Seven big lessons I learned from Atty. Felipe Gozon

KAPUSO DAY - Angel Javier Cruz - The Philippine Star
Seven big lessons I learned from Atty. Felipe Gozon
The Gozon family (standing, from left) Anja Abrogar, Raffy Viterbo, Shintaro Valdes, Philip Gozon, Henry Gozon, Ria Gozon, Maritess and Blas Viterbo, Basti Viterbo; (seated, from left) Bono Viterbo, Annette Gozon-Valdes, Arianna Gozon, FLG, Mrs. Tessie Gozon and Fort Viterbo.

A rare business leader. Legal luminary. One of Asia’s finest CEOs. A great Filipino.

These are some of the traits that sages of law, business tycoons, and academic titans would probably describe Atty. Felipe L. Gozon or FLG, chairman and immediate past CEO of GMA Network, Inc.

FLG, the visionary behind GMA’s ascent as the Philippines’ premier media conglomerate, is widely admired for his strong will and moral courage. With a phenomenal memory and the ability to take on any matter with pristine clarity, his decisions are swift and resolute, leaving no room for doubt or hesitation.

Atty. Felipe Gozon or FLG, chairman and immediate past CEO of GMA Network, Inc., is the visionary behind GMA’s ascent as the Philippines’ premier media conglomerate.

I had the honor of working closely with him as the head of GMA Corporate Affairs and Communications. Amid many hours of meetings and exclusive interviews, I was fortunate to see him not just as a boss, but also as a father, grandfather, mentor, and a child of God.

As he passes on the CEO torch this year to our most deserving president and chief operating officer Gilberto Duavit Jr., I’d like to offer a glimpse into the heart of a leader who has truly enriched the lives of Filipinos.

1. Anchor your life in faith. “We value God above all,” stands at the pinnacle of GMA’s core values, reflecting FLG’s deep faith. He attributes his path — from the pivotal decision to join the Ponce Enrile law firm, to becoming PAL’s youngest vice president and internal counsel, to forging his legal firm and ultimately assuming the helm at GMA Network — to divine guidance. His office bears the quote, “Those who see God’s hand in everything can leave everything in God’s hand.” With his faith and guiding principle, his initials FLG may also mean “for the love of God.”

Even his youngest child, Atty. Philip Gozon, remarked that faith resonates strongly in their family. During FLG’s birthday celebration at EDSA Shangri-La last month, his son said, “You would see him daily by my mom’s side, asking our Lord for guidance… Thankfully, my mom was able to get through her ailment, and to this day, led by FLG, we continue as a family to do Bible study every Sunday because he wants to instill in us a genuine fear of the Lord. I think that may be FLG’s greatest legacy.”

2. Stand for truth. The iconic lines “Walang Kinikilingan, Walang Pinoprotektahan, Walang Kasinungalingan — Serbisyong Totoo Lamang” embody FLG’s credo that the media is a public trust and that it must always be in the service of truth.

“Call a spade a spade,” he says in one of our meetings, explaining that he does not “want to mislead the public.” He is legendary for running meetings akin to a doctoral defense where your answers have to be sharp, backed by data, and most importantly — true. While he might let some errors slide as part of growth and learning, he has zero tolerance for dishonesty. GMA’s numerous awards and status as the country’s most trusted media organization are the tangible fruits of his unwavering commitment to integrity and excellence.

3. Employees are the heartbeat of success. In an age and industry where technology reigns supreme, FLG believes that “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.”

He values people, acknowledging that while equipment may depreciate, the stories crafted by these individuals grow and appreciate in the hearts of viewers over time. He ensured that GMA’s employee benefits were the best in the broadcasting industry; attended employee gatherings such as the monthly birthday lunches, family days, and quarterly general assemblies; and crafted feedback mechanisms. His genuine care for the people yielded remarkable results: GMA earned acclaim as the Best Employer in 2023.

4. Nothing is impossible. For FLG, success doesn’t adhere to age, background, or convention — it flourishes when you dream boldly, labor ardently, and pray unceasingly. His tenacity and vision transformed GMA from a distant second to a triumphant industry leader.

With many hours of meetings, and exclusive interviews in his office, his home, or outside, yours truly was fortunate to witness him not just as a boss, but also as a father, grandfather, mentor, and a child of God.

In his 2023 Christmas message to Kapuso employees, he said, “Ang dami kong bashers noon.  Ang sabi nila — that I was overly eager to lead GMA, that I lacked knowledge about managing a TV station, and that I was incompetent and stingy.” But FLG proved them wrong.

In only three years, GMA surpassed the competition. Today, it stands as a multi-billion peso media powerhouse, topping ratings, revenues, and reach.

5. Never stop learning. In 2000, at 60 years old, FLG made a daring career move, venturing into broadcasting despite his success in the legal field. He studied human resources, engineering, production, and journalism, approaching the media industry with the same zeal that saw him through the bar exams. His courage to explore new narratives led to groundbreaking TV programs like Encantadia, Amaya, and Maria Clara at Ibarra, among many others. As FLG wisely puts it, “Learning teaches us humility that we do not know everything. And when we are open to learning, wonderful things happen.”

6. Be generous in practice and principle. An “abogado de campanilla,” he says, should not be measured by the number of zeroes in the billings. He believes that any accolade received must be matched by a great desire to serve the cause of justice for the poor and oppressed. This generosity is manifested in GMA’s billions’ worth of public service announcements, high-impact projects led by GMA Kapuso Foundation and Kapwa Ko Mahal Ko, philanthropic initiatives, and advocacies spanning education, environment, and health.

7. Family is everything. One thing special about FLG’s family — all of his children, in-laws, and grandchildren live harmoniously under one roof and travel together. I had the opportunity to see him happily being on vacation once with the whole family in Los Angeles, USA. For him, family embodies a divine gift of love.

In a tender reflection on his beloved wife, Mrs. Tessie Gozon, FLG says, “I particularly thank the Lord for Tessie, a good wife given to me by God, who, after going steady with me for 11 years and being married to me for 54 years and six months, I can truly say is the love of my life.”

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