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PAL is reborn at 81 with a youthful outlook |

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PAL is reborn at 81 with a youthful outlook

LIFE AND STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star

Philippine Airlines turns 81 this year. But at 81, PAL gets reborn as a cool, high-tech airline that looks to the future with a youthful vibe. How so?

On top of PAL now are two visionaries: Capt. Stanley K. Ng, who at 44 is the youngest president and COO that the airline has ever had. And he is the first pilot in 60 years to assume this position. With 19 years of comprehensive experience at PAL, where he started with customer relations and piloted thousands of flights, he certainly is an aviation industry veteran.

Lucio Tan III is only 29, and yet he brings with him 14 years of wisdom in engineering and technology gathered in the United States, where he studied. Not to mention the wisdom he gained from his grandfather, PAL chairman and CEO Lucio C.Tan and his father, Bong Tan, who was president of PAL Holdings when he passed away in November 2019.

Capt. Stan and Lucio III were presented during the launch of PAL’s 81st birthday celebration at Century Park Hotel where I ambushed them —together with other usually jaded and hard-to-impress, but this time, star-struck — lifestyle press.

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Capt. Stanley K. Ng, president and COO of Philippine Airlines: At 44, he is an aviation industry veteran with 19 years on the ground and in the sky

Crash-landing on the charm of Capt. Stanley Ng

When I learned that Capt. Stanley Ng is married to a fellow pilot, Lilibeth Ng, I asked him: “Did your wife, like Seri, crash-land into your heart?” I was referring to the famous Korean drama, Crash Landing On You.

Stanley laughs: “My wife and I met in flying school but she was two years ahead of me. And no, we never piloted the same plane together. And no, we were never passengers in each other’s flights.”

Perhaps we can safely say that it was Capt. Stanley who crash-landed into the heart of Philippine Airlines.

Starting as a customer relations airport staffer in 2003, then becoming a captain on the Airbus A320/A321, then later heading PAL’s operations group for the last three years, Stanley has had enough hands-on experience, both on the ground and in the skies, at PAL.

“My original dream was to be a pilot,” he explains. And this came true when, after taking up business and majoring in computer applications, he went on to PAL Aviation School, later trained in Toulouse, France, then took an advanced management program at Harvard Business School.

“From check-in to passenger boarding, I was exposed to everything that went on at the airport. My (ground) work helped me understand problems that airline staff and customers would encounter. It changed my mindset.

“It made me realize that people who take their flight with you are entrusting everything that’s precious to them: their families, their own lives. I was inspired to be someone else, to be different from everyone, to do the right thing.”

After Harvard, Stanley says, “I realized there is confidence in experience and strength in humility. That’s the kind of leadership I’m bringing in to PAL.”

Confidence and humility certainly fill the captain’s heart as he recalls what “Kapitan” Lucio Tan said: “We look forward to a comeback year for PAL and for our country. Our 81st birthday marks a day of rebirth for PAL. We will make good use of our new life by delivering a stronger, more reliable and dynamic airline that our customers will love and appreciate. We will stay true to our mission of serving the Filipino people through a network that keeps the Philippines connected to the global economy.”

And to that, Stanley adds: “I want to see PAL give back to Philippine society. And bring the best value for money.”

What keeps him occupied other than his work? “I take good care of my health and focus on self-care and well-being so that I can make good decisions for the company and avoid being stressed out or burned out.”

And hear his first and final words: “After 81 years of service, PAL is a flag carrier reborn to seize the future.”

Lucio Tan III, vice president of PAL Holdings at age 29: “I’m here for the long haul. I want PAL not just to be flying again, but to be prosperous as well.”

Lucio Tan III, the new rock star of PAL

He is 29, single, good-looking and most of all, smart.

At PAL Holdings, where he is vice president, and at PAL where is director, he is referred to as LT3 but says, “Just call me Lucio,” which is how his friends called him in the US where he studied and worked for the past 14 years. He took up Electrical Engineering and got a Master’s Degree in Computer Science from Stanford University. He graduated with the equivalent of a summa cum laude but prefers not to flaunt it (an insider just whispered the info to me). During his university days, he received the Stanford University Frederick Terman Award, which is given to the top five percent of SU engineering undergrads.

“I’m here for the long haul,” Lucio declares when asked how he felt upon being summoned back to the Philippines, which he would regularly just visit the past years.

“I was very willing to come back to help bring stability in the family and in the transition process (his dad, Bong Tan, passed away in 2019). I knew I would eventually work in PAL at some point in the future, but not this early. I was a software engineer in the US (working at Lyft in the Bay Area) and my next step was to start my own small tech company with a bunch of friends.”

His grandfather, Lucio C. Tan, and grandmother Carmen Tan obviously thought it best to infuse young blood into the company.

And true enough, the return of the native is helping transform PAL. Lucio acknowledges the importance of heritage and history, but declares: “We will adopt a youthful outlook and will no longer be tied to the old traditional airline models that run on legacy systems and the comfortable notions of the past. We will focus on digital innovation. We envision PAL as a tech company, using technology to deliver smarter and simpler products that customers will love.” (Note: Read the full story in the Business Section of Philippine STAR, March 16, 2022).

“Exactly two years ago, we confronted a true existential crisis. Our PAL team is staffed with professionals who were seasoned by great crisis. PAL’s people have learned how to adapt to a dynamic environment. This was a key lesson of the global pandemic.”

What is the most important lesson he learned from his dad and his grandpa?

“The importance of family. It’s family that is the guiding light to everything.”

Lucio Tan III speaks at the PAL 81st anniv celebration while a photo mural flashes on the wall. From left are Lucio III, vice president of PAL holdings; grandfather Dr. Lucio C. Tan, chairman and CEO of PAL; grandmother Carmen Tan, vice chairman of LT Group; and brother Kyle, EVP of Tanduay Distillers, Inc., director of Victorias Milling, Inc.; treasurer and director of Macroasia Corporation.

Apart from all the corporate statements, what is Lucio’s personal dream for PAL? And how will he use his tech expertise to achieve it? “I want PAL to be flying again, not just flying but being prosperous as well… First and foremost, PAL will undergo an upgrading process and I hope to be a part of that process.”

Lucio says he is still unattached, and the next Lifestyle question is: What kind of woman is on his mind?

“Someone who values family. Someone I can gain energy around, speaking to her, rather than dreaming.”

To which our pretty STAR business columnist Iris Gonzalez says: “Unfortunately we are all taken!”

Laughter. And then the cellphone cameras started focusing on him, looking hip with his dark blazer, white shirt and Hogan sneakers (Suits with sneakers are a cool trademark of today’s corporate bosses). Obviously, Lucio didn’t expect to be treated like a rock star, nor did he relish it. But he humbly smiled, and gallantly posed for photo-ops.

Somewhere up there, his late dad Bong must be proud of Lucio. During my interview with Bong in 2018, he said he was guided by Confucian values, which he acquired from his parents, and which he hoped to pass on to his sons.

And Bong also cited what Uncle Ben said in Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Lucio is handling it well.

Lucio III with his dad, Bong Tan who taught Confucian values to his sons, reminding them of Uncle Ben’s words in Spider-Man.


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