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Felipe Gozon of GMA-7: It’s us or bust!

imageIt’s where Felipe Lapus Gozon, 62, multi-awarded lawyer-turned-chairman of the board/president/CEO of GMA Network, Inc., definitely belongs. With his consummate passion for work matched by his great compassion for others, his is one success story waiting to be written – or maybe, even serialized on television.


"It’s No. 1 or bust," Gozon stoutly rallied GMA Channel 7 employees, a split second after he assumed the stewardship of the station in 2000. "We will not stay No. 2 without even trying to regain our No. 1 position."


No two ways about it. GMA is riding the crest of a rainbow to reach for the stars. For one, it’s introducing new programs like a new soap (in addition to the new one already on the air). For another, GMA is drawing more hot talents to join its star-studded cast. (Gozon is not saying who, but it could ruffle the proud feathers of competitor ABS-CBN, which claims to be the Philippines’ largest network.) It continues to hire more people even as Channel 2 retrenched more than a hundred employees this year.


"We need good people – writers, reporters, hosts," says Gozon. "Kulang kami. Our total retinue is more than 1,700 employees, of which only 500 are regular. Channel 2 has maybe 5,000 employees, which is why they had to retrench. When I took over, the production unit manager (the person who manages a program from A to Z) was handling five programs. I asked what the rule of thumb was – it’s two to three programs per production unit manager. It’s not to prevent migration. It’s just being fair. I believe in giving what is due, galing din ako dyan."


An extremely good-natured man with a good sense of humor, Gozon keeps the door of his office open at all times to his employees whom he treats like family. "Oh, yes, they can run to me," he says with a warm smile. "They can tell me anything. I’m a lawyer, that’s my advantage."


He adds with paternal concern: "I value the people more than the equipment. The secret is in the people. The creativity is in the people, not in the organization, not in the machine. No computers can ever replace that."


What better or bigger proof of that concern than the ample raise in salaries that GMA employees got when Felipe Gozon took over the helm of the station in a triple capacity (as chairman, president and CEO – "I got them all para wala nang problema") in 2000. He notes, "I gave a good increase in the last CBA the equivalent of P7,700 over a period of three years. Plus a P10,000 signing bonus. Very few can give that kind of increase to make their employees happy and make them stay. With respect to non-union members, last year, I took care of our officers by increasing their salaries without their asking for it."


Last year, according to Gozon, GMA upped its net income by more than 45 percent. He asserts, "And who was able to produce that but our people? As for ABS-CBN, they had a reduction of 34 percent. If you combine the two, you get 79 percent. The only thing is that we’re a plus and they’re a minus."


Gozon is proud to say that GMA is Numero Uno in awards (which can fill up a newspaper page) and most certainly, in credibility. It has swept all major awards given by prestigious bodies, both local and international: Peabody Award, Patas Sinag, KBP Golden Dove Awards, Catholic TV Award, PMPC Star Awards, Catholic Mass Media Awards, CCP Gawad Awards, NY Film Festival, London International Advertising Awards, Japan Prize Int’l Education Program, Asian TV Awards, CNN World Report Awards, and Asia Pacific Broadcasters Union.


Gozon’s own formidable list of awards could fill a book. Among them are the Media in Action Award ’89 as outstanding lawyer, business executive, civic leader given by the Philippine Media Enforcers; the Presidential Award of Merit given by the Philippine Bar Association; and the Chief Justice Special Award given by the Chief Justice of the Philippines in 1991. He’s listed in Marquis Who’s Who in the World, 10th Edition, 1991-’92 and in Baron’s Who’s Who in the Asian Pacific Rim, 1992 International Edition.


"We’re extremely successful in news and public affairs programs," Gozon observes. "We’re succeeding in local soap. And in sitcoms, too."


Those who love to have a good belly laugh – or two or three – once a week and are No. 1 fans of Michael V’s Bubble Gang will certainly agree.


Adds a dead serious Gozon, "We don’t intend to produce extremely corny shows. Even with our Bubble Gang, the jokes have finesse. "Michael V is so talented; he wrote a script which GMA is making into a movie, one of two we’re doing this year."


You can say that Michael V is laughing all the way to the bank.


"We’ll have more feel-good programs," Gozon promises. "I’m on the lookout for good people."


There’s no stopping GMA as it conquers new horizons. Gozon gives an up-to-the-minute report on GMA: "We’re going international this year. We’ve invested in Uplink to deliver our programs to cable TV stations abroad. We will resume our UHF."


But if there’s anything GMA won’t do, for one, it’s pirating people. "No, we did not pirate Richard Gomez," says Gozon. "He left ABS-CBN before he joined us."


For another, it’s dictating on their people, meddling in their work and telling them what to do. And last but not the least, using the station to further the owners’ or other people’s personal or political interests (or ambitions). "We have no political agenda," stresses Gozon.


One of the first things he changed at GMA when he took over, says Gozon, was the so-called counter-programming policy. "You don’t meet the competition head-on," he points out. "If they’re showing soap, you will show some other product like anime."


Gozon hastens to point out, "Basically, right now, our policy is to give the audience what they want to see, but there’s a line below which we will not go. Like in news and public affairs, you must have noticed we didn’t show the beheading by the Abu Sayyaf as vividly as the other stations – we blurred it because it was too gory and we showed it only twice, and then we stopped. The others showed chopped heads rolling."


No chopped heads for GMA, only top-notch heads working together to produce top-notch shows. "We strive to produce shows with the best quality content as well as to maintain our balanced objective and independence with respect to news and public affairs," Gozon declares. "In entertainment, we’ve got the best quality shows. We cater to the masses, there’s no other market; AB is less than five percent. But even with the masa, you can have quality. It’s a myth that if it’s masa, it’s nothing. The Filipino audience is becoming more and more intelligent. I saw that in the focus group – even housewives who are supposedly not educated see the technical aspects, lighting, development, etc. They want to be educated, they want to learn something from the program."


Surely, Filipino viewers are getting more and more interested – and interesting. "We’ve got the C, D, E, F – that’s more than 95 percent," says Gozon.


But should we give the viewers what they want or what’s good?


"There’s no simple answer to that," comes Gozon’s quick reply. "Maybe I should go a little bit back. The reason Channel 2 overtook us in no time at all was they produced local programs while we stuck to imported, canned programs for four years. People now watch a lot of local movies. In my time, only two theaters – Life and Dalisay – were showing local movies. Now, there are more theaters showing local movies than foreign ones. The same thing happened to television. The viewers’ taste now leans towards local shows."


And yes, Gozon is also giving GMA an image makeover. "We’re coming out with a new logo and slogan (the old logo with its all-too-familiar catchphrase "Where you belong" was a brainchild of former Press Secretary Rod Reyes who once served as executive vice president of GMA)," he piques our curiosity.


Stay tuned to the station where you and I "belonged."


It’s not all work for this workaholic though. He plays chess to de-stress. He also devours books, but he goes for the light, entertaining stuff. But there’s nothing he likes better than spending quality time with his family: wife Teresa Gozon and children Anna Teresa Gozon Abrogar, a junior partner at Belo Gozon Parel Asuncion & Lucila Law office; Felipe Gozon Jr., a junior law student; and Ma. Teresa Gozon, a beauty-and-brains sophomore medical student who was named one of Manila’s Five Loveliest 2000.


"All my children were class valedictorians in grade school at Colegio de San Agustin," says the very proud dad, himself a grade school valedictorian and No. 10 in the UP Law 1962 graduating class.


But of course, "7" is Felipe Gozon’s lucky number, but No. 1 is where he belongs.

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