VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

On Nov. 25, 2023, I turn 75. The day also marks the 22nd anniversary of my BizNewsAsia weekly business and news magazine. And my 53 years of professional journalism. I consider it also my Thanksgiving Day.

I covered and witnessed all kinds of events – fires, crimes, massacres, massive floods, plane crashes, epidemics, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, three EDSA revolts, 14 coup attempts, the world’s two longest insurgencies – the NPA and Muslim separatism. I interviewed presidents, from Marcos I to Marcos II.

It has been an exhilarating, fulfilling journey, one marked by more triumphal ups than depressing downs. On balance I could not have asked for more in life. I am a product of public elementary and high schools when state education was the best in Asia. I graduated with honors in Tondo and would not have finished college were it not for a four-year scholarship I won after topping a citywide competitive exam.

I finished journalism at UST, magna cum laude, with minor in economics and marketing. I took up three semesters of MBA at Ateneo Padre Faura. I didn’t learn much that is new except for the technical aspects of reading a balance sheet and analyzing problems with numbers. I attended economics and banking courses. I finished global journalism at the University of Stockholm.

BizNewsAsia is a publishing success story. It took off greatly and never lost ground, despite three years of COVID and its after effects. While many publications closed shop and lost their moorings, BizNewsAsia instead grew in strength, thanks to my business friends.

For this reason, I thank my business friends who have been with me, no matter the state of the economic and political weather.

I am particularly grateful to Ramon S. Ang, godfather to two of my married daughters. He lends you genuine friendship money cannot measure nor buy. When he heard I collapsed after a long trip, he sent his best doctor to check on me. When I had a head-on collision, a tow truck was there in 30 minutes and had my damaged SUV parked in a friend’s expensive garage forever. When I asked for one page of magazine ad, he instead offered two each week.

In two decades, RSA re-engineered San Miguel Corp. into a colossus unmatched in assets (P2.3 trillion), revenues (P1.5 trillion) and presence in many strategic industries (airports, food, beverages, infrastructure, mass transit, power, cement, water, battery storage), all for the primary purpose of making life better for the Filipino, thus redefining the existentialist purpose of business.

RSA is building the single biggest private investment ever, the P735-billion Bulacan AeroCity. He is also bidding to modernize and manage NAIA, with a Swiss partner.

I say thank you too to the late taipans Tatang Henry Sy Sr. and John Gokongwei Jr., then barely in their 50s. A young business reporter, I met them when they were on their way up. They confided in me the pains of their struggles and shared the joys of their business conquests. Vision, hard work, determination – these are the values I learned from them.

Today, under Tessie Sy, Tatang’s holding company SM Investments Corp. is the most valuable corporation. BDO is No. 1 in everything – assets, deposits, loans, equity, branch network and capital under management. SM has got it all and BDO finds ways.

The late Big John Gokongwei was the quintessential David of business fighting Goliaths. And he demolished the Goliaths.

I met John’s only son, Lance, when the boy was six. Bold and innovative among CEOs his age, Lance is the best and brainiest (summa, finance and applied science, UPenn) and is better than most CEOs who are older. JG Summit (Gokongwei Group) is No. 1 in branded foods, retailing, airline (Cebu Pacific – 55 percent of air passengers and with the largest aircraft fleet and order, at $12 billion, in history) and petrochemicals; hugely competitive in real estate and hotels, and has strengths and diversity in strategic investments like PLDT, Meralco, Ayala banking and power generation.

I thank too another compadre, Manny V. Pangilinan.

His PLDT, under Al Panlilio as CEO, is No. 1 telco in service revenues; earnings (EBIT, EBITDA, EBITDA margins); millions of subscribers – fixed line (3.79), mobile (55.24), and broadband (3.69); capital expenditures; internet speed and strength and sustainability (No. 1 among all Phl companies). Indeed, PLDT has strong brand equity and superior network quality.

MVP’s lifetime commitment to delivering the best in shareholder value, products and services in crucial sectors of the economy has improved immensely the lives and lifestyles of millions. His PLDT-Metro Pacific Investments Corp. is No. 1 in telco – fixed and mobile, electricity retailing and generation (Meralco), tollways (Metro Pacific Tollways with 436 kms; P56 billion for 58.9 kms of new tollways in 2024), health care (Metro Pacific Health; 23 hospitals and growing), private railway (LRT), natural resources (Philex) and water delivery (Maynilad).

I cannot forever forget Felipe “Henry” Gozon. His GMA7 is one of my earliest advertisers. For 20 consecutive years, this blue-chip lawyer made the Kapuso Network the best-managed broadcast network in Asia through consistent excellence and for being the largest, most trusted, most watched, most awarded, most innovative, most profitable, most diversified broadcasting network. Truth and integrity is GMA Network’s very definition and brand.

I have a few other friends. I will thank them in some future time. You are mostly in my mind.

Finally, I thank my Philstar president Miguel Belmonte, a compadre, for the honor and privilege of writing a column in this now venerable newspaper, the No. 1 daily.

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Email: [email protected]

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