When you hear the words “Filipino businessman,” what comes to mind?
“Hardworking,” “persistent,” and “optimistic”—these are words strongly associated with the Filipino culture. More so, these are also the usual words that paint the character of businessmen in the Philippine setting.
But, are these the only words to describe them? Thankfully, we have a very colorful and emotionally engaged culture that is embedded in the work we do. Looking at how our country’s top businessmen have built their empires from the ground up is sufficient evidence that the ingredients to becoming a Filipino leader take more than just hard work, persistence, and optimism.
To be an embodiment of the values that every local enterprise should uphold, every Filipino business leader must be an exemplar of five particular traits: empathy, humility, curiosity, passion, and servant leadership.
Be the change you want to see.
Trait 1: Pagmamalasakit (Empathy)
How this can be helpful: Filipinos are very social beings, and they always look after their fellow countrymen, wherever they are in the world. Being a naturally empathetic nation allows us to have a sense of service towards others. And, who else would be a better fit for an other-centric company than a leader who practices pagmamalasakit?
Empathy goes much deeper than sympathy. To be empathetic means to have the ability to identify with individuals judiciously. It takes emotionally intelligent people to go past "I feel sorry for you" and reach a point wherein they are able to say, "I understand what you are going through. How can we improve the situation together?"
Indifference seems to be the easiest route to ward off difficulties, but that was not an option for the late Mariano Que. Instead of turning his back on the aftermath of World War II, he seized the opportunity to help Filipino communities rise above the ashes by providing easier and more affordable access to medicines. Que invested his money to sell Sulfathiazole, an antimicrobial drug that was highly sought yet limited at that time. Selling the drug at individual packs made it more affordable for poverty-stricken neighborhoods, allowing Que to save hundreds of lives simply by putting empathy into action. Today, the pharmaceutical employee is now known as the honorable founder of Mercury Drug Store.
What leaders can achieve: Studies have shown that mastering empathy is an essential leadership trait that increases workplace satisfaction and employee engagement.
When employees know that they are understood, it lessens workplace stress, making way for a more productive environment. Moreover, empathy fosters openness among groups, which encourages individuals to speak up and get their ideas across. This allows leaders to gain a source of new perspectives that could help them effectively build relationships and improve systems.
Trait 2: Pagpapakumbaba (Humility)
How this can be helpful: There is an old Filipino proverb that says, “He who does not know how to look back at where he came from will never reach his destination.”
The road to success is not a forward-moving path. More often than not, it is a journey that requires looking back and learning from the past. Thus, the only way to achieve such feat is through humility.
Just as with empathy, humble leadership enables individuals to work without letting the past discourage them and allow it rather to be a footprint for better decisions. More importantly, humility inspires employees to work with a mission in mind. Instead of entering a wormhole of self-pity, a humble character is reminded that a task is not solely for his own gain, but for something greater.
The life of Socorro Ramos, co-founder of National Bookstore, is an illustration of how humility enables a person to carry on despite hardships. Ramos had to witness a series of unfortunate events from the break-out of World War II to the wrath of a fire and consecutive typhoons—all of which resulted to her store ending in a wreckage. These would seem like obvious signs to look for greener pastures elsewhere. But adversities did not stop Ramos from keeping her end goal in mind: to raise a nation of readers through lower-priced books. Eventually, her humility and advocacy paid off with her business enjoying over 75 years of success.
What leaders can achieve: One great definition of humility is that it is “not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Instead of placing your conveniences dead center in every project, you become more mission-oriented. In turn, your team gains the same focus and a clearer picture of where all of you ought to go.
Trait 3: Pagkamausisa (Curiosity)
How this can be helpful: Curiosity is made up of two parts: The first is admitting that there are many things one does not know, and second is having an eager desire to learn more. Through these two, individuals not only gain a deeper understanding of themselves, they also get a chance to build partnerships, solve problems, and most importantly, remove complacency.
It is every leader’s responsibility to cultivate continuous learning and knowledge-sharing among teams. Organizations that reward the best ideas, processes, and results can encourage employees to speak up, especially those who are traditionally more shy in Filipino context.
Promoting curiosity and idea meritocracy can also prompt them to question the status quo more often. In effect, leaders who welcome individuals to be mausisa allow them to discover surprisingly innovative answers to everyday questions.
What leaders can achieve: Sometimes branded as the most valuable leadership trait you can have, being a curious leader enables you and your organization to stay competitive, as it continuously seeks out new ways of doing things—from new processes to entire industries.
A perfect example of a brand born out of curiosity is Jollibee. Today, “nothing more succinctly sums up the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit, passion, and drive” than the local-gone-global fast food brand headed by Tony Tan Caktiong. A literal bee-con of hope for Filipinos from every socio-economic background, the fast food giant started out as a little ice cream parlor in Cubao. If not for Caktiong’s curiosity, he would never have discovered what truly appealed to consumers’ tastes. His desire to learn how he could further grow his business led him to find out that Filipinos, despite living in a tropical country, were more allured by burgers than ice creams. From there, Caktiong expanded his enterprise, giving both foreigners and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) a taste of home.
Trait 4: Pinoy Pride (Passion)
How this can be helpful: Filipinos are emotionally connected people. From international boxing matches to political stances, there is nothing quite like how passionate Pinoys are.
And in the workplace, this passion is no less present. As managers of an emotionally charged group, Filipino business leaders can maximize this passion by providing employees a way to find purpose in their work.
After all, not only is being passionate contagious, but it can ultimately promote an intangible rallying quality behind a meaningful mission—leveraging the intensity Filipinos display when they truly believe in a cause.
Take a look at billionaire tycoon Lucio Tan. Before acquiring a wide portfolio of successful businesses, Tan had to work part-time from high school up until college. And even after that, he continued to persevere despite losing his first business. His failed venture eventually led him to success in the tobacco industry and later on, in banking, brewery, and real estate, apart from owning a 4-star airline.
Tan has definitely grown an empire. It is safe to say though that his real passion lies in philanthropy—providing transport to allow OFWs to come home from an amnesty period in Kuwait, making donations for the war-torn communities in Marawi, and advocating for education and healthcare, among others.
What leaders can achieve: Being a passionate leader is not necessarily limited to the stereotype of a “loud, pizzazzy” person who is always making inspirational speeches or raising their voice in the boardroom.
A study found out that passionate leaders are the ones who go deep: They display “a depth of commitment and quiet attention to detail” that is unmatched. By being this way, they inspire loyalty and caring relationships among their employees.
Trait 5: Pakikisama (Servant Leadership)
How this can be helpful: As the famous saying goes, “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” This is true for any group, and it is especially applicable when it comes to professional organizations and their leaders.
After all, the concept of pakikisama is a great way to remind everyone, especially leaders themselves, of the bigger picture. Being a servant leader means you remember that you are part of a community. Not only will this combat crab mentality, but it will ultimately promote a culture of pakikisama. Nobody is too good to do all the work, and it is all for one as it is one for all—even at the top.
What leaders can achieve: The practice of servant leadership has been shown to increase a leader’s influence in producing more thoughtful and balanced group decisions—ultimately promoting trust and a culture of learning in the workplace. When it comes down to it, there's no better act of service than a leader who empowers others through his own actions.
A perfect example would be Jaime Zobel de Ayala, a man who embodies an unwavering commitment to achieving sustainable development, be it in water, power, real estate, finance, telecommunications, education, or healthcare. Zobel de Ayala, who was recently honored by the United Nations for his positive impact in the Philippine business community, heads one of the country’s most respectable conglomerates. Even with immense power, he displays a cunning sense of “stewardship,” acknowledging that his family’s legacy is not without responsibility, especially towards the country.
The future is Filipino.
By paying attention to how our national culture is embedded into the fabric of Philippine companies, leaders have higher chances of success by adopting these qualities that bring out the best side of our often complex, sometimes contradicting traits.
In turn, they also ensure that company culture thrives while preserving and honoring national culture—a custom that is important to Filipinos and their sense of being makabayan.
After all, at Globe Business, we are committed to helping build a Philippines where families’ dreams come true, businesses flourish, and ultimately, the nation is admired for its collective good.
With a booming economy and promising future, Filipino leaders can be sure that Globe Business is with them every step of the way as they innovate the Philippine business landscape for the better.