Sid Consunji on being kamote*

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The glittering ballroom of Shangri-La The Fort was filled with some of the biggest names in government and business.

Everyone, it seemed, wanted to listen to the story of tycoon Isidro “Sid” Consunji, chairman, president and CEO of DMCI Holdings Inc., the listed conglomerate of the Consunji Group.

It was the awarding ceremony for this year’s MAP Management Man of the Year, touted as the Oscars for management and leadership.

Sid is this year’s awardee, joining an esteemed roster of men and women in business and government including his father, the late David “DM” Consunji, known as the Grandfather of Philippine construction; his mentor, the venerable Cesar Buenaventura; former Prime Minister Cesar Virata and the multi-awarded ex-central bank governor Amando Tetangco Jr.

Sid, as everyone in business knows, is not your typical Boss.

For one, while he builds skyways and towering condominiums, there is one thing he will not build: his wardrobe. He holds meetings in shirt, shorts and slippers and hatches billion-dollar deals in the same casual clothes.

Monday’s awarding, of course, was an exception as Sid showed up dapper in a suit and tie.

But that’s Sid. You could say that he always rises to the call of the times, sometimes even successfully anticipating what the times would bring.

A league of his own

In his acceptance speech, which successfully squeezed DMCI’s success story in a few pages and was peppered with brilliance, enough humor and lots of heart, Sid shared his story as the man at the helm of the DMCI Group.

He starts with a confession:

“Good morning, everyone.

“I have a confession to make.

“When I learned that I was nominated for the MAP Management Man of the Year Award, I asked if I could be withdrawn from consideration. I didn’t think I had done anything extraordinary to deserve the nomination.

“You see, Washington Sycip, Cesar Virata, Cesar Buenaventura and my father, David Consunji, were my real-life heroes.

“Growing up, I witnessed their brilliance, passion and love for our country. I saw how they shaped their professions, championed progress and made life better for others. In my mind, they were in a different league altogether.

“So, imagine my shock when I received a call from Cesar Buenaventura telling me that I was this year’s awardee.

“If my father was here today, I’m sure he would laugh and say, ‘Pano nangyari yan, eh kamote ka?’

“Dad, wherever you are, I hope this kamote made you and Mom proud.”

His story

He then went on to share his life journey.

“You see, I never set out to become an engineer. Initially, I was an Economics major at Ateneo. But after seeing the mini skirted ladies in UP Diliman, I devised a way to convince my parents to let me transfer schools.”

But as a civil engineer, he eventually saw construction through a different lens.

He was more interested in finding ways to leverage his technical background to identify and maximize commercial opportunities and create value.

Thus, from just a contractor, he convinced his father to become an investor as well. In 1995, they listed DMCI Holdings and raised enough funds to expand and diversify into other industries.

Today, the DMCI group has a total workforce of over 35,000. Its business portfolio now includes energy, real estate, mining and water distribution.

Three galvanizing moments

But DMCI’s success didn’t come overnight. Sid narrated three galvanizing moments for the DMCI Group – the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the problematic Semirara coal and the Maynilad bid.

For the Asian crisis, the DMCI Group formed DMCI Homes to generate liquidity, turning its idle land into residential condominiums.

For Semirara, DMCI transformed the coal – previously referred to as Semirara clay – by improving coal quality. It changed the mining method and put up a coal washing plant on the island.

Today, Semirara Mining is the most modern coal mine in the country, accounting for over 96 percent of domestic coal production.

In the case of Maynilad, the DMCI Group had to borrow money from multiple sources to raise the bid money of P3 billion.

The rest, as they say, is history. DMCI is now one of the biggest conglomerates in the country.

Life lessons

Sid shared three life lessons from his 50 years as a management professional, to impart to the next generation leaders and managers.

First is to play to your team’s strengths.

“As leaders and business managers, we need to have a clear understanding of our organization and what our people can do...That’s pretty much the reason why we’re not in the hospitality or entertainment business. Hindi namin kaya ngumiti buong araw.”

Second is to strive for a win-win outcome. Whether in business or in social gatherings, wala dapat nagugutom.

The third is to spread the sunshine.

“Business should be a catalyst for shared prosperity. We should do what we can to bring sunshine into the lives of our fellow Filipinos. I don’t consider myself a religious man, but I believe that your work can be your prayer,” he said.

It was a good, touching and inspiring narrative from one who calls himself kamote. The next challenge now for the DMCI Group – as it is with other Philippine conglomerates – is succession and how that will play out, we have yet to find out.

In the meantime, Sid can savor his recognition, a long way indeed from someone who decided to become an engineering student on a whim, just to see girls in mini-skirts.

He once told me, in jest, that his father’s most difficult project was raising him but DM Consunji, wherever he is now, must be smiling and proud of his eldest son who has indeed risen to the occasion.

Sid is perhaps just like some of the problematic assets the DMCI Group acquired and successfully transformed – buying them from junk yards and magically transforming them so they can be sold at Tiffany’s.

*kamote is generally used as a slang expression in the Philippines for someone who is having a difficult time with something

*      *      *

Email: e[email protected]. Follow her on Twitter  @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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