As I wind down an international assignment in the Philippines this week, I’m grateful for many things. A chance to significantly improve bottom-line business results. A chance to make a difference in the lives of others – in the community, at work, and in the organizations of global & regional companies doing business here in Cebu.
This week’s article is a tribute, to many in general, and to two specifically. It’s a chance to tell them “thanks” and a chance to share the importance of having business mentors, colleagues, and advisors. Regardless of where you live and what you do for a living (from global executive to stay-at-home parent), having and leveraging a network is important. I hope that’s obvious to you. While not everything I share will necessarily apply to you in detail, you should be able to make the translation to your life, your situation, and your station in life. I hope so.
Doing business in Cebu and being successful requires more than technical knowledge. It requires more than an understanding of leadership and financial theory. Being successful in Cebu requires an in-depth understanding of local and regional politics (at the barangay (like a town or precinct), city, province and national level) and developing a network with politicians, government officials, key business people. There are formal movers-and-shakers and informal movers-and-shakers. People out in front and people behind the scenes. Both are important.
Yes, it’s possible to do business in Cebu without this network, but it’s more difficult. Things take longer or don’t get done at all. It’s not about bribes or grafts, it’s about meeting with people – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Small gifts (or “pasalubongs” in the local Visayan dialect). It’s about having people over to your house and accepting their invitations in turn.
In Cebu, business and social activities go “hand-in-glove.” There is a blurring of lines between business and personal activities. The city rarely stops and many of the businesses here run 24×7, from call centers to manufacturing operations. People meet to discuss business late at night, on the weekends and every time in-between. Even businesses that don’t run 24×7 are generally open 6 days a week.
Two individuals have been invaluable to me during my time here in Cebu. They are businessmen. They are friends. And they helped me understand how to get things done here in Cebu. They taught me about the culture, about various government agencies, introduced me to key stakeholders in business, politics, and the community. Without them, I would not have been nearly as effective.
One is a local guy and one is a “foreigner.” Both have a tremendous network and have been invaluable. From them, I learned about things like labor union activities. How to reduce energy consumption. How to improve relationships with the government officials. How to expedite governmental approvals. How to manage the flow of talent between local companies. Who to avoid upsetting. How to keep my family and myself safe. Etc, etc, etc. … These two guys have had a profound impact on me personally and helped me deliver significantly better business results. It’s hard to put the relationship into a quantitative ROI, but a mental ROI calculation results in a very high return.
Though I won’t mention them by name in this article, they know who they are. They know this article is about them. They know how much they have impacted me and the work I was assigned to do in Cebu. I have thanked them. And I’m thanking them again. In Visayan, you would say, “salamat bai” – thanks friend/dude.
Regardless of your position or station in life, it’s important to have a network of others you can trust. A network you can rely on for valuable information. A network that understands the local environment. A network that can help you grow and develop. A network that yields a positive ROI.
I have never worked harder in my life. At times it seemed that all I did was work. At night. On the weekends. Early in the morning. While on holiday. Yet, the work was rewarding and we received many industry and national/local awards for outstanding performance. I attribute the results to a few key factors – hard work, the attitude & competence of the Philippine employees, world-class leadership and, finally, a knowledge of local business customs, etiquette, and political dynamics (that change weekly and need constant attention).
“Thanks bai!” Thanks for your help. Thanks for your support. Thanks for your insight. Thanks for your willingness to mentor and advise me. Thanks for being both a business colleague and a friend. You helped me be more effective, deliver greater results and positively impact the business, the employees and the community.
How about you? Do you have a network? Do you leverage it? If you have a network, are you adding value as well as extracting value? What do you bring to the table?
Dr. Robert Gerwig is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.
Credits: Photo by author