Jim Ayala: He loves ’em all — God, family, country
LIFE & STYLE - LIFE & STYLE By Millet M. Mananquil () - August 21, 2005 - 12:00am
He is an Ayala but he humbly clarifies that he is not related to the business royalty of Makati. Jim Ayala, 43, is president of Ayala Land Inc. and managing director of Ayala Corporation, and is also chairman of the board of some 25 companies under it. He wields such corporate power, but on Sundays, Jim’s most important agenda is simply teaching Catechism to children.

"He is a good person with a good heart," Rowena Tomeldan, Ayala Land’s vice president and head of operations tells me. So when Rowena called up last week to ask if Star would like to sit down for an interview with Jim, my answer was a quick yes. Simply because in my mind, I already had a clear image of the man. There is humility in his soul and nobility in his heart.

Weeks ago, I happened to be seated four rows away from Jim on a flight from Manila to Amsterdam, and I quietly watched him.

He seemed so caring and solicitous as he checked on his pretty wife Missy their children Gabby, 11,Andrea,7, and Ysabel, 6 most of the time. Along with other dads and moms, Jim was shepherding some 60 children from the International School who were flying to Europe for a sports competition.

"He is a pack of brains whose corporate mind is always on overdrive, but he will always make time to bond with his family," says a member of the Young Presidents Organization which Jim heads as chapter chair.

His CV is too formidable and would probably occupy this whole page. But to put it simply, he earned his MBA , with honors, from Harvard. And graduated Magna Cum Laude in Economics with a Minor in Engineering at Princeton University.

He spent l9 years with McKinsey & Company in the US, Mexico, Tokyo and HongKong. He is the only Filipino to have ever been elected to McKinsey’s global partnership.

As head of one of the country’s top corporations that sets the trends in the retailing industry, Jim’s earliest exposure to the malling business surely began as a young boy growing up in Greenhills at a time when shopping centers were redefining suburban living in the area. "From Ateneo where I was studying, I would take the Love Bus to Ali Mall at the Araneta Center with friends."

The idea of department stores evolving into malls surely did not escape his consciousness as he and his family would visit his grandparents in Manila, and sometimes go to Harrison Plaza. "Tremendous things have happened in the Ortigas and Cubao areas. For a long time, it was only in Makati where changes were happening." He is excited about these changes as he relishes competition.

Philippine STAR: So Jim Ayala is the new president of Ayala Land Inc. How are you related to the Ayalas?

Jim Ayala:
I don’t think we are. Iba ‘yung itsura namin.We never really traced it. I think we are Chinese somewhere along the line. When my ancestors were Christianized, they probably were given the names of their ninongs.

Tell us about your family?

My mom is from Naga, from the Imperial clan. My grandfather was like a country doctor. My mom grew up in Naga and she went to Maryknoll for college. That’s when she met my dad who was studying at the Ateneo. My mom has a master’s degree in English, and my father was more in government service, he was chairman of the BOI.

But then during the Marcos time, people had to make choices, and he left and joined the Lopez Group’s Meralco. He was a TOYM awardee.

Wow, your curriculum vitae looks awesome.How did your parents train you to be such an achiever?

There was never any pressure at home. When my friends were in the top 10, they’d get some kind of prize. With us, it was just normal. My parents always treated us all in a very grownup way. We were never pampered or babied, we were always expected to be responsible. We were five kids, I’m the second, the responsible one. The firstborn had to be the boss. My father died quite young at 41, so my oldest brother had to assume the burden.

Is that Manny Ayala, the newscaster?

No, Manny’s number 3. This is Fred, he has always been into venture capital, private equity, more on the finance side. In the Philippines, the greatest thing they have done is create this company called eTelecare Global Solutions. It’s one of the independent call centers in the world. They’ve got operations here, in India and the US. But it really started here only four years ago from zero to $200 million, based in the Philippines, and soon it will be listed on the NASDAQ. That’s the kind of thing – Filipino ingenuity and talent .

How about Manny? Is he still working abroad?

He’s now based here. He was in Singapore running Discovery Channel, then he went to HongKong during all the big Internet dot.com incubation. Manny’s always wanted to come home. I guess that’s the other thing our parents instilled in us – love of country and service to others. I grew up with very idealistic parents. My sister, the youngest, was always working with the NGOs, providing a safehouse for women who’d hide from their violent husbands.

You have your own advocacies as well?

I guess the general direction for me has always been economic development.We’ve always believed that, on one hand, you need to help individual people, but at the same time you can also do quite a bit if you’re working at a higher level –whether it’s working on policy issues or working with a large organization. Historically the ones I would get involved in abroad was the Big Brother/Big Sister where you get to work with young children to their early teens.

How would you translate this belief within your company?

During our anniversary, we at Ayala Land Inc. started a tradition that reflects our values as a company. One of our values is: How do we give back?As a company we’re thinking about which advocacies we will support at an institutional level where we will not only give money but also provide resources and volunteers. Sometimes you want to help in your own way, but when you have a whole company behind you and you partner with really good organizations, the impact is really great over time. It’s very important in a country for people to take care of their communities. People just don’t care about their communities.

If you were to run the country like a corporation, how would you go about it?

Ang dami nating problema
. There are two main things. I think one way is by getting some alignment or consensus. There are many sectors that have to get involved. We don’t have that kind of consensus as a country on some of the directions we have to take. The second one is really execution. Ang dami nating plano but we never follow through…

Is it the people or the system?

Part of the problem is how it’s set up. Look at Thailand, there is a tradition of continuity, it’s professional, they maintain the policies. So you see Thailand taking the lead in a lot of ASEAN initiatives, whereas the Philippines goes back and forth, back and forth. Over the years, we’ve been pushed to the sidelines. We don’t even see Manila on CNN weather.

When you were younger, what was your dream job?

I was into making things. Remember those old clocks with springs? I’d open them up and the spring would go poiiink! It was hard to put back the spring. When I’d go to the houses of my grandparents and uncles, they’d hide all of their clocks. I loved those erector sets, all things you’d assemble. My favorite thing was a science set my dad brought home from a trip. And of course, computers came in and I was also interested in that. My hilig was technology and science. My major in college was engineering and computer science, together with economics. I studied less developed countries and economics from that angle.

Did you ever get to invent something as a kid?

I don’t have any patents.

When you look at your malls, do you also look at them with the mind of an engineer?

I was more into electrical engineering, so maybe I can look at lights and electricity.

Now to some slum book type of questions. Who are your heroes?

My heroes besides Miriam? Anyone who provides one third of my revenues is my hero…I have a very clichéd answer. Of course, Jesus Christ. He really sacrificed so much in becoming human for little, insignificant us. That’s always something I admire – people who can be selfless…Of course, my father, even though he died young, he influenced our lives, our values. That’s something I think about a lot as a parent. By the time your kids are 11 or 12, they’re pretty much set in their ways.

How important are values in a corporate family?

In business and in any organization, it’s not about telling people what they should be doing. It’s about getting people in that place. When you look at why the Ayala Group in general is very successful, a large part of it stems from how they treat people. You treat people right, good things will happen.And of course , providing the kind of values we have, basically doing things the right way that’s important

What values do you want to pass on to your children?

It’s always about being independent, doing things themselves. Apart from independence is thinking about others. Once we were abroad and my son wanted to buy some stuff on his allowance. He was being very careful about his money, and was deciding whether to buy the bigger toy or the smaller toy. He bought the smaller one, and when we went to church, he gave all his money. It’s good the kids are not attached to their possessions.

What books are on your night table right now?

I read some l2 books simultaneously. There’s the Rule of Four, parang The Da Vinci Code. I’m reading this new book called The FedEx Story, which is about the Federal Express and how it became successful. I also read this book called Catholicism for Dummies because it’s easier to read than the Catechism which I have to read because I teach religion to IS students on weekends.Also the biography of Bill Clinton, the big one, and this new book of Jack Welch, Winning.

You’re more into non-fiction…

Yes, except for The Rule of Four, I’m into business, religion. The fiction I reserve for when I travel, for the plane and airport. And then I have my stack of magazines that I enjoy reading–The Economist, which is very well written. Fortune is also good, as well as BusinessWeek. When I get my haircut, I like reading about movies, so I subscribe to Premiere. I also read Architectural Digest. I subscribe for my son to magazines I used to read when I was his age, like Popular Mechanics and Reader’s Digest. Siyempre, I borrow them. I do a lot of surfing on the Web on sports and technology.

What’s your greatest luxury?

Time, actually.When I play golf, I take four and a half hours, and that’s luxury. I treat myself to a game of golf once a week.

I heard you’re also into the more dangerous sports like skydiving?

Scuba diving, Alpine skiing, go-kart racing and adventure travel.

What sports do you follow?

Golf, Formula 1, American football (I root for the Redskins), American baseball (I root for the Baltimore Orioles ‘cause we were once based in the Washington area), the Olympics and Tour de France. Of course, Lance Armstrong won again, but he’s a jerk, ha. His wife took care of him when he had cancer, then he dumped her for Sheryl Crow. He’s still a jerk.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with