Friday, 23 October 2009

Finex does Cebu 2

WHAT does Cebu have that other places in the Philippines do not?

What does this island in the sun, with so few native resources to speak of, have that makes it stand out as a beehive of creative entrepreneurial activity?

Kenneth Cobonpue, Butch Carungay and Bunny Pages—guests during the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex) Annual Convention in Cebu City at the beginning of this month—were all proof that there is indeed something unique among Cebuanos, and in Cebu’s ability to be the incubator of entrepreneurial ideas and ventures.

Sun.Star accepts donations for victims of Typhoon Ondoy

Back in time there was Penshoppe, of course. From a little mom and pop shop in Cebu, it has become a national brand, a favorite among the young and energetic set.

And Julie’s Bakeshop? Who would now not have seen one somewhere in a bus stop anywhere in the Philippines? I remember in my younger days when it was still alone outlet in Fuente Osmeña, and how over time, with creativity and imagination, it has managed to franchise its way to national prominence.

And even among the country’s crème de la crème in business, it is Cebuanos who stand tall and proud above the rest. John Gokongwei, Henry Sy and Lucio Tan all trace their roots to Cebu. So do the Gotianuns, who have developed Alabang into a viable alternative to the Makati Business District.

So there is indeed a secret to Cebu. Maybe it is the sun and the sea. Or perhaps the steely drive and determination of a people descended from the blood of our first national hero, Lapu-lapu. Fiercely independent and tribal, Cebuanos love to help each other out in achieving fame and fortune. The strength of the island’s various chambers and trade associations, and the cooperation among its members attest to the fact that amid the healthy competition, there is also a lot of cooperative collaboration going on.

For instance, Kenneth Cobonpue, for all his busy schedule, takes time out to teach design courses at the UP Cebu’s Fine Arts Program. This is his way of giving back his skill and talent to the next generation of designers, so Cebu will always be blessed with talented artisans for the future.

It has been many years since I have been out of the place I like to call home. But every time I manage to make my way back there, I always come away feeling energized and recharged.

The energy, creativity and enthusiasm of the Cebuano are indeed contagious.

Outside of the Finex convention proper, I was also able to see the progress that the island has made in terms of its information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) sector—familiar to me because of the industry

I am now in. Even by the standards of Manila, the progress seems impressive.

I had a chance to make my way to the IT Park across the Waterfront Hotel, and the buzz and flurry of activity among the businesses there were palpable. All the recognizable names among the leading BPO organizations seem to be represented, a testament to their belief in the ability of the Cebuanos to be able to deliver world-class IT and BPO services to their demanding customers all over the world.

And on the way back to Manila, I found myself aboard one of Cebu Pacific’s brand new airbuses, amazed by the airline’s ability to depart and arrive on time, and even more amazed by its ability to offer fares at very competitive rates.

And little wonder that it can do all this, because it is owned by Mr. Gokongwei himself, one of Cebu’s favorite sons.
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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 23, 2009.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Finex does Cebu

I THOUGHT I had seen the end of it. Of Ondoy that is. The week after the storm hit Metro Manila, leaving in its wake hundreds of people dead, many families left to rue their losses in property and loved ones, not to mention the billions of pesos of damage wrought on our already ravaged economy,

I was glad to be out of the capital.

Yes, I was in Cebu of all places, to attend the annual convention of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex), the country’s premier association of professionals in the field of finance. Held at the new Parklane Hotel across the sprawling Cebu Business Park, the event was very well attended, not only by the association’s movers and shakers in Manila, but also by the hardworking and loyal members of its satellite and affiliate organizations in the provinces.

Sun.Star accepts donations for victims of Typhoon Ondoy

Dignitaries too were in full attendance. Cebu’s own Mike Rama delivered the opening address to the visiting financiers, exhorting them on their theme of “Transcending Global Challenges.” Then there was former energy secretary Vince Perez, engaging as usual, and in his element as he was talking about opportunities in the alternative energy sector. There was also Region 7’s own Gary Teves, whose job it was to explain to all gathered what the government was doing to fix its seemingly bottomless budget deficit, a task not made any easier by the ravages of Ondoy. And finally there was Cebu’s son Ace Durano, regaling the audience with his tales of endless possibilities for the country’s tourism sector.

All in all, the Finex convention was a resounding success, showcasing the province and city’s progress in the process.

In addition to the parade of dignitaries, the event also featured notable Cebuano success stories in the field of business—a reminder to the Manileños that entrepreneurship was alive and well in places outside of the capital, and most especially in Cebu.

First on the list of the guest entrepreneurs was Kenneth Cobonpue, who at this stage is already considered one of the country’s top design gurus. His products have received worldwide acclaim, and his client list counts the likes of Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford among his loyal customers.

Hot on Ken’s heels was young Wharton-schooled businessman Butch Carungay, who spoke about his passion for design as inspiring his move away from investment banking to the fashion accessories business. Already holding shows in Paris, Milan and New York, Butch told an admiring audience how he raised the game in terms of the country’s fashion accessories exports, transforming the image of Philippine fashion accessories from cheap generic to expensive branded items.

The third but certainly not the least among the Cebuano entrepreneurs was Bunny Pages, owner of a number of business interests that span education and hospitality.

Displaying an uncanny ability to spot undervalued businesses and up and coming opportunities, he narrated his story, and how he has always been able to acquire businesses that were seemingly underdelivering on their promise, and how he was able to make them deliver their potential. With his life motto of always “moving forward,” he certainly wowed the audience with his keen sense of the possibilities of business opportunities out there.

It was Cebu’s turn to shine under the lights, and the island certainly did not disappoint. If there were any doubters among the country’s top financiers about Cebu’ s future growth prospects, all of them certainly left convinced about the island’s potential. More next week.

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Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 17, 2009.