The moving force behind ABS-CBN’s 50 years of excellence

In 50 years of operation, ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp. has been led by three generations of visionaries. From Don Eugenio "Eñing" Lopez Sr. who first envisioned ABS-CBN to Eugenio "Genny" Lopez Jr., who translated his father’s vision into unparalleled success, ABS-CBN leadership has always been distinguished by its pioneering spirit. Currently, the impressive tandem of Eugenio Lopez III and Federico M. Garcia has continued in the same vein, breaking new ground and maintaining a competitive edge in the industry.

A man with a vision

They called him the man with a vision. For most, being heir to a sugar plantation in Jaro, Ilo-ilo would have been enough. However, Eugenio, "Eñing" Lopez Sr., born on July 20, 1901, was destined for more than a life of affluence and comfort.

After excelling in his education at the Ateneo, University of the Philippines and Harvard University, Eñing and his brother Fernando officially took over the Lopez hacienda.

After a rewarding stint in the farming industry, Eñing soon turned his attention to unexplored territory. His guiding vision was clear: transportation, communication, and commerce were one, and would prove successful when integrated. Among his first moves was the revival of the newspaper El Tiempo, as well as the establishment of the Iloilo Times.

In the 50 years that followed, Eñing positioned himself in the most strategic sectors of the Philippine economy. He ventured into public utilities, and built a transportation empire in Iloilo. Legend has it that the double-decker buses that rule Hong Kong roads had their Asian debut in Manila, through Eñing’s efforts.

After Liberation, when his brother Fernando ventured into public service as mayor of Iloilo, it fell to Eñing to take over the family business. He acquired The Manila Chronicle, the first post-war newspaper in the country. Not content with the progress he was making with the paper, Eñing branched out into other forms of media, strengthening his position in different industries.

"My father was a very impatient man, one who didn’t let grass grow under his feet," Eugenio "Genny" Lopez Jr. once said of his father. Indeed, Eñing Lopez seemed to thrive on the challenge of greater achievement. Six months after he acquired the Chronicle Broadcasting System, Eñing started negotiating with Judge Antonio "Tony" Quirino, owner of the first TV station in the Philippines, which would later become the Alto Broadcasting System. "He called Tony to the house for breakfast, and they signed an agreement on a napkin," said Geny. With that makeshift beginning, the fate of Philippine television was sealed.

By 1968, the consolidated company was officially known as ABS-CBN. In the years that followed, Eñing plowed on, making his mark as an industrial maverick. He demanded nothing less than the loyalty and diligence of his employees, which he never failed to reward. By the time martial law was declared, ABS-CBN was number one, with 22 radio stations and six TV channels all over the country. The company’s gross receipts totaled more than that of their competitor’s put together.
The legacy continues
When martial law took effect, major Lopez business interests were seized, ABS-CBN was shut down, and Geny was arrested and sent to jail. Of all that has been taken away, it was Geny’s imprisonment that hit his father the hardest. In 1975, Eñing succumbed to cancer in the United States.

While the Old Man’s death signified the end of an era, it was only the beginning of the Lopez legacy. At the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, Geny returned to the Philippines after years of exile in the United States. With his brother Manolo, Geny reclaimed and rebuilt the Lopez empire. In time, ABS-CBN’s former glory was restored, with an even brighter sheen.

The duo’s pioneering efforts did not stop there. The Lopez brothers, imbued with their father’s drive and commitment to excellence, explored previously untapped sectors such as water, telecommunications, highways, land development and power generation. By 1999, the publicly listed Lopez companies constituted almost 10 percent of the PHISIX, with a total of P180 billion in market capitalization.

The secret of their success may be found in Geny’s atypical business philosophy, with its decidedly altruistic bent. "I have always believed that public services is the only reason for our existence," said Geny. "Profit alone is not enough of a reason to exist. If we can serve people, then our growth and success will follow. It we take care of our customers, then they will take care of us. That is the kind of culture a company should have." With foundations such as the Eugenio Lopez Foundation and the ABS-CBN Foundation, the Lopezes are firmly committed to social change.

Under Geny’s direction, expansion and consolidation became the name of the game. As early as the 1980’s, Geny saw that local programming, not foreign shows, would be the wave of the future. In a bold move, he developed programming ideas that were designed for broad audiences and local tastes. Geny’s innovation proved to be revolutionary–in the wake of a move that drew the bulk of the advertising peso, rival stations were left scrambling to follow ABS-CBN’s lead.

By the time Geny rejoined his Creator in 1999, there was no doubt that ABS-CBN was firmly entrenched at the top, a position that it is poised to maintain in the future.
The rise of a new generation
When Geny’s son, Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III, now chairman and CEO, took over the business in 1997, he was determined to build on the blueprint that had been laid out by his father. His vision was brave and far-reaching, reflecting the era of globalization to which he belonged. From the moment he took over the company, Gabby set out to usher the network into the global landscape.

Educated a Ateneo, Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine and Harvard Business School, Gabby began his career as a banker (Bancom in the Philippines and Crocker in the US). Without the aid of his illustrious family name and under exacting standards, Gabby pushed himself beyond his limits. The discipline he developed would serve him well later in his career. Even without training or any prior experience in media, save for a short summer stint as a radio DJ, Gabby’s instincts and innate talents gave him everything he needed to steer ABS-CBN boldly into the new millennium.

Gabby’s life philosophy is typical of the achiever–his boundless energy coupled with his unflinching commitment to his family legacy, drives him to work at his peak, in every instance of every day. At times, he wonders if he has been able to earn the honor that was bestowed on him the moment he was charged with leading the company. The answer to this is clear enough: despite challenges from all quarters, ABS-CBN remains the top television station in the country.

After 50 years, the network continues to blaze new trails, and fulfill its commitment to be of service to the Filipino, both here and abroad. Gabby has established a company that is not only a profitable media organization, but also a multi-media firm that has successfully evolved into a fully integrated entertainment-media outfit.

Like his father and grandfather, Gabby pursued the path of the maverick. He gunned for the station’s used of satellite transmissions. Entrusting programming details to Federico "Freddie" Garcia, more popularly known as FMG, Gabby delved into the uncharted territories of digital post-production, merchandising, cinema and music. It was clear that a new era had begun.

Currently ABS-CBN’s president and chief operations officer, FMG’s brilliance is said to be unbounded by time. When he first set foot on the premises of ABS-CBN in 1967, he hardly had any work experience in broadcasting. He was, in fact, a newly married 23-year-old former car salesman, with no experience in TV. However, Geny knew potential when he saw it, and gave the enthusiastic young man a chance. The rest, as they say, is history. FMG became television’s pied piper–wherever he led, Filipino, viewers were sure to follow.

FMG changed the face of the Philippine television. Following Marcos’ closure of ABS-CBN, he personally sought Geny’s permission before signing up for a job at the newly reopened Republic Broadcasting System Channel 7. His former boss agreed, on the condition that he would return the moment ABS-CBN reopened.

After the 1986 Edsa Revolution. FMG made good on his promise and returned to ABS-CBN one year later. His return heralded the golden age for Philippine television. Viewers who held their breath to see what he would conjure up were not disappointed.

ABS-CBN, like the proverbial phoenix, started its meteoric from the ashes. With help from the likes of Charo Santos-Concio, and Johnny Manahan, FMG gifted viewers with trend-setting shows like TV Patrol, Mel and Jay, Maalaala Mo Kaya and Palibhasa Lalake. To date, FMG is credited with the reinvention of ABS-CBN. He coined TV IDs like Maraming Salamat Po!, and "The Star Network," and tapped into the Filipino pride that was soaring in the glow of post-Edsa I.

Once ABS-CBN’s hold on the market was secure, FMG’s pioneering spirit led him to direct the network towards other ventures like the Talent Center, Star Cinema and other such lucrative businesses. He was, in fact, responsible for starting the telenovela craze that held the nation in its thrall and spawned a legion of imitators. FMG’s place in the Television Hall of Fame is guaranteed.

Under the helm of visionaries like Don Eugenio "Eñing" Lopez, Eugenio "Geny" Lopez Jr., Eugenio "Gabby" Lopez III and Federico M. Garcia, ABS-CBN has shaped the television landscape, and served its public well. After 50 years of broadcast leadership, viewers can only look forward to 50 more years of innovative entertainment and public service from a network that is destined to break new ground, in the service of the Filipino.

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