Manuel V. Pangilinan, from his humble beginnings in Little Baguio, San Juan, now has an empire that is vast and continues to grow.
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A true MVP
Iris Gonzales ( - July 18, 2019 - 6:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — Manuel V. Pangilinan, known as MVP in the business community, turns a year older today. He may be celebrating from a skyscraper in Hong Kong, home of First Pacific, the conglomerate which he leads as its managing director and chief executive officer. Or he may just be in his posh abode somewhere in Metro Manila.

Wherever MVP may be today, it is no doubt miles and miles away from his humble beginnings, a place where he first molded dreams of succeeding in life. He grew up in Little Baguio in San Juan.

“Our house stood right on the boundary of a squatter settlement. From my bedroom window, I could see, smell, and feel the lives of the poor,” he recalls once during a commencement speech of Manila Tytana Colleges.

He saw husbands and wives quarreling over money, over the lack of water; kids sprouting like mushrooms every year or the long list of jueteng bets circulated by bet collectors.

“My father began his career as a messenger at the Philippine National Bank (PNB). My mother was a simple housewife,” he says.

When he was studying elementary and high school at San Beda, he had to survive on an allowance of 25 centavos per day—for his Coke, crackers and bus fare going home. It was the same life in Ateneo but he was able to graduate cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics.

But MVP persevered and dreamt of studying in America. He applied for a scholarship grant from Proctor and Gamble and succeeded. He made it to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. Education—he believed then as he believes now—is the key to success. That and some guts.

When he came back to the Philippines, he worked for Phinma and later on decided to fly to Hong Kong when he was “still young enough to make mistakes.”

“I formed First Pacific in 1981 starting from a rented space—50 square meters, no bigger than your typical classroom—with a team of only six people using modest startup capital,” he said. 

Three decades later, First Pacific has turned into a regional conglomerate, employing more than 100,000 people in various parts of Asia. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now Pangilinan’s empire is vast and continues to grow. People who work with him attribute the success of MVP’s businesses to his leadership style and unparalleled vision.

In their own words, MVP, their big boss, is a visionary and a great leader. He is pragmatic too and can adapt to the environment. Today on his birthday, some of MVP’s executives, friends, and journalists who have covered him share their stories about the man.

Ramoncito Fernandez, president and chief executive officer of Maynilad says: “MVP is a visionary and a hands-on leader with impeccable business acumen. He is humble and is continuously hungry for innovation and solutions to alleviate our country’s concerns.”

“May the good Lord continue to bless and protect you. Happy birthday, MVP,” he adds. 

Mike Toledo, chief operating officer of Silangan Mindanao Mining, agrees: “MVP has passion and compassion. He is brilliant yet down to earth. He is a visionary yet he is pragmatic. A leader with a heart, a philosopher king, a boss, mentor, and a friend. Happy birthday, MVP!”

William Pamintuan, head of legal and corporate governance at Meralco, also attributes the power distributor’s continued success to MVP’s leadership. But more importantly, Pamintuan underscores MVP’s love of country and faith in the Filipino people.

“Happiest birthday, Boss MVP. Our deepest gratitude to your Magnanimous, Victorious and Passionate leadership in the Meralco organization. We are indeed privileged to witness firsthand your love of country and your faith in the Filipinos to compete in the world stage. Who can forget FIBA 2014 in Spain when you willed the spunk of the Gilas Team and inspired the Nation to believe in the impossible? The Philippine flag may not have stood there in the medalist podium, but in the eyes of the global basketball community, we stood tall and proud as they cheered for PUSO, the team with the fighting heart. We wish you the best of health and more happy years to come and may the Almighty fulfill all the desires of your heart. God bless you, Boss. Mabuhay ka, MVP!” Pamintuan says.

Tycoon Lance Gokongwei, who is on the board of Meralco, also sent his birthday wishes: “Happy birthday, MVP. Wishing all your businesses continuing success, especially Meralco and PLDT and praying for your continuing health and happiness.”

Others also shared anecdotes about the man they call MVP.

David Nicol, chief financial officer of Metro Pacific Investments Corp., for instance, still remembers the first major birthday party for MVP, which he was invited to in Manila. It was well over 20 years ago but he can’t forget it.

“I recall that Manny’s direct reports were each asked to give him a roasting as part of the birthday entertainment.

This is a precarious undertaking of course—trying to make the boss laugh and the audience laugh, without pushing it too far. I thought it went well at the time. However, the business I was running at the time was sold shortly afterward, so perhaps not,” Nicol laughs.

Turning serious, Nicol says that while the roastings have ended, the central energy and challenging force that Manny has always been to us remains and long may this continue.

“Happy birthday, Manny, and I wish you continued health, wealth and happiness in the years ahead,” he says.

Economics journalists who have covered or continue to cover MVP have their share of anecdotes too. One journalist recalls a classic MVP deadpan humor. Upon seeing a veteran journalist who was pregnant again only after two years, he said, in jest: “Wow, your family is growing faster than my companies.”

Jose Bimbo Santos, a reporter of One News Network, considers MVP one of those rare top-level sources who are generous enough to share his brilliance.

“MVP is that rare top-level source that could deftly encapsulate a complex issue in a single crisp soundbite, sometimes even peppered with literary or pop culture references such as The God Father trilogy, Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons and Spielberg’s The Post among others. But beyond the profundity, he also has his folksy ways like his curt four-word greeting when he sees someone, “Kumain ka na ba?” Santos shares. “Happy Birthday, sir MVP. Here’s to good health. Kumain ka na ba?”

Business Mirror’s Lenie Lectura, who covered the telco beat for a long time remembers many things about MVP but one thing stands out in her memory: “When you give him your business card, the first thing he will look at is the mobile number and when it starts with 0917, you’ll never hear the end of it.... I wish you a happy birthday sir!”

Shawn Yao of One News Network says: “Happy Birthday to the Big Boss with the best off-the-record soundbites and the most inimitable work ethic. More blessings, Sir MVP!”

The Philippine STAR’s Business editor Marianne Go, for her part, highlight’s MVP’s leadership qualities: “You see his leadership and vision not only in our paper, The Philippine STAR, or our sister company BusinessWorld, but also in his other companies that grow and adapt to the changing business environment. While other conglomerates want to grab every possible business opportunity, MVP’s businesses look into helping build our nation,” she said.

Indeed, MVP is all these and more.

Tycoon and basketball enthusiast Lucio “Bong” Tan Jr., who considers MVP his mentor, sums it well: “In basketball, the most valuable player is the one who elevates not just himself but all those around him. Manny is that kind of guy, that kind of friend and that kind of partner. Happy birthday to a true MVP!”

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