to one family member and with the collective decision to professionalize the organization. When I first heard about it I was skeptical until I was introduced to one of the foreigners they had hired. "We mean what we say, we cast a global net to find the best talents, and you will meet a few more of them.” In the previous life of two of the professional managers, I had consulted with their then company (that was the industry leader) and in this new environment one is the president, the other his deputy; and the owner confines himself to the monthly board meetings, where the president reports on his efforts. If indeed this family has reinvented itself, this is the kind of political will we need to reinvent PHL. And we can start with the power crisis.

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