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Al Panlilioâs calling
Al Panlilio, newly appointed PLDT CEO, is one of PeopleAsia’s ‘Men Who Matter’ 2021.
Photo by Mark Chester Uy

Al Panlilio’s calling

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - June 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Alfredo S. Panlilio says he is “humbled” as he takes over from MVP group chairman Manny V. Pangilinan as PLDT CEO. Pangilinan remains chairman of PLDT.

“I am humbled by the trust and confidence MVP and the board have entrusted in me,” said Panlilio, 58, in a Zoom interview with this writer. The newly minted PLDT CEO said earlier he has “big shoes to fill.”

“I embrace these awesome responsibilities,” Panlilio added.

Panlilio, who has been with PLDT since 1999, has always had a strong calling (pun intended) — to do good, and to do better. Especially by the customer. The customer, he stresses, is the “North Star” of his roles as both PLDT CEO, and Smart president and CEO.

“One customer can be both a PLDT and Smart customer,” he tells me.  “So we have to look at them as one, too. And if our North Star is the customer, even if you’re from finance or you’re from network, or some other group, if there’s a problem with a customer, you should make sure that you address that issue until the customer has been satisfied.”

The 5-ft.-11-in Panlilio, who started his career as a basketball player for a now defunct team owned by the Elizalde group, still plays by the rules of sports even in corporate life. He is a team player.

“I really believe in collaboration, being collegial, but at the same time being accountable. I’d like to hear everybody’s thoughts, but at the end of the day, I will have to make the decision. And I’m accountable for the decision,” he says.

He thinks his two sets of roles won’t cross lines, so to speak, but augur well for both companies’ connectivity.

“Being PLDT’s chief revenue officer (while he was Smart president and CEO), I had a grasp already of both PLDT and Smart. So in a way, I was partly doing the job already. But now, everything will be on my shoulders already. But yes, it’s almost the same people you work with, day to day, for two years now. And that’s really a seamless sort of integration in work between PLDT and Smart,” points out Panlilio, who rose from being a programmer in a Meralco subsidiary to becoming president and CEO of Smart and chief revenue officer of PLDT (before becoming CEO).

***

After first trying his hand at semi-professional basketball after graduating from the University of San Francisco, with a degree in Business Management (major in computer systems), Panlilio went into the popcorn business. He then worked in IBM, a period he looks back to as very formative in his career, until he was offered a job in PLDT by MVP himself.

He started with PLDT in July of 1999 and cut his teeth in the group with corporate business, then international business. He was posted in Hong Kong for six years, leading up to PLDT Global, also part of the MVP group. His marching orders were to link Filipinos abroad back home.

In 2010, MVP, who acquired Meralco in 2009, asked Panlilio, “Are you ready to come home?” It was full circle for Panlilio, whose first job after the hard court was with a subsidiary of Meralco.

“With the opportunity to come back to Meralco, I said, ‘Boss, any place I can help you with, and you feel that I can help you there, I’m willing to go home and help you in Meralco.” He stayed in Meralco for almost nine years, until he returned to PLDT in 2019, “20 years to the date that MVP first hired me.”

***

Together, PLDT-Smart has an organic workforce of 16,500.

“It’s a big group; that’s a challenge. But it’s also, you know, a challenge to make them work together even more. But we’re seeing some progress there. Can we do better? Of course, we always can be better.”

Panlilio’s curriculum vitae says he has “succeeded in breaking down silos, synergizing different teams and driving real collaboration among the groups within the two companies.”

“A lot of it is mindset, a lot of it is cultural. So that’s actually one of the major challenges — how we can be better. I would always say transformation is the hardest thing to do, but we need to do it to future-proof our business. But that transformation starts from each and every one, accepting that we need to take a look at how we can do things better, every time.”

For instance, though he aims for PLDT to do repairs in a day, his aspiration is, “Can we do repairs in four hours?”

“So again, we’re a work in progress, but we’re aspiring to be as responsive as we can be. There’s great responsibility for us to make sure that we’re able to provide the best service, the most reliable, the most coverage, and the best customer experiences. That has been our mantra, really improving customer experience every day. At the same time, we know that we’re not only being compared with competitors, right?” He points out that PLDT-Smart is likewise being compared with experiences outside the telco universe — the customer’s experiences with couriers and online shopping, among others.

“Definitely, more changes are happening,” says Panlilio, who also describes himself as a “dedicated family man and a basketball and golf enthusiast.”

“Moving forward, one of the major pillars, aside from customer experience, is digital. And really cutting across the whole company, making sure we are able to pivot at this time, make it more efficient. But at the same time, make it simpler for our customers. ‘Di ba yung promise ng Smart, ‘Simple Smart Ako’? But for us to serve our customers in a simple way, it’s not only a brand promise; it has to be a battle cry internally. So we’re also using it as a battle cry internally, na ‘Simple PLDT Smart kami.’  We need to make things simple. We need to automate.”

***

So what is Al Panlilio’s calling? It’s to make life better for his countrymen, having been given the position to make a difference in many lives with the power of communications technology that works, and works fast.

“With these services that we have, how can we, as individuals, ‘live Smarter’ by becoming better and really creating a better world?”

Sports are Panlilio’s other calling. While he was growing up, sports were a university that didn’t charge him tuition, and yet honed his future.

“Yes, in a way, it’s my way of giving back,” he smiles. “Sports has been very, very big for me, and very, very good to me. The exposure, the learning, and even my principles and values in running the company, a lot of them was born because of my experiences in sports.”

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez @yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

AL PANLILIO
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