Lance Y. Gokongwei on Bouncing Back, Sustainability & Revolutionary Leadership

Insights from JG Summit’s President & CEO at the Philippine Digital Convention 2021
| Nov 3, 2021
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JG Summit President and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei was among the featured panelists at the recently held Philippine Digital Convention 2021.

Organized by PLDT Enterprise, the B2B arm of the largest telecommunications company in the Philippines, this year’s Philippine Digital Convention brought together more than 120 global thought leaders and experts to discuss innovative and future-proof ways of doing business.

Fittingly, “Revolution” was the theme of the 2021 event, as it sought to address the “revolutionary change needed to stay ahead in this ever-changing business landscape.”

In the second plenary session moderated by Cathy Yang, first vice president and group head of PLDT’s corporate communications team, Gokongwei was joined on the online panel by Bernie H. Liu, chairman and CEO of Golden ABC, Inc; Al Panlilio, president and CEO of the PLDT Group; Joseph Tanbuntiong, chief business officer of Jollibee Foods Corp.; Kevin Andrew Tan, CEO of Alliance Global Group; and Christopher Po, executive chairman of Century Pacific Food.

Each member of the panel shared their companies’ recovery gameplans from the effects of the pandemic, their thoughts on sustainability, and what defines a revolutionary leader in these extraordinary times.

In his response to how JG Summit is bouncing back, Gokongwei briefly discussed the group’s 5-point plan, which was discussed in greater detail in a previous talk given for Makati Business Club members

In summary, Gokongwei stressed that the group is working aggressively to ensure five items, namely the health and safety of its staff and customers, supply chain resiliency, strengthening its balance sheet, preparing for the new normal by reimagining the business and exploring new opportunities, and helping local communities and the country.

Regarding the fifth point, Gokongwei stressed that “We are all interconnected. The country cannot recover as a whole unless we get all our countrymen, [or] as many of them, vaccinated in the fastest possible time. I think in our small way, two of our businesses have been partners with the government. Cebu Pacific has flown over 25 million vaccines into the country since the start of COVID, and now we're using over 30 of our malls as vaccine sites in partnership with various LGUs. I would say over half a million fellow Filipinos have already been vaccinated in Robinsons Malls sites.”

Midway through the session, Gokongwei was able to reveal more about the group’s new digital banking venture, GOtyme. In discussing its reason for being, Gokongwei said, “The Philippines is undergoing a digital transformation. The main bulk of customers now receive their information, do business, etc., through their mobile phones. So, we have to develop a new financial services product which is more suited for this generation. This is all in support of the Bangko Sentral's objectives of getting 70% of the Filipino population to be banked, and 50% of all payments to be through digital means by 2025.”

GOtyme, slated to launch in the second quarter of 2022, will have as its foundation the vast ecosystem of the Gokongwei Group and Tyme’s globally proven digital banking technology and hands-on experience.

Gokongwei explained, “Through our customer loyalty company, DAVI or Data Analytics Ventures, Inc., we have over 7 million customers from both Cebu Pacific and Robinsons Retail, which we have managed to put together into a single rewards program called Go Rewards. We also have over 2,000 offline stores through Robinsons Retail. We partnered with South Africa's leading digital bank called Tyme bank and they have the technology, the process and the culture. Hopefully, what we get together is going to be a product which addresses financial inclusion and changes the way Filipinos bank in the same way that Cebu Pacific, perhaps, changed flying 10, 15 years ago, making it more affordable, accessible, and convenient.”

Gokongwei then touched on the country’s exciting real estate investment trust market, and the Gokongwei Group’s entry in this segment through RL Commercial REIT, Inc. (RCR), which is fully backed by Robinsons Land Corporation. “Our REIT is going to raise 23.5 billion pesos, and we have a very aggressive program to further expand our real estate investments in the Philippines, not only in property, but also in other growth areas particularly data centers, logistics, warehouses, and such. And I think if you have this multiplier effect across all the industry's players here, you're going to see a significant amount of capital coming into the country to continue to support the economy, especially in these challenging times when every investment peso is required.”

On the topic of sustainability, Gokongwei maintains that it is of “vital importance” to the group, whose sustainability practice is supportive of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. For the Gokongwei Group, sustainability has five objectives, which are creating shared success with stakeholders, promoting the concepts of resource circularity and resource efficiency, continuing to educate and develop its people, providing customers with better choices that address their health and wellness concerns, and lastly, communicating the urgency of climate action.

To close the session, the panelists were asked about what defines a “revolutionary leader.” In Gokongwei’s view, it boils down to three things, which are the ability to recognize the interconnected nature of the world, knowing the importance of a company’s purpose and its values, and the ability to adapt in tough times. 

On interconnectedness, Gokongwei said, “The pandemic has shown us that the world is really a small world, and we're all connected to one another. So, in situations like this, we really have to get together with our broader set of stakeholders, starting of course with our own employees, making sure that they feel safe, that they feel rewarded, that they feel recognized.”

He also equated interconnectedness with the duty to help communities especially in these difficult times, and with the government’s efforts to achieve its public health goals. “A rising tide will lift all ships and that will only happen if vaccination is widespread and people feel safe.”

Knowing the company’s purpose and values in the Gokongwei Group has taken on greater relevance now. “The old days of command and control decision making are gone,” said Gokongwei. “So, it's important that we understand clearly and stay committed to our values and purpose as a company, and find the right leadership team and employee set to support you in achieving this purpose.”

For the last quality of a revolutionary leader, Gokongwei spoke about the Theory of Evolution, where it is “not the strongest, the largest, or the biggest that will survive when pivotal changes happen, it's those that are most adaptable. It's our job as leaders in our respective organizations to take the lead in transforming our own organizations and being much more adaptable to changes, especially with regards to digital, with regards to sustainability, with regards to the new normal.”

Despite the economic challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic, Gokongwei remains optimistic, not only for the future prospects of the conglomerate he oversees, but for the nation as a whole. “The reason all of us are here is because we are still firm believers in the Philippines. This is our country, and we will support it. That's job number one, to continue to support economic growth in the country and make Filipino lives better.”

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