Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The pleasure of his Company

By Winston A. Marbella

The images linger on my mind: Steve Jobs walking confidently on stage for Apple's latest product launch.  Only this time, he was not carrying any product.  Instead, he had tucked under his armpit a regular-sized manila envelope.

In due time, he emptied the envelope.  The audience gasped and held its breath.  Out came a gleaming gadget in a shade of aluminum, thin, elegant, light.

Jobs said it was the thinnest, lightest, most elegant laptop ever produced, light years ahead ot its time.  The audience stood in awe; nobody would have believed otherwise.

In fact, Sony had introduced a thinner, lighter model two years ahead,  But it had cost twice as much, so nobody took notice.  And they did not have Steve Jobs to market it.

The event persists in my mind not because of the MacBok Air – although it was remarkable – but because Jobs had used a manila envelope – a MANILA envelope! – to stress the obvious.  Now perhaps the world would start using that word again with a capital “M.”

There he was at center stage, an icon of the technological age, unveiling the latest  device from probably the most iconic brand in technology, and using a product originally  made in the Philippines, to drive home his point.


Jobs had launched with as much hoopla the iPhone with a tactile, touch-sensitive face in the summer of 2007.  It had taken the world by storm.

Then, three months later, he launched the latest-generation iPod, an iPhone without a phone (!) but with a the same touch-sensitive face.  Both were smashing successes.

Together with iTunes and The Apple Store, these products marked the second coming of Jobs to Apple, the company he co-founded, which he had departed earlier after fiery disagreements with the board over the path Apple was to take to the future.

Jobs had cashed in his shares and bought a small company which he rebuilt with a small group of loyal Apple employees.  That company became Pixar, and it revolutionized the film industry by using computer animation to bring us such blockbusters as “Toy Story.”

Apple floundered and, realizing its folly, the board invited Jobs back to put Apple back on track. They bought his company and made him Chief Executive Officer once again.


In recounting what happened afterward, it is hard to separate fact from fiction, but the story is still worth retelling because Steve Jobs and Apple are mythical characters.

It is said that in its first meeting after the board hired him back, it had asked Jobs to spell out his vision for Apple.  Here the story goes magical.

Jobs reportedly put together prototypes of products that were in the pipeline, glued them to the four walls of the board room, and trashed them one by one until only three were left.  These three products, Jobs told the board, will be the future of Apple.

The three were the iPhone, the iPod, and the iPad.  Today, these devices touch the lives of hundreds of  millions of consumers as they trek a brave new world into the future.

                    Most valuable company

Hundreds of milions of those products have been sold to make Apple the most valuable technology company in the world, now surpassing another icon, Microsoft.  For brief periods, Apple even surpasses Exxon Mobil as the most valuable company in the world. 

Last August, Jobs, 56, announced he was stepping down as Chief Executive.  Many took the news with sadness, but almost everyone knew it was coming.  Jobs had survived often-terminal pancreatic cancer and, later, a kidney transplant.  

He had taken medical leaves sporadically (one observer said he had been at work only three months the past year).  But he had put Apple firmly back on course and its future seemed secure.

At the launch of the second generation iPad early this year, Jobs had looked gaunt in his signature black turtleneck, faded jeans, and tattered sneakers.  He took the time to paint us a view of what he called the  “Post-PC World.”  It took him exactly 229 words!

Technology wed to liberal arts

“It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough,” Jobs said.  “It's technology married with the liberal arts, married with the humanities, that give us the results that make our hearts sing....”

Perhaps nobody thought Jobs was delivering his valedictory as well.  But he might just as well have been. 

Clearly he was closing the PC world he had impacted so boldly, and he could see the dawning of a new age, and that Apple was back on track.  After all, wasn't it Apple that had said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”?

In a letter of resignation that closed an era, Jobs informed the board that he would like to stay on as Chairman, a job that had not been filled before perhaps in anticipation of this day, as a director, and as an employee.

He surely intended to be around, but he was leaving his day-to-day duties to an able team, people who had worked with him all these years.  

When he had fallen ill, he recalled, he had told the board he would be the first to let them know if he was  unable to meet his duties as Chief Executive.  

“Unfortunately, that day has come,“ he said with sadness.  He said his thank-yous to  friends and colleagues and signed his letter simply as “Steve.”

Now he is gone.

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)  

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A man in transition

By Winston A. Marbella

Manny Pacquiao has transcended the ring.

In earning a record eighth world title against Antonio Margarito, Manny Pacquiao carved his place in history---not only as a champion of the incredible kind, but simply as a man.

As he trained for this fight, the wear and tear of seven world titles began to show.  First he injured his foot.  Then he skipped training because of sinusitis. Apparently getting bored, he played basketball.  Then he broke training to run a marathon.

Trainer Freddie Roach saw something amiss:  “After the first couple of days of training, Manny came up to me and said, ‘I miss my job,’ and I said, ‘You are at your job!’ and he said, ‘No, I miss Congress.’”

Manny Pacquiao is clearly in transition. But he has no apologies to make---or promises to keep.  He is just moving on.

‘A great God’

When the news broke that the Briton Ricky Hatton was deeply depressed after a devastating second-round knockout loss to Pacquiao last year, Manny sent word to cheer him up: “Don’t tell God that you have a great problem; tell your problem that you have a great God.”

The boxing promoter Bob Arum,  himself recovering from the loss of his son in a mountain-climbing accident, was so touched by Manny’s gesture that he told the whole world about Manny’s compassion—and that the entire Filipino nation should be proud of him.

By now we all know of Manny’s superhuman abilities, but where does his remarkable character come from?  Raised by a single parent, Dionisia, after his father abandoned his family, Manny, 14, left his dirt-poor community in General Santos City to find a job in Manila to help his mother feed the brood.  He became a boxer.  The rest we know.

But a heroic rags-to-riches journey by itself does not mold character.  A teacher recalls that Manny never cheated during exams.  That’s character.

Floyd Running-weather

What else is there now to do for a champion whose opponents are fast running out---or simply running away, like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., nicknamed Floyd Maynever-fight-again?

Pacquiao knows he is on the last legs of a brilliant boxing career; he has earned a record eight titles, and nobody else has done that—ever.  Not Muhammad Ali—not Sugar Ray Leonard---not Sugar Ray Robinson---not Rocky Marciano—not even the screen Rocky of Sylvester Stallone—although Manny Pacquiao stands head and shoulders alongside them, if not above them---in the hearts of millions of boxing fans all over the world.

Now a congressman representing the lone district of Sarangani province in southern Mindanao, Manny is definitely in his element in the rough and tumble game of politics—he knocked out a political heavyweight in getting his congressional seat.

He went into politics because he saw in it a way to serve his people better, he says.  He wants them to have the same breaks he had.  That’s why politics engrosses him.  He can do more for his people there.  He is moving on.

He knows his boxing career is about to wane.  It’s been a wild ride, including the fight with Ricky Hatton.  Of all his memorable fights, it’s the one worth remembering---because it defined the making of Manny Pacquiao, a man in full.

Suggestion only

By law the campaign for the 2010 elections should not have begun until 90 days for national positions---or 45 days for local--- before the balloting last May 10.  But as with most things in this country, the law is a suggestion only.

And so one hot and humid summer’s day in May 2009, almost a year to the day before the elections, the campaign season got off to a rollicking start.

It happened, of all places, in the live television coverage of Manny’s world title bout against Hatton,.

As with most days when Pacquiao fights, time stood still in the country.  There was no traffic in the streets.  Even the rebel troops, by tacit agreement, suspended fighting with government forces.

You know exactly when Pacquiao destroys his opponent.  Millions of boxing fans jump to their feet, punching the air with their fists, screaming like a billion banshees.

The coincidental collision of the two events – the accidental start of the campaign and the record-matching sixth world title for Pacquiao – was symbolic in more ways than one.

First, Pacquiao had gotten the ring announcer to introduce him as a fighter “from Sarangani province in the Philippines.”  This was his way of announcing indirectly a second attempt to get elected as congressman (he lost the first time in General Santos City).

Second, embedded in the coverage were political ads greeted by boos and catcalls---fans obviously didn’t like mixing the serious business of boxing with politics.

Brave hearts

Exactly a week later, ABS-CBN launched the sequel to its 2008 citizen movement, “Boto Mo i-Patrol Mo. Ako ang simula.”  Now the campaign was official--if not in law, at least in media.  Manny was finally running for Congress, his new love.

Coincidentally, it was Mothers’ Day, and--considering how Manny Pacquiao adores his Mama Dionisia, his inspiration—it was a happy coincidence that must have warmed the cockles of both their brave hearts.

(The author writes about the joy of sports for a hobby.  E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Postcards from the river’s edge

By Winston A. Marbella

Very early into the new Aquino administration in 2010,  when the weight of the nation's problems had not begun to take its toll on  frayed nerves and sense of humor, the Malacanang Palace Press Corps could still engage the President's spokespersons in light-hearted banter.

One such episode involved a modern-day version of an ancient Chinese adage.

The Chinese have been credited with many things, both factual and mythical.

Myth: The Chinese said, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  Fact: They actually said, “A picture is worth TEN thousand words.”

Although 9,000 digits were lost in translation, the exact number is worth remembering, as we will see later.  For now, we can go along with my favorite storyteller’s dictum: “Why allow a minor error to stand in the way of a good story?”


On this particular day, the Malacanang communications group  released to media two fascinating photographs all in one swoop.

The first showed the newly refurbished presidential bedroom in Bahay Pangarap, across the Pasig river from the palace, which President Aquino was to occupy.  The bed was dressed in linen that looked floral to at least one reporter with a fashion sense.

When the reporter with an eye for flowers noted the apparent mismatch between the bachelor president and the pretty florals, it drove the presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda to stitches.  But he had a ready reply.

He said the picture he had been handed to give away must have been a file photo.  Pressed for a more recent one, he demurred, saying that security concerns discouraged giving away pictures of the president’s lair.

We could let this minor lapse pass because it did no harm to national security and was worth a hearty chuckle on a rainy day.


The second picture showed the President proudly displaying his first paycheck, which Secretary Sonny Coloma said was to be deposited in the President’s bank to pay his bills.  Maybe we can let this one pass after some comment.

We do not know the significance of this event amidst a sea of troubles that day.  (One was the continuing crisis in Philippine Air Lines, which was not resolved but adequately reported.)  Maybe it was just an innocent attempt to enjoy a light moment during an immensely trying day.

Or maybe it was an attempt to make the President look more human—like most of us, he relies on his salary to make ends meet.

Or maybe it was more than that because it coincided with the flowery bed sheets—two light moments in a presidential day are one too many.

Photo Op

In previous administrations of crass photo-opportunism, the first presidential paycheck might have been a cheap shot too tempting to pass.  

Someone could have made a ballyhoo of it by donating it to some charity.  For how far can some P90,000 really go in paying the President’s bills?

But they had to record the historical moment: the President proudly showing the check to photographers before it headed for the bank to pay his bills.  

Was there a message there somewhere that eluded us?  Or were we over-reading a simple gesture grandly choreographed to look ordinary?

Connecting people

We know that a president has to connect with the people.  One way of connecting is to picture him as human like us.  There are a thousand ways—no, TEN thousand ways—to do this.

One is to show bed sheets that look floral.  But that is awkward.  Another is to show his first paycheck.  

But two photos in one day made for 20,000 words too many, if we accept the Chinese way of quantifying the value of pictures in words.

The mind boggles.

(The author is chief executive of Marbella International Business Consultancy, a think tank that specializes in business planning, marketing strategy, management training and corporate communications, and transforming social, political, cultural and technological change into public policy and business strategy.  E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Oil Luck Club

By Winston A. Marbella

Four years before the Bio-fuels Act was passed in 2007, which mandated gradually increasing amounts of bio-fuel in our diesel fuel, Dean Lao, Sr., saw the potential of coconut oil: It was most abundant in the country, which assured him of constant supply, and why should we not use what we already have, he reasoned.  

But not much information was available on biodiesel made from coconut oil, so Lao’s company, Chemrez, started gathering scientific data together with the Asian Institute of Petroleum Studies.  After countless trials, they convinced tough critics like car manufacturers and oil companies that they had the best biodiesel in the world.

Like most successful entrepreneurs, Lao is singularly modest about his accomplishments.  It is not a false kind of modesty but one that is rooted in an honest appreciation of life’s random fates. 

His face is etched with deep lines reflecting the wisdom of the years; you sense readily they did not get there by staying too long in the sun playing golf.  He recalls:

“Forty-three years ago we were in chemicals and resins.  But when import restrictions were imposed because of the scarcity of dollars, we were forced to look into indigenous chemicals like coconut oil.  That brought us to the edible oil business.”

‘Good heist movie’

He pauses as if to relish further what was to come next.  “In any business, it is not brains or foresight that spells success.  It is timing and luck, plus courage – the same elements that make a good heist movie.  

“One day the new CEO of Procter & Gamble Worldwide looked closely at his food division and asked, ‘Our business is in soaps and detergents.  What are we doing in edible fats and oils?  

“A few years after that, the chairman of Unilever also looked at his fats and oils business and decided his core business was in personal care products.  We were a far third in the market.  All of a sudden, we were the only one left!” Lao recalls.

“The same thing happened when the trend towards bio-fuels hit the global market a few years ago.  We were already in coconut oil applications in food, shampoo, soap, glycerin, and oleo chemicals.  “

Then the Bio-fuels Act came into effect.  We decided to buy the technology and build the plant here.  It was not vision or foresight – just common sense and the courage to seize the opportunity when it came, while others would spend years doing feasibility studies.” 


Dean Lao walks briskly as he takes me on a lightning tour of his five-hectare complex along Industria Street in Bagumbayan, Quezon City.  I had requested to see his plant for a book I was writing.  

Here, as well as on two more properties across the street, resides Chemrez Technologies, a Filipino conglomerate with substantial interests in chemicals, plastics, edible fats and oils, and, more recently, bio-petroleum for oil and industrial applications.  

Dean Lao is a chemical engineer and his passion is research and development.  With obvious pride, he takes me first to his laboratory, where, according to a company handout, “a diverse portfolio of specialty products has been developed over two decades, earning Chemrez a prestigious reputation in the Philippines and Asia.”  

Says Lao: “This is the backbone of the operation.  We develop products through continuous research and innovation.  
“New technologies are regularly incorporated to improve product performance and manufacturing processes.  Our resources continue to be expanded and strengthened to serve client needs.”

‘Life Is hard’

We head down three flights of stairs and enter a gated area where the guard gives us hard hats to wear and offers a basket for my mobile phone.  Cameras are off limits inside the plant.  

We walk to the back lot where the latest addition to the Chemrez operations is humming.  This is where they extract the chemicals from coconut oil which go into biodiesel.  

We cross over the huge back lot to the plastics operation, where a machine was extruding packaging material for fast-food clients.  On the way back, we pass by hundreds of barrels of oil and chemicals.  They are all impeccably clean.  Lao runs a tight ship.  

Along the way employees greet him with delight.  “I try to pay more than minimum wage,” he says.  “Life is hard these days.”  He says it matter-of-factly, but you can sense he knows how it feels to be poor.

'Gifts from God'

We head back to his office.  His words are precise, as they were during the entire plant tour.  He knows the details of his operation like the back of his hand.  

His sentences do not hang in the middle of phrases; they are always complete.  There is no hesitation.  He knows where he is going -- and how to get there.  But most importantly, he cares about his customers, his shareholders, and his business partners; it seeps into all areas of operation.

He recalls our earlier conversation: “I said you need three things to succeed: street-smartness, luck, and courage.  Let me add two more: common sense and humility.  Those are gifts from God.”

Ever the gracious host, he walks me down to my car.  He waits for the car to move.  I roll down the window to wave him goodbye.  He has already turned around to continue working.  It is 9:30 a.m., and he has been at work since 6:30.

(E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ambidextrous companies

By Winston A. Marbella

Charles Revson of the cosmetics empire Revlon gave us a classic example of the ambidextrous personalities that define most successful companies:  “In the factory, we make cosmetics.  In the stores, we sell hope.”

This mental dexterity – knowing what you do as different from the benefit you provide costumers – is key to commercial success.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review in 1960, Ted Levitt wrote a prescient piece that has since become the gospel of the marketing movement. As an antidote to “Marketing Myopia,” he prescribed  looking at your business from the customers' point of view.

In one telling example, Levitt said the reason businesses die is not because businesses decline but because they define their industries narrowly: so they lose customers to other industries.  He cited the railroad industry.

The traffic for transporting people and goods was in fact growing, but the railroads lost their customers to truckers, automobiles, even airplanes.  That's because the railroad moguls thought of themselves as belonging to the railroad business  when in fact they were competing in the transportation industry.

Largely because of Levitt's pioneering work, now we know better.

What they know

The Finnish communications giant, Nokia, market leader in mobile phones, does not think of itself as the world's leading mobile phone manufacturer.  It defines its business as “Connecting People.”

The film industry declined because Hollywood thought it was in the business of making movies, when in fact it was in the business of providing entertainment.

Disney does not operate theme parks; it makes people happy.

Carrier does not make air conditioners; it provides a comfortable climate.

Britannica does not sell encyclopedia; it  provides information.

Xerox does not make copying machines; it improves office productivity.

Agri companies do not sell fertilizers; they improve farm productivity.

Lest we start believing these are just catchy slogans, the better companies not only preach them but live them.

The campus

Nike's corporate headquarters sprawls across a vast acreage of Oregon state in the Pacific Northwest.  Here Nike employees drink the elixir from the fountain of youth as they go about a regular working day.  They call it “the campus” because it is a learning environment.

After lunch at the cafeteria, employees are given extra time to try new running shoes around the jogging path encircling the campus.  Others try other designs for other sports: tennis, basketball, track and field.  Lest they forget, the employees are surrounded by giant posters of the sports legends who endorse their various products: Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, the legendary Michael Jordan.

Nike says of its corporate philosophy: “It is not so much the shoes – but where they take you.”

Indeed.  Any aspiring basketball player who dons a new pair of Air Jordans can leap from the top of the keyhole and dunk the ball on the way down – at least in his mind.

That is what Marketing Imagination can do – looking at things from the customers' point of view – which, by the way, was the title of Levitt's sequel.

Soul mates

At Barnes & Noble, salesmen are encouraged to read books when customers are few so that they can offer quick reviews to book lovers who cannot decide what tomes to buy.  The salesmen know that books are not just compilations of sentences; they are gateways to a whole new world of discovery and adventure.

Curl up with a book with your favorite brew on a lazy Saturday morning at Starbucks' and you are transported to a magical world all your own.

In the case of Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, it wasn't a book that transported him to a  whole new world, but the smell of freshly ground coffee while he was on a trip to Seattle in Washington state.

Schultz knew from the beginning that he was not selling coffee but a whole new coffee experience.  Coffee drinkers, he noted early on, are sociable people, and they might like a cozy little place where they could gather and share stories while enjoying a good cup of coffee.

Like Nike's Phil Knight, Schultz knew it was not so much the coffee, but where it transported you.

And thanks to visionaries like Levitt and Knight and Schultz, we now have what we have – neither shoes, nor coffee, nor railroads – but where they take us.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No textbook for strategy

By Winston A. Marbella

Students of business administration are being put to the test explaining the strategic logic behind San Miguel Corporation's bold forays into industries that seemingly have no connection to its traditional businesses in food and beverages.  

The perplexity deepens especially after the students revisit the management classic, In Search of Excellence, which noted that successful companies “stick to their knitting,” meaning they leverage what they are good at.

Viewed in this light, SMC's recent thrusts into energy (Petron), infrastructure building, power generation, telecomminications, and banking seem to have no rhyme or reason.  That is, until you realize that food and beverages have yielded minimal returns when compared against the industries that have caught the eye of SMC President Ramon Ang in recent years.

In fact, there may not seem to be any common thread running through all these new businesses except that they are very profitable. Unless one looks at them as examples of opportunistic entrepreneurial  leaps into areas where good money can be made, the strategic logic of conventional planners seems to be missing.  Until one realizes that there is nothing wrong at all with making money where you can, while you can, for as long as the money is to be made, in industries on the rise.

San Miguel stocks are upbeat and the company is reaping the rewards of its renewed enterprising spirit in record earnings and profits.  And shareholders are happy.  Yet, it seemed barely two decades ago when San Miguel didn't seem to know where it was going. 

Enter Hamel

In the mid 1990s, the best-selling strategist Gary Hamel was invited by San Miguel as a resource in its annual strategic planning review.  What happened in those meetings – or what Hamel recommended – are, of course, confidential.  But we can make educated guesses from the management books that have made Hamel a classic resource in  strategy formulation.

Among Hamel's classic management precepts:

“The best way to create wealth for employees and stockholders is to renew our commitment to developing and executing  innovative strategies....

“(Innovative companies) not only reinvented their companies; they reinvented their industries, regenerated new core strategies, and defined new business models for global markets.”


The idea that shook up conventional management logic was: “Strategy has to subversive!

“If it is not challenging internal company rules or industry rules, it is NOT strategy.”

Hamel provides a revolutionary road map:  “The goal is to cause earthquakes.  Never before has there so much scope to rewrite the rules of the game.”

Finding the future

To find the future, Hamel prescribes the following:
  • Challenge current orthodoxies,  The starting point is a systematic “deconstruction” of prevailing orthodoxies.
  • Explore “discontinuities.”  Do not attempt to predict the future, or build scenarios of what can happen.  Rather, imagine a future that you can make happen  (Allan Kay, Apple's chief strategist, has been quoted famously for: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”  It is a precept Apple  follows to the hilt with three industry-rewriting products, iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad.)
  • Create new core competencies by creating revolutionary strategies.  Imagination, not cash, is a scarce resource.
Then Hamel asks the inevitable questions:  “Are you building a legacy or living off a legacy?  

“Who is setting the transformation agenda in your Company today?”

When Hamel lectured at San Miguel, it was under a different management, so Ramon Ang was not in the audience.  But considering how he has run San Miguel since 1998, it would seem like he did not have to be there.  He and Hamel just seem to think along parallel lines.  And that is probably the happiest coincidence to have hit San Miguel in a long, long time.

Analyze this!

Last August, the Philippine bourse reacted positively again to the news that SMC has expanded its footprint in the regional oil industry with the planned acquisition of the downstream (high value) petroleum businesses of Exxon Mobil Corp. in Malaysia.  “It gives SMC a bigger retail footprint in the region,” an industry source said.

Ramon Ang is inventing a new future for San Miguel.  It's another audacious move that will send business strategy students back to their textbooks.  But they won't find the strategic logic of Ramon Ang in any management text yet.

During an interview with a business reporter recently, Ang was asked where he derived his strategies.  He simply flashed a Mona Lisa smile and pointed to his head.

(The author is chief executive of an international management consulting firm that specializes in transforming social and political trends into public policy and business strategy.  Comments are welcome at mibc2006@gmail.com.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Men of confident tomorrows

By Winston A. Marbella

This piece was inspired by William Wordsworth, who wrote: “A man he seems of confident tomorrows.”  I like to use the phrase to describe an entrepreneur.

A student named Fred Smith wrote a paper proposing an overnight delivery service.  His professor commented: “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.”  That idea became Smith’s Federal Express.

Lost in translation

The English language had no word descriptive enough to capture the burgeoning of the small business owner into a pillar of industry.  The French had something close: the word is entrepreneur, which has come to mean “a man of vision who undertakes to start and conduct an enterprise or business, assuming full control and risk.”

The English borrowed the word from the French, in spite of former President George W. Bush’s linguistic gaffe that the French have no word for entrepreneur.  He sincerely believed that the word was as English as muffins, or as American as apple pie.  The word is actually as French as fries.

The Presidential Management Staff (or PMS for short, not to be confused with the medical term of another meaning) says SMEs (for small and medium enterprises) comprise 99.6 percent of all businesses in the country–-an astonishing number.  We are a nation of entrepreneurs.  Still we continue to search for our great Industrial Age.

Small enterprises drive the world’s greatest economy, the United States.  At the top of the food chain, the Fortune 500 companies employ less than nine percent of the total workforce, but 33 million Americans (or a fifth of the workforce) work for themselves – entrepreneurs!

Many of these small and medium enterprises are growing at more than 20 percent a year.  And almost every company in the top three percent high-growth sectors started as innovative enterprises less than 60 years ago. Among them are Intel, Apple, Microsoft, Starbucks, Levi’s, Benetton, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot, to name the more prominent.

Companies such as these will shape the economy of the future.  The Internet and the networked business organizations will bring about a third revolution-–after the agricultural and the industrial ones-–based mainly on the new technologies of information and communication.  Technology will change the way we live, work and play, as it has in fact already changed our lifestyles.

Playing fields

The future belongs to entrepreneurs who will learn how to harness the power of the networked business models to propel the new economy.

Giant conglomerates and multinational corporations have long understood that in order to stay competitive they have to revisit their entrepreneurial roots to revitalize their rapidly “obsoleting” businesses, to borrow a word from the lexicon of Silicon Valley.

They have begun to rediscover the power of the enterprising spirit in reinventing themselves back to relevance in the brave new world of this millennium.

To compete against these giants with gargantuan resources and appetites, entrepreneurs must in turn learn the tactics of the big companies, turn these to their advantage, and, using technology, leverage their weaknesses into strengths.

High tech

High-tech devices are already very much a part of people’s lives.  The U.S. government, together with several mobile phone companies, is undertaking an initiative to use cell phones to modernize health care in the developing world.

Called Phones-for-Health, the program equips health workers in the field with an application that allows them to make available health data of patients to physicians on the Internet for analysis and diagnosis.  Health care workers are also able to use the system to order medicines, download treatment guidelines, and access medical information.

More recently, Philips Philippines launched the ORET Easy-Web (E-Web) Healthcare System, which will allow on-line referral and diagnosis from remote provinces by health care experts at great savings to patients.  The Philips program will make quality health-care services available to millions of Filipinos in the countryside.

Initially, the system was to be installed at the Philippine Heart Center and link up via satellite to hospitals in Bicol, Cebu, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro.  Using broadband Internet, the link will enable online collaboration and consultation between doctors using clinical images along with voice and real-time video conferencing.

The possibilities are endless.

Locus focus

The Internet will be the locus of the New Economy, the new arena of competition.  Businesses will live or die in cyberspace.  Those who learn to navigate the great knowledge highways of the Internet will create great wealth.

Wealth creation, in turn, will depend on processing information at the speed of thought.  Information will be nothing.  Knowledge will be everything.

How we compete in the age of technology will undergo a sea change, but the basics of competition will remain the same.  Competition will be driven by the same natural forces, but in very different ways.

To say that the sky is the limit would be an understatement.  There are no boundaries in cyberspace---only the blinders on our mind.

(The author is chief executive of Marbella International Business Consultancy, a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, cultural and technological trends intopublic policy and business strategy.  E-mail mibc2006@gmail.com.)   

The point of no return

By Winston A. Marbella

In the face of a climate gone wild globally, many are asking: If the planet is warming, why are winters getting colder while many parts of the globe including the Philippines are suffering killer landslides and flooding caused by torrential rains?

In the Philippines, torrential rains triggered massive flooding and killer landslides in the Bicol Region, eastern and central Visayas, and four regions in Mindanao early in 2011.  

2-M climate refugees

Almost 2,000,000 people have been displaced by the floods, government agencies reported, the result of warm temperatures colliding with the tail-end of a cold front blowing from Siberia.  The seasonal northeast monsoon also causied the cooler weather in Baguio and Luzon, including Metro Manila, early this year.

The weather agency, Pagasa, said more flooding was expected from the monsoon and the La Nina phenomenon which would dump more rains on the eastern parts of the country until the normally dry season till May.  Stronger typhoons carrying more rains will follow during the wet season beginning June, it said.

Temperatures plunged to 9 degrees Celsius in the Cordilleras, destroying crops and causing a rise in vegetable prices. The Siberian winds also dropped temperatures in Metro Manila to around 18.5 degrees Celsius in the mornings.

Disasters waiting

Late last year, a study done by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank,, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) warned that the Philippines was an environmental disaster waiting to happen.

An Asia-Pacific-focused US think tank also warned that government agencies were under-equipped and ill-prepared to cope with harsh environmental disasters.

The dire warnings have come true, even as some 15,000 scientists, bureaucrats and business leaders from close to 200 countries gathered last December in the Mexican resort of Cancun to continue efforts toforge a binding accord to curb climate change.

Sinking towns 

Scientists have warned that unless we are able to keep global warming below the estimated tipping point of 2,5 degrees Celsius over the next few years, rising sea levels from melting ice will swamp 60 percent of Philippine coastal towns, where more than half the population lives.

On the eve of the Cancun meeting, scientists updated a report that small island states situated in the oceans could go under water earlier than expected because of rapidly warming climes. 

In Australia, a 30-foot rise in three river systems created an inland sea the size of Germany and France, flooding 40 cities and towns and displacing some 200,000 people.

Summer floods

Last year freakish summer floods wrought havoc in China and Pakistan, while a massive summer heat wave ignited roaring forest fires in Russia, causing damage in the billions of dollars. 

These are some of the drastic effects of climate change, UN scientists warned, and unless we are able to turn back the tide of global warming, loss of habitat and mass extinction of species may be irreversible.

Ironically, the UN scientists noted, the world has the resources and the technology to avert climate catastrophes.  It’s the political will that’s missing, observed the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (UNIPCC), co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, together with environmental advocate Al Gore. 

Experts say the number of people affected could double in seven years and reach as high as 200 million once the global warming tipping point is breached. 

The numbers could swell as refugees flee flooded homes, parched lands, typhoon-ravaged areas, and disaster-prone countries in Africa and Pacific island nations including the Philippines.


The UN climate panel estimated that from one billion to three billion people would suffer drinking water shortages by 2080 and between 200 million and 600 million would go hungry.  

The exhaustive study by some 2,500 scientists from 100 countries found that the Earth was indeed growing warmer from human-caused emissions of so-called greenhouse gases, mostly carbon dioxide, from the burning of fossil fuels like oil and coal. 

These gases form a cover around the globe like a giant greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and increasing surface temperatures.

Bad crops

Farmers along the equator will suffer decreasing crop yields due to drought.  Hundreds of millions of people living in more than three dozen river deltas---in Egypt, Vietnam, and Bangladesh—are likely to find themselves literally caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, between rising sea levels and more frequent floods inland.

The UN scientists saw 20 to 30 percent of species under threat of mass extinctions if temperatures rise from 1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius.  At a rise of 4 degrees C, they said, “few ecosystems will be able to adapt.” 

A recent international biodiversity survey found that the Philippines has among the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet.

That makes the Philippines also most at risk of losing one of the rarest things on Earth: life in all its abundance.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, environmental and technological trends into public policy and business strategy.  More details are available at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail: mibc2006@gmail.com.) 

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Danish kind of light

By Winston A. Marbella

The world’s leading environmental warriors are getting increasingly worried that the idea of human activities causing climate change is losing public interest, even as abnormal weather patterns continue to sweep the globe.

The reason for the gaping yawn of apathy is perhaps that the common man cannot relate to dying corals and ecosystems, or melting polar ice submerging half of all coastal communities.  

Maybe it is time for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to change tack.  Maybe we can relate more to the idea that global warning perils our favorite coffee brew, or our favorite pair of jeans. (If you are still with me up to this point, maybe we have found something to catch everyone’s attention.)

                                                    Weather wild

The United States reeled under massive flooding and strong twisters as the world prepared for the continuation of multilateral talks to curb climate change in Germany, preparatory to annual talks in the South African city of Durban this December.

Last December, the Copenhagen winter that had frozen progress at the United Nations climate change conference in 2009 melted under the blazing Cancun sun and allowed a ray of hope to shine on the road to a legally binding international agreement to cut carbon emissions believed to be causing global warming.

A breath of fresh air blew in Cancun from scientific innovations like rice research in the Philippines and private business initiatives to find ways to adapt to climate change.

Road to Durban

The UN initiative to forge a replacement to the Kyoto protocol expiring in 2012 had frozen in the biting cold of Copenhagen in December 2009. 

The aging Japanese agreement prescribed mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by industrialized countries, but failed to gain compliance from the United States and China, the two biggest polluters.

Anxious over the stalemated talks, companies worldwide decided to forge ahead with existing knowhow in adapting to climate change and exploring new technologies.

Race against time

The scientific initiatives put together Filipino rice research, Starbucks and Levi’s in a common effort to do what is possible as diplomats struggle to find solutions to a climate going berserk.

They are all racing against time to help save a dangerously warming planet from possible rice scarcity, dwindling coffee beans, and decreasing cotton needed for making jeans.

Growing increasingly impatient over international inability to find a replacement to Kyoto, transnational companies have taken arms against a sea of troubles to adapt to climate change any which way they can.

                                               Business takes arms      

General Electric reported it was working on a data base to track where climate change was likely to induce drought, and was pushing efforts to identify opportunity areas for its water recycling business in agriculture, manufacturing and power generation.

Levi Straus said it was reviewing its supply chain to see how climate change was likely to cause a jump in cotton prices, threatening a basic raw material for its apparel business, principally jeans.

And to ensure stable supply of coffee beans, Starbucks said it had started rewarding farmers for efforts to control soil erosion.

DuPont Co., the world’s second biggest seed maker next to Monsanto, is seeking to grow its $8.2-billion agriculture business with crops better able to resist drought.

‘Orchid’ rice

For many years now, Filipino scientists have been burning the midnight oil to develop drought-resistant rice seeds and strains better able to resist high temperatures and high salinity water.

Scientists at the government-run Philippine Rice Research Institute have been testing growing techniques that can save as much as 50 percent of water normally needed to grow rice.

Aerobic rice, also known as “orchid: rice, is the most water-saving variety and can also be grown in terraced fields in the uplands.

Aerobic rice has thrived in China and has been tested in Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Bulacan and Laguna.

The International Water management Institute estimates that agriculture consumes 80 percent of fresh water supplies, mostly going to growing rice.  Another system, controlled irrigation, can save as much as 40 percent water.

The Cancun meeting reached an agreement to provide a US$100-billion fund to help developing countries cope with climate change. 

Danish light

A shining example in the Philippines, the Danish Cooperation Fund for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency has pioneered a solar energy project that electrified an initial 70 households in a rural area.

The pilot project lighted bulbs that enabled students to study well into the night and community grocery stores to extend selling time after dark to raise incomes.

The Danish pilot project shone a beacon of hope on what little initiatives can do as diplomats try to find solutions to a climate gone awry.

In so doing, private companies are leading the way toward finding solutions to some of the thorniest issues blocking a legally binding replacement to the Kyoto agreement.

Maybe the rest of the world will start to take notice when we start running out of coffee beans for our favorite brew and cotton for our blue jeans.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, technological and environmental trends into public policy and business strategy. More commentaries are at marbellaonline.blogspot.com.)  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Swedish shade of green

By Winston A. Marbella

The world’s richest countries account for two thirds of greenhouse gas emissions that United Nations scientists believe to be causing global warming.  They are spending billions of dollars to lessen their own risks from climate change, experts say. 

The US and wealthy European nations are investing heavily in windmill-powered plants that turn seawater into drinking water, massive multi-billion-dollar flood barriers and floating houses, and crops genetically altered to grow even in drought.  

Climate fund

To help poorer nations cope, the rich countries suggested creating a climate fund to finance adaptation measures like growing mangrove forests along coastlines to buffer storm surges, planting trees on slopes to reduce landslides, and building houses and shelters on high ground safe from coastal surges and tsunamis.

Environmental warriors are hoping that the Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty rejected by the United States and other countries like China which emit most of the warming greenhouse gases, would soon be replaced by a new treaty that focuses not only on curbing emissions but also providing the billions of dollars needed for a climate adaptation fund. 

Climate wild

At the UN climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico last December, agreement was reached to put up a US$100-billion fund to help developing countries put up defenses against a climate going unpredictably extreme, lashing tropical cyclones followed by gripping winter weather. 

Faced with declining profitability arising from a climate gone awry, multinational corporations are literally moving heaven and earth in trying to stem climate change. 

Fighting poverty

At the annual Clinton Initiative meeting in New York City, Former US President Bill Clinton had announced a multi-million dollar plan to fight poverty in developing countries in partnership with the mining industry, often accused of exploiting developing economies like the Philippines.

The Clinton-Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative got initial pledges of $100-million each from two philanthropists – Canadian financier Frank Giustra and Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecommunications billionaire listed by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s richest men. 

The mining initiative said there was a long list of potential donors in an industry with more than 2,000 listed companies worldwide with a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. 

Greening mines

The Philippines recently opened its doors to foreign investments in mining, and an anti-poverty effort like this can soften long-standing criticisms against mining companies.

Giustra, a major player in the Canadian mining industry, initially enlisted 20 mining companies in the coalition.  He said he would donate to the fund half of all his future income from the natural resources business.

Mining companies worldwide have been taking steps to repair their historic reputation for making profits at the expense of the environment.  Similar charges have been made by environmentalists in the Philippines.

Swedish way

A Swedish project on environmental awareness, called “The Natural Step,” defines enlightened efforts this way: “There is more to environmental protection than contributing a little money in order to preserve a small patch of forest....

“It calls for a complete re-evaluation of the tendencies and goals of society, so that we stop flying in the face of natural laws. 

“If we refuse to make immediate and effective investments on behalf of nature, we will end up in the poorhouse, with our natural resources depleted and a diminished capacity to compete in the marketplace.”

Wind farm

The Philippines has been found to have the highest potential in Southeast Asia for harnessing the power of the wind. 

A study done by the US-based National Energy Laboratory found the country to have a wind energy potential of 70,000 megawatts, which can meet daily energy needs more than seven times over.

The country’s only wind farm is located in Banguil, Ilocos Norte.  Its giant propellers driving powerful generators suggest a big potential for green energy in a country that is lashed by typhoons 20 times a year on the average.

The answers, like many other climate problems, seem to be blowing in the wind.

(The author is chief executive of a think tank specializing in transforming social, political, technological and environmental trends into effective public policy and business strategy. Comments are welcome at Marbella International Business Consultancy, e-mail: mibc2006@gmail.com. Visit us at marbellaoline.blogspot.com.)