Friday, April 20, 2007

52. Look Back In Joy

In ACNielsen and I suppose in other multinational companies, corporate plans are expressed succinctly in numbers. Revenue growth, margins, market shares, head-counts, productivity gains, collectible ages, employee satisfaction scores and more numbers efficiently tell the state of the business without emotional descriptions to muddle the account. What is not eloquently reported in our presentation of corporate reports and plans are the travails of the working men and women who were on almost infinite overtime hours, the relentless business building efforts that eat up on time that should have been spent with their families. Of course we allude to these in our presentations but these are in terms of effectiveness measurement scores, overtime rates, shorter turnaround of projects, productivity hikes and stepped up employee amelioration programs. These are not expressed in the manner told us by our associates… like missing their seven-year-old’s birthday party, not being there for a son’s graduation exercise, not being able to care for infirm parents, missing a favorite TV program for months now… not seeing the sunset on the way home. There are no sections in the supplied presentation templates that would include these. They are the real reasons why we achieve our business targets. How long can a company sustain ever increasing productivity levels? How much more can one spend on team building sessions and in reward and recognition programs to keep associates’ enthusiasm and energy to produce more? People’s physical and emotional stamina are less finite than monetary resource. There will come a point where no amount of coaxing, bucking and flogging can elicit a response from a tired and numbed work force. They would have joined the legions of men and women who numbly trudge to work everyday and to return home to lead lives of repressed and unexpressed hopelessness.

Suspension of pleasures when young is a good thing. It helps build character and sets one’s feet solidly on the ground. The time for assimilation of knowledge and honing of skills is when you are young. It is also the time for hard work because you are physically able. The reward of this is that you will not probably have to work as hard in your old age. Nobody dies of hard work except for those who, by circumstance, still have to do it when they are old and infirm. This was what I believed in throughout my working life but towards my retirement I found it difficult to give this advice to the young managers in the organization for I have been a witness to the distressing trade-offs that had to be endured.

How many opportunities for shoring up marital relationships did you miss out on? How much joy did you let pass by when your young children yearned to be with you before they went off to become teenagers? Were you able to experience the pleasure of assuring and guiding them when they faltered as young adults? And for yourself, did you allow your natural creative talents to become stillborn or stunted because it had to wait for you to find time to nurture them. It is sad to have opportunities for joy expire on you…any bit of joy.

This is no indictment on any particular organization. There are only a few companies who do not have a resolve towards business dominance. Career people latch on to and swear by company visions and become driven lemming-like in their pursuit. Their falling prey to it is instinctive…an unambiguous statement of the human condition.

Life is a paradox. You are able to achieve a dream only to find out that this has been a phantom purpose all along. There is no real success, only delightful moments to reminisce. Go ahead pursue a dream but delight in the trivial milestones…relish the scenery…the smell of roses along the way…only then can you look back in joy.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

51. ACNielsen, Philippines

Front: L Diaz, M Reyes, G Igaya,V Aleta  ,L Gaviola ,G Malong Back:C Sunico, F Torre, D Sparkes, Ed Roa, KN Tang, N Trivissono, N Bordador, M Connors, A Barredo, G Soeminio

The height of my career was when I was appointed Managing Director of ACNielsen, Philippines. This was the combined businesses of ACNielsen, Pulse and ACNielsen, Unisearch. ACNielsen, Philippines became the premiere market research company in the Philippines which had a gross revenue of close to seven hundred million pesos per annum. The parent concern is the Dutch communications conglomerate VNU who acquired ACNielsen in 2001. I guess I should have much satisfaction from this achievement. It was a distinctive honor to have been the Managing Director of the Philippine operations of the undisputed world leader in market research and a company that is by far the number one market research company in the local industry. However, there is much truth to the saying that the joy is not so much in the realization of your dreams but in the dreaming itself and in the pursuit of it. Talking about one’s achievements leaves you dry in the mouth and you feel a compulsion to dilute and downgrade them a bit…and rightly so. Most achievement of leaders are made possible by the dedication, sweat and competence of people below them whose names more often than not are left unmentioned in report documents and formal presentations. The most one can claim for himself is his luck of being available to lead a great team, a leader by default or by grace as it were, his ability to choose winners and to enjoin them to work for a common cause.

I had a great team and we had great support from the South East Asia Managing Director, Nonoy Niles. I inherited Nonoy’s management team to which I added two more directors coming from ACNielsen Unisearch. The team was composed of dedicated professionals who were exceptionally competent in their fields of endeavor. The ACNielsen, Philippines Management Committee had Chona Sunico, who prior to her appointment as Regional HR Director was the local HR Director. She was a wellspring of ideas and a mover. Chona was a recipient of the coveted ACNielsen Chairman’s Award, the highest recognition of personal contribution to global ACNielsen. She received her award for the various innovative concepts in HR that were subsequently adopted by all countries in the Asia Pacific region. Another member who was also a recipient of the Chairman’s Award was the Customized Research Director, Nena Barredo who was a veritable treasure trove of experiences on FMCG markets and had an unparalleled in-depth knowledge of local Unilever markets. Gladys de Veyra, a specialist with an unequaled experience in Retailer Research having been the Director of the oldest and biggest Retail Audit Service in the country. The director handling the Media Services division, Esther Capistrano, was the ever so gracious lady who had extensive contacts in the Media Industry earned through years of providing monitoring services to ad agencies and marketing clients. She was the owner of the erstwhile Philippine Monitoring Services that was subsequently bought by ACNielsen. Esther proved her grit and fortitude when she persevered with the Nielsen TV household meters despite losing industry support to AGB, the other company who won the bid. She shepherded what seemed to be a foolhardy effort of extending the service into a national one in the wake of the Greater Manila contract loss. In time she would become my successor as Managing Director of the company. Feddie Magpantay, Director of Customized Research in the Ortigas operations is a topnotch customized market researcher with more than twenty years experience tucked under her belt. Susan Macion succeeded Chona Sunico as HR Director of the local company and later on was instrumental in the launching of the Home (Consumer) Panel Service. Gerry Soleminio as Research Services Director ably supplied technical support. Ambo Reyes succeeded him upon his cross posting to ACNielsen Vietnam in a richly deserved promotion as the Director of technical services in a developing market. Ambo was recruited from the world’s leader on predictive research, an expert in the simulated test market system, Bases. The information technology expert in the team was Bing van Tooren who is a leading light in the local IT circuit having been president of the Computer Society of the Philippines. The money person in the group was Nonie Bordador, Finance Director par excellence. Her astuteness in fiscal management and her uncanny feel for pecuniary matters have helped us get through some dire straits during the difficult second half of the nineties. It was an all star selection that worked well with each other.

There have been significant events during the years of my leadership such as winning the South East Asia Managing Director of the year for two consecutive years. Team ACNielsen, Philippines was recognized as the example of a high performance team and I had the honor of presenting in an Asia Pacific conference in Sydney, Australia during the year they hosted the Olympic Games, the results of a five-year plan whose revenue and profit objectives were achieved in only three years. Over five years actual revenue growth was 160%; the operating income growth over the same period trebled with margins averaging almost 30% against the region’s average of a little over 10%. The Employee Satisfaction rating was the highest in global ACNielsen for a string of years. As Michael Jordan said in a Nike ad…”Greatness is achieved through repeatability”. We were proof that the concept of the Service Profit Chain works. Happy associates come up with excellent service that delight clients and consequently delighted clients make for repeat businesses. It was profitable for everyone. Clients improved their businesses, shareholders got their share price boost and the associates, including myself were rewarded by generous bonuses and stock option grants. During my time as Managing Director the Philippine company was earning so much that we could afford to hold ACNielsen, Philippines’ annual management meetings in New York and in another year, in London.

Achieving high performance was made possible by a clearly bannered vision and well-defined short and long term strategies which we urged the associates to own. We also had to make sure that internal systems work, that employees had state of the art facilities and that the work environment allowed them to be effective in their roles.

Much of the achievements were made possible by a truly talented and driven management team. Maintaining a high level performance required a close watch and unflagging nurturing of associates. Morale building was high in our agenda. We spent a minor fortune in team building workshops at all levels and excellence recognition programs. These were held with regularity. Ideas like the Notable Notes, a program that encouraged associates to recognize and appreciate the good work of each one in the company, was met with excitement and enthusiasm. On its first year the program generated an exchange of a little over 150,000 notes or an average of almost 350 expressions of appreciation passed on by each associate to another.

Despite the continuous downturn of the Philippine economy the team was able to achieve and sometimes over achieve the targets set by the regional management. The region’s executive committee was already inured to the sob stories by most countries in the region towards the second half of the nineties following the Asian economic meltdown. We just had to gloss over the economic environment section of our presentations because the impatience was showing in the regional managers’ gaping yawns, feet tapping and “yeah, yeah we know that already…get a move on” facial mien.
It was hateful to accept unreasonable targets. It translated to pushing our people twice again and then again with “stretch” targets. The remarkable thing about it was the targets were met all the time, at times even exceeding them. This only made our superiors all the more entrenched in their belief that we were overstating the economic woes of the market.

Business push was relentless and so was the enticement for scarce high flying researchers in a limited industry pool. I have heard of remarks in local research circles that referred to us as the “Evil Empire”. Was it because of our ravenous appetite for business and our dogged pursuit for winners amongst the researcher ranks in the industry?

Is the name calling unfair?

We were all business…just pursuing sacrosanct targets

Ed R, FS sec, N Bordador, C Sunico, Angie Niles, Mrs Rackshit, Alma R, Ms Blanco(museum owner), Mrs Bengtsson, Bengtsson, Nonoy Niles

Monday, April 16, 2007

50. Unisearch SRG


The day Unisearch the department became Unisearch the company seemed rather uneventful and a usual back-from-the-Christmas-holidays sort of day to most of the associates. We were all dragging our listless carcasses coming back from the frenetic yuletide celebrations. On the first working day of 1990 the Unisearch employees went zombielike to their posts to do what they have been doing as before. They found themselves in the same hallway with rows on rows of tabulator counters, the same cramped cubicles, the same disorderly desks and with the same faces flitting about just like on the day they left at the last day of office preceding their vacation leaves. I guess it was just during lunch break, when people had a chance to talk with each other, that they realized that they were no longer employees of PRC. It was a grand Christmas for most of us since we were handed our retirement money together with sizeable ex-gratia reparation resulting from the redundancy of our positions. All of us came back from the holidays to our respective desks receiving the same salaries and benefits as before as if nothing happened.

Abby Limqueco, Nicey del Rosario, Ed Roa, Dina Sambenito, Sarita Suria
Maybelle Alamil, A Barredo, Nellie Ang, Maan Labit

I was able to ask for an extension of our stay in our office location within the PRC compound for a few months more until we could find a suitable place to relocate. Almost within the week I assembled the group to inform them of the immediate plans as well as the mid term ones. In the same assembly I organized a committee to edit the Management manual, the documentation of the remuneration policies of the new company and the rules of employment that I drafted. During the first few months we had frequent management meetings mainly to discuss the draft operating procedures of the company, production schedules and new business development.

FR: Maybelle Monteclaro, Maan Labit, Bella Quintos Robleza, ABarredo, Sarita Suria, Ed Roa, J Soleminio,Beth Veracruz, Abby Limqueco, del Rosario, Dina Sambenito, Lina Diaz. BR: Pepito, Angie Cantilleps, Felna Torre, Norrie Reyes, Julie Valencia, Malou Vinzons, Palacios, Nellie Ang, Violy Aleta, Quinones,Lyna Iwakawa, Lito


Rey Alejandro & KN Tang

Bruce Randall, Ed Roa, KN Tang, Fr. Anton Pascual


Bruce Randall, Peter Weldon,Rey Alejandro, Obet Pagdanganan, KN Tang, Ed Roa, Nonoy Niles

After a little over two months we were able to find a place in Makati, a residential building that was part of Urdaneta Village, a posh subdivision that had its frontage on the main commercial avenue of Paseo de Roxas. It was a three-bedroom bungalow with a large living room and dining area, a big garage and a big front and back yard. I had the garage transformed into a group discussion room; the data processing group used the living room and dining room. We had the field staff by the entrance of the house close to the foyer that was used as the briefing area for the interviewers. The house interior was fitted with storage shelves and working desks. Two bedrooms were utilized as the account service/analysts working area. The other bedroom was occupied by the account service/analysts group even had a dressing room that we transformed into a small library. My office was the smallest bedroom situated between the two account service rooms. I found it amusing to have a bathtub in my comfort room. Newell Grenfell, the head of SRG at that time noted that this was an auspicious start. The first SRG office also started in a residential building in Malaysia. Newell was the managing director of the first SRG research company from which the network grew into Asia’s biggest.

Ed & Nonoy w/Menchu Esteban at FG
Dedette Gamboa at BG

Ed, Rosie & Alice Pascual



Newell, Rosie & Ed

Ed & Newell Grenfell

The SRG Regional Management was composed of Newell Grenfell, chairman; KN Tang, managed technical development; Peter Weldon, acted as some sort of Corporate Affairs person. Peter was an old Manila hand having stayed in the Philippines as an officer in JUSMAG for a few years. He married Ditas, a Filipina, who is the sister of Jay Jay Calero the President of J Walter Thompson. Peter often surprised my staff with his fluency in Tagalog. Peter was one person who invited comment because of his size; about six foot seven and widely girthed. One time Peter parked his bulky frame in front of a secretary’s desk. The secretary blurted out in the vernacular “dito pa ba sa harap ko pumarada itong malaking halimaw na ito?” which roughly translates… “Does this big ogre have to park his bulk in front of me?” To her embarrassment Peter retorted in very clear and unaccented Pilipino that he is a visitor and should be treated more kindly.

Survey Research Group MDs, Directors & Senior Managers in HK Conference
David Sinden was in charge of Finance while David Sparkes looked after the field operations for the region. Sparkes had positive contributions to our field operations through his frequent visits to train our field force. Others who acted as members of the regional management by virtue of their ownership of the country SRG units that they themselves managed were Yong Kim Seng of Malaysia, Betty Jamie Chung, of SRG Taiwan; Chris Andrews of SRG Thailand and Rosie Chew of Consumer Pulse in the Philippines.

Indon Exp ?, Chris Andrews, Jan Standaert, Ed
I began meeting the rest of the managing directors including those who would be heading SRG units in the near future when I attended the annual plans conference. I met the late David O’Neill, who was the head of SRG New Zealand, Roh Ick Sang owner of Hankook Research in Korea, David McCallum, MD of SRG Singapore who would later occupy a position in the Asia Pacific Executive Committee as head of Customized Research. His successor would be Hoe Chin Fee, a very able lady Managing Director. Then there was Farquhar Stirling who would succeed David Sparkes as head of SRG Indonesia, Alistair Gordon, who had a stint in Consumer Pulse as MD before Nonoy Niles was recruited from P&G to take over the Consumer Pulse head post. Alistair would become MD of Malaysia and then head of Research and Development for the region. There was Paul Hasegawa of SRG Japan and George Fields, an Australian educated Japanese who authored the book “From Bonsai to Levis”, considered a primer for western companies starting out a business in Japan. He was head of a small ad testing company, ASI, which was acquired by SRG. There was Titan Wang, the successor of Betty Jamie Chung for SRG Taiwan; Sunchai Anuman Rajadhon, who took over SRG Thailand after Chris Andrews (former research manager of Unilever Indonesia) retired. Sunchai was educated in the US, he studied at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had his doctorate degree in Stanford University and was a BMOC as one of the stalwarts of the school’s golf team. Jan Standaert, a Belgian was the head of the newly opened SRG Vietnam. He did not stay long and was succeeded by Linh Nguyen, an Australian educated Vietnamese who repatriated when the socialist government of Vietnam followed the footsteps of the People’s Republic of China in their laissez faire attitude towards capitalism. Louis Tong of Hongkong spearheaded the entry into the People’s Republic China as the first MD of SRG China. From Canada, there was Doug Calhoun, whose research company in Toronto was acquired by SRG. In the US we had a New York office run by Jerry Stafford.

Link Workshop
After having made the transfer to our new offices in Makati the committee and I completed and documented the operating policies procedures for the new company. I called for a general meeting to communicate these to our people. SRG as a network was still at the stage where member companies were operating with much autonomy. There were no standard network-wide policies for operational aspects. I was very much on my own in the governance of the fledgling company. In a few years this would change with the acquisition of SRG by ACNielsen. The autonomy suited me fine. It gave me a chance to put into practice my own thoughts on organizations and the management of businesses…imprinting my signature on the new company as it were. I had time to work out on my own the guiding principles of the company and introduced revisions from the Unilever based ones that further enhanced the efficiency of the operations and made it more suitable to the requirements of an independent company. I needed this much leeway to softly usher the employees into a

Ed, Jes Dinglasan & Alistair Gordon
new working environment.

The directors who started with the independent Unisearch were Nena Barredo who came with the spun-off organization, Feddie Magpantay, a come-backing research director who left Consumer Pulse but was persuaded to join Unisearch. Dedette Gamboa, who was a senior management member of Unisearch in Unilever did not join the group but stayed on in Unilever to become its research manager. Included in the ex-Unilever group were two managers, Peachie Badilla and Reena Murga. Later on they were lured back by Unilever. Since this happened in a little less than a year of our start up it caused a bit of a problem because we were not quick enough to develop successors to keep the service running smoothly. In this situation you can only complain so much. The poaching party was our biggest client.

One of the shocks that I had to weather as head of an independent company was the myriad of details that I had to personally attend to. In my previous position in a big organization I relied on the various service units to do all these for me. Legal departments take care of your business permits and other municipal requirements. Commercial departments would take care of the salaries, equipment acquisition and sundry purchases. Screening and hiring of personnel were all done for you by the HR department. The most difficult change was meeting the financial challenges day to day and over the mid and long term. As department head in Unilever I never had to worry about the finances at a micro level. The Commercial Division handled all the financial requirements of the unit. The requirements of a small company are similar to those of a big one except that in a big company you have service departments to handle all these. I now had to do all these by myself with the occasional help from the staff. This is a cautionary tale to executives retiring from big companies and setting up their own businesses. You will no longer have the almost infinite financial resources and no large service departments’ facilities at your bidding. No little bell to summon minions for help.

Unilever Xmas Costume Party
It was a lot of work but at the same time it was very fulfilling. This was what I dreamt about during my early years. I now have my own company to run. It was a modest sized company that had a projected annual revenue of 12 to 15 million pesos and a work force numbering less than forty regulars and about five hundred contractual workers engaged in fieldwork and data processing. The first six months of operations had me wrestling with cash requirements. Almost every payday was a time for scrambling for cash. My client visits were mostly about pursuit of bill payments. Without any working capital infusion coming from the main office in Hongkong it took time before we could build up the cash position to a comfortable level. I could have asked for funds from the region and undoubtedly they would have extended the needed money. It was difficult getting through the uncertain times but it was an important learning experience and it was good for the soul as well. It left an indelible lesson that businesses should heed. Eyes on the cash flow always.

On the approach of our first Christmas as an independent company one big problem that loomed was how we can provide a fourteenth month bonus, a benefit that was carried over from Unilever. In November I asked for a moratorium on new business activities so that we could concentrate on finishing the final reports of Unilever projects. When we were still with Unilever not much priority was given to the writing of final reports. Because of the urgency of marketing requirements, we were forced to churn project after project and after meeting on the top line reports we proceeded to start with another until we had built up a humongous backlog of unfinished final reports. In Unilever, after a project has been completed and presented, the final report did not have to be completed immediately since no further action will be taken after this has been presented to marketing and action standards have already been agreed upon. After culling and storing data either as part of the norm bank or in general reference files, a final report was deemed as just a document for posterity.

The backlog amounted to more than six million pesos. This was about a quarter of a year’s worth of projects. Now that we were a separate company our service is only deemed completed by Unilever with the submission of the final report. In the research business the proof of service performance is the final report, thus, all billings had to be accompanied by this document.

The research executive group burned the midnight oil for more than a month so that we could convert the final reports to enough cash and make good on the promised fourteenth month bonus. We were able to give everyone a fourteenth month bonus and at the same time the inventory of unfinished final reports was pared down considerably. During our Christmas party that year we had a mass of thanksgiving for having hurdled the first year as an independent company and to acknowledge the heroic effort of the research executive group to raise funds for the fourteenth month bonus by tackling the backlog of final reports.

We were able to achieve eighteen million pesos revenue on our first year. Even though we did not have a target in our first year the revenue far exceeded our expectations. However, we showed a loss but only after paying off almost a million pesos amortized for the Unisearch name. Also, we had a lot of start up costs and I was still finding my way through the initial experience of running a company. At the start of our operations I hired Avelyn Palacios as accountant. Like most CPAs who had a stint with SGV (Sycip, Gorres and Velayo CPAs) she was efficient and quite able in her job. However, she did not share the optimism that most of us from the original crew had. She probably couldn’t stand the constant financial pressure and by the end of the year submitted her resignation. She said that as the company accountant she had an intimate knowledge of the financial status of the company. She could not see how we could last another year with the kind of financial problems that buffeted us throughout our first year. I would have loved to show her our financial statements of later years.

Unisearch SRG had good Research Service directors. Nena and Feddie were topnotch customized researchers who provided our clients with good interpretations of research results and well thought of suggestions for marketing actions. They were well appreciated by Unilever and other clients. However, what we lacked was a strong technical backup in statistics and computer expertise in data processing. I learned from Dedette Gamboa who was research manager of PRC at that time that Gerry Soleminio, erstwhile Operations Research manager of PRC was in between jobs. Gerry did not have any research experience but I remember him from PRC days as one person who used to hang around Unisearch because he was fascinated with market research. The Operations research people are experts at modeling and in their work applied high-level statistical tools. He was particularly interested in the work we were doing for brand engineering and simulated test markets, STM (predictive research on marketing mixes). The technology came from Research International and from another company called Novaction.

Roger Brookin introduced to us Novaction’s Perceptor, a market mix predictive system. He made extensive use of this in Nippon Lever in Japan. Most predictive researches relied on the normative data banks that were kept by the company who owned the system. Research International owned the normative data for Sensor and Locator while Novaction maintained the normbank for Assessor and Perceptor. The results from the research needed to be modified by global experience as well as market, ethnic and product specific ones. This dependence on norms made these researches expensive to its clients and held hostage to the system. At the same time the role of the research agency in projects would be relegated to just the field and data processing aspects of the research. I felt, that in the long term, we needed to have a deeper understanding of these systems so that we can do basic and developmental research, build up a norm bank of local experience which may prove to be more efficient than the global ones because it may be applied directly to local projects as well as being worked on by local analysts who would have a more intimate familiarity with the markets being worked on than their foreign counterparts. This should lessen our dependence on foreign sources. It was also important for us to be able to challenge the interpretation of the analysts in Paris or London who at times were not quite spot-on with their analyses because they would sometimes fail to appreciate subtle nuances of the market. This kind of research does not make pretensions to exactness and certainty. It has always required analyst intervention and other soft inputs to see which of the several simulation trials fit the market under scrutiny.

Xmas Party at the Hotel Intercontinental
Gerry Soleminio, with his modeling experience, would be one person who could help in this area. I had to be patient since he would still have to gain experience in actual market research work to have a better grasp of what we were about. Where he could be of immediate help was in data processing. That was one of his strong suits. While Gerry was absorbing as much and as fast as he could we still needed outside help on the sampling design and procedure for our largest research service, Mixtrack, a continuous and national market tracking survey conducted for the major product groups of Unilever. We were also generating participation from non-Unilever clients in this service. Consultants would help us keep improving the sampling design of Mixtrack and also get useful advice for our other quantitative researches. I took on the services of Pete Makanas, who used to be a director of the NCSO (National Census and Statistics Office) and whose daughter, Jane Beltran, used to be our statistician in the mid-seventies. He helped us in the sampling design of MixTrack our continuous national survey on brand performance for most PRC products. Later I took on the consultancy services of Terry Solivas of UP Los Banos when Pete’s availability became scarce.

We struggled with Mixtrack but I had the conviction that for us to continue to get the majority of Unilever research budget we must maintain and continually enhance our national market tracking service. Other international companies have introduced creditable tracking systems and soon Unilever will show interest in them thus posing a threat to divert a substantial portion of their budget away from Unisearch. Market tracking is about twenty percent of Unilever’s research budget. The business guarantee with Unilever was only for three years. We urgently needed to set aright Mixtrack to stave off this threat.

In another front, SRG was progressing their bid for a management buyout from its principal owner. Pergamon Press, a UK conglomerate who owned SRG among other businesses. SRG was in the middle of negotiations for a management buyout when the news of the sudden demise of Robert Maxwell, owner of Pergamon Press, broke. Robert Maxwell died under mysterious circumstances in his yacht somewhere in the Mediterranean. What ensued was the parceling off of the businesses empire by the heirs to raise funds to cover liabilities and to steady the financial state of Pergamon Press. SRG pursued their bid for a buyout and because of Pergamon’s need to expedite the cash build up the deal was hastily consummated and at probably half of what SRG was willing to pay during the earlier negotiations. This was a big boost to the share price of SRG so much so that at the time of ACNielsen’s acquisition of SRG the share price was more than ten times its original value.

ACNielsen’s outbidding International Research Services or IRS also helped the share price increase. This coup was done in dramatic fashion. SRG had already agreed to the price IRS tendered. With the signing of the agreement already scheduled the ACNielsen representatives swooped down to SRG’s regional offices and made a counter offer that was difficult to refuse. There was rejoicing in SRG when the deal was finalized. It made instant millionaires of the original incorporators while the other smaller shareholders in the company made minor fortunes from the windfall.

ACNielsen introduced themselves to SRG in typical slam bang fashion only Americans can muster. Eager to impress as quickly as possible, all the senior executives of SRG, director and up, were invited to a grand presentation of the major initiatives in new products and other technological advancements of the new order. I could still picture the scene in my mind. The big ballroom of the KL Intercon Hotel was filled with the convening of all the senior managers of SRG in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Cristos Cotsakos, the ACNielsen Chairman at that time entered the presentation stage in an almost deus ex machina fashion. Instinctively, I searched for wire strings because he seemed like he floated on air alighting in the middle aisle to greet an enthralled audience. All the right production values were there, the lighting effects, the sounds and the professional histrionics of Cristos Cotsakos, Cristos Superstar.

I was asked to present Price Wise, a price test that seemed hi-tech enough to show to the new masters because the system had a modeling component. One of the Nielsen executives, an African American seemed to have looked at it as an intrusion into their grand show and showed his displeasure.

Their piece de resistance was the Nielsen Solution System, NSS. This was an integrated system which made use of data inputs coming from various Nielsen data resources to manage trade and market scenarios. Focusing on trade-market, and/or solely market and trade situations, the confluence of data will provide well informed judgments as bases for decisions. We were all impressed and hopeful for what seemed to be the “holy grail” of market research has been brought down to us wretched natives on this side of the world. Deservedly, the NSS presentation received a good response and in the open forum it seemed that all questions were sufficiently answered and apprehensions allayed. It was too good to be true. It prompted me to put forth the “put your money where your mouth is” challenge and Cristos without hesitation promised two million US dollars forthcoming within a six-month period to make it available in Asia Pacific. This promise was never made good. NSS never came. In a few months Cristos Cotsakos left Nielsen and went off to venture in a new frontier, the e business in the internet. This would make him a very rich man in no time at all. It would be unfair to hold Nick Trivisonno, the new ACNielsen chairman, accountable for the reneged promise. To his credit what ensued after his appointment were initiatives in management, administrative and technical fields that were received positively by the Asia Pacific units. Personally, I thought that the Cristos Cotsakos et al presentations felt like a barter trade of trinkets and beads as the conquistadores of old foisted to the poor devils of a new found land.

Shortly before the ACNielsen takeover, Bienvenido Niles, Jr., better known as Nonoy joined the company. He took over the post of Alistair Gordon who was the CEO of ACNielsen Pulse. Alistair was assigned to ACNielsen Malaysia to succeed Yong Kim Seng who was slated for retirement that year. Nonoy was coming from a successful market research career in Procter and Gamble, USA where he held the position of Regional Research Manager for Asia. His impact on ACNielsen Pulse was almost immediate. Revenue growth and margins on his first year achieved a palpable positive change. The staff responded well to his charismatic leadership style and recognized the astuteness of his business decisions.

Nonoy lead ACNielsen Pulse through a string of years of successful operations. The ACNielsen regional management was quick to recognize the mettle of this man and promoted him to Managing Director of South East Asia of which the Philippines was a part of. He made my job as Managing Director of the combined Pulse and Unisearch, ACNielsen Philippines, a lot easier when he left me with a strong and dynamic ACNielsen Pulse organization and business that meshed well with my equally successful and robust ACNielsen Unisearch organization.

Mike Connors was brought in to manage ACNielsen Asia Pacific. He was assisted by KN Tang in this responsibility. The new managers who went with him in Asia Pacific were Jim Cravens, for Legal who then later handled HR. Ford Dalmeyer would assume the legal counsel position vacated by Jim; Frank Martell for Finance but would succeed Mike Connors as head of Asia Pacific in time. Finance was handed over to Mike Barna when Frank became president of Asia Pacific.

Even earlier than the ACNielsen acquisition, Dedette Gamboa joined Unisearch after her stint as Research Manager of PRC. Dedette had strong beliefs that she unwaveringly stood by. I think she had a difference of opinion with the Marketing Director Ole van der Straaten, who shortly became president of PRC. I knew Dedette from way back and that between Ole and her I trusted her to be on the morally correct side. For reasons of my own, my regard for the then president of PRC was less than ideal. All of a sudden I found myself with three research directors in client service. We could afford it but extra effort to increase revenue had to be made to ensure that no negative effect on our bottom line was incurred.

Before Dedette arrived there were two research directors occupying a room. We had to squeeze in a third desk to accommodate Dedette. Among the directors Feddie was the meekest and I was just speculating that she ended up in the middle of the three-desk alignment without a window because the two other directors were both strong willed and might have insisted on having window seats. The arrangement was alright for a while but later on Feddie mentioned that she was getting distracted by the constant debates that went on between Dedette and Nena, add to that the even noisier arguments that ensued when I joined the fray. I think Feddie might have mentioned her predicament to Rosie Chew. Rosie called me up to tell me that she has a need for Feddie in Pulse. Anyway, she said, that I probably had one more director than I needed. I didn’t want to let go of Feddie because with the triumvirate I had the strongest customized team in the whole industry and I was confident that we would be able to get more market shares in the customized market with the star team that I had. I acceded to Rosie because the request came from a sister company, and that Feddie would probably be glad to get out of a “Scylla and Charybdis” situation and also would be happier to be back with her former group.

I couldn’t hang on to Dedette for long. We had our differences before on research issues and often debated them ad nauseum or until we both run out of air. This time she complained of the long hours that the client service group had to put in to meet the targets. She mentioned that the hard driving atmosphere in Unisearch was unfair not only to her but to the other employees as well. She expressed this sentiment openly and it was not doing the morale of the company any good. I finally agreed to her leaving us for MBL-Trends. Mercy Abad, according to her, had a more humane management style and was easy on the sales quotas imposed on her people. I guess she found her ideal working place. She is still with MBL-Trends up to this day.

With the loss of Dedette, Nena did a yeoman’s job handling both the demanding Unilever account and the fast growing non-Unilever sector. We needed another director to help out. We were able to get Nini Balderama, formerly from Colgate to join us as Assistant Director. Not used to the pace in Unisearch, she did not stay long. We had to be contented with hiring research managers but there was a scarcity even at this level. We did not lack Research Executive trainees. We continuously looked for young men and women who would have the potential to become career researchers.

The experienced researchers in Unisearch did not have time to train. They were always out servicing clients and time in the office was spent doing analysis, writing up reports and preparing presentations. In one particular year I was lucky to get Professor Ned Roberto to agree to handle the training of our research executives. He was recently retired as head of the Marketing Department in the Asian Institute of Management, AIM so I asked him if he could do this for me. Dr. Roberto is a very well respected researcher in both the industry and the academe. As expected Dr. Roberto did a superb training job and it solved my training requirements for that year.

Later on with the entry of more senior personnel training became less of a problem. It took awhile before we were able to get Rosanna Caballero and Ambo Reyes to join Unisearch. Rosanna came from San Miguel. In her earlier years she was with market research under Tony Concepcion the head of the San Miguel research group at that time. She then went into marketing management then opted for early retirement. Ambo was also from San Miguel research. He joined Bases, a simulated test market system then included in Frank Small”s portfolio, as an analyst and expert in the system. Ambo was taken into ACNielsen when Bases became affiliated with ACNielsen. I took him in when he expressed his desire to have a permanent locally based post since he was just about burned out from too much traveling. After about two years Rosanna left to join her family in Australia. It was timely that Agnes Tayao, an ACNielsen research director assigned in the UK, was looking for a Philippine posting when her parents needed her to be close at hand for they were on in years and fragile in health. Agnes was heaven sent. She was an experienced client service person and was used to the kind pace we had at Unisearch. She had made the rounds of international assignments in ACNielsen with the posting in the UK as the last.

One of the recurrent problems was the replenishment of research executives who seemed to have had enough of the job after a year. Very few manage to graduate into management. We lose them to other agencies, other career alternatives, pursuit of masteral degrees and we also lose them to other SRG units. It was the practice in SRG and in ACNielsen to post vacancies in the company bulletin board or in the e-mail. Our executives were much in demand in the region. This led to the depletion in the research executive and research manager ranks.

Research International or RI, the former research agency of Unilever soon became active in Asia. They were the preferred international research agency buyer at the time Unilever put up Unisearch for sale. At that time their investment priority was in Europe and so they passed up their chance to acquire Unisearch. They now bought a substantial share of the Philippine Survey Research Company or PSRC which was owned by Menchu Esteban. PSRC was getting steady business from Colgate. This was to be expected since P&G used Consumer Pulse and Unilever had Unisearch. Menchu used to be with Rosie Chew in Consumer Pulse but eventually set up her own. PSRC was one of the bigger players in the local industry but were not improving their share of the business as fast as they would want to. Like other local companies they must have felt that affiliation with big international agencies was the way forward. Even before the Research International affiliation they had a tie up with Nielsen Media in an unsuccessful bid at wresting the Television Measurement service from Media Pulse who had enjoyed a monopoly of the television ratings business for quite some time.

The PSRC-RI affiliation was the first serious threat to our hold on Unilever. We were past the three-year business guarantee with Unilever and were now vulnerable to encroachments from other research agencies. At about the same time Menchu’s son RJ had joined her research organization. RJ Esteban was an ex Unilever manager who would include in his network Unilever managers in marketing who could or would have a direct influence in market research decisions in the company. Menchu could not have asked for a better person to hand over the family business. RJ was an energetic and able market researcher and has found acceptance in the industry despite his youth and relatively short experience in market research. The RI connection plus the positive influence of RJ in the local market made for a formidable competitor in PSRC. The area where they had successful incursions was in the Unilever regional projects where we almost had nil participation. However, they had little success in product development tests despite the serious effort they made in dislodging this from Unisearch. A major inroad that RI was able to make was not through PSRC but through another Research International company called Millward Brown who had two products that were developed for Unilever in Europe and were now being rolled out in Asia. They had the Advanced Tracking Program or ATP and the Advertising Pretest system named Preview which we had to learn because Unilever required us to have the ability to run these systems. Being the most senior client service person in the company Nena Barredo was trained to be the ATP and Preview champion for Unisearch.

The race for an efficient market tracking system had started way back. We have persevered with Mixtrack which, for the lack development support had to trudge and improve bit by painful bit. Mixtrack had very good features and were tailor made for take up into the information systems of PRC, however, we had an ungainly delivery system which could deliver great analysis but was not too marketing user friendly. Our competitors were Stochastic of MBL-Trends a company started by Mercy Abad and Market Minds of TNS run by the late Darrah Estrada who was once a Consumer Pulse Director. While we think that Mixtrack features were far superior from them we did not have the elegant delivery systems that both products of competition had. Marketing guys loved to play around with the tracking data by themselves. In the case of Mixtrack the analysis was always with Unisearch assistance. The other drawback was Mixtrack was not an imported system. In a highly technical field such as market research homegrown technology has an image handicap.

SRG regional management recognized the importance of pursuing the development of a “Rolls Royce” market tracking system. Every SRG country unit would have one form of homegrown tracking system and would ardently push for their models during the regional meetings that were held for market tracking development workshops. Flag waving was often the culprit why regionally assembled working committees hit the shoals. I probably was as guilty as the others when it came to the enthusiasm by which I would present Mixtrack and would not brook any criticism on it. The meetings usually deteriorated into a quail hunt where anything on the rise was shot down. Nothing ever came out of these conferences. After squandering SRG money and executive time the network elders looked elsewhere for solutions. They found this in Research International’s Advanced Tracking program.

These were to be trying times for Unisearch. Sixty percent of our revenues came from Unilever and twenty percent of their research spending was on market tracking. Mixtrack was to be defended at all cost. SRG was able to get an agreement with RI to include ATP in their portfolio as a joint effort that would be mutually beneficial. Since Unilever was a client in all the Asian countries where SRG operated it was really a very promising deal. Added to ATP, an ad pre-testing product, Preview was included in the SRG portfolio. Preview, was developed for Unilever by Research International through the encouragement of David Laker who at that time was the head of Market Research in Unilever. This was going to be rough sailing for us in Unisearch. We were up against Research International and the ties that they had with Unilever in the UK remained very strong. These research systems were designed by RI for Unilever and would therefore be the recommended practice in Unilever markets. Since it was a region-wide directive we had to participate in the training programs that were organized for our people to learn the operations of these two products. My best chance of resisting the directive was on the basis of costs. At this time, the Asian economic meltdown was upon us and all companies in the region, Unilever included, were grappling with budgetary problems. RI’s quote was in US dollars and was about 40% more expensive than Mixtrack. Also, US dollars were hard to acquire locally at that time. Mixtrack was acceptable to Unilever, Philippines and has been long in use with the marketing people. In the meantime we were pressing Tang Yeong Kim, the head of SRG’s technology application unit to hasten his development of Trackscope, the delivery system that we were adopting for Mixtrack.

I needed allies within SRG to ensure Mixtrack’s existence. The opportunity to present and hopefully persuade my MD colleagues about Mixtrack was during the gaps in regional meetings. I found cooperation from Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and later Indonesia. They agreed for us to send trainors of the system to their countries. I sent Gerry Soleminio to deliver the training to these countries. What we found in common with the countries interested in Mixtrack was the unwillingness of the Unilever companies to pay for the kind pricing RI had for the service. The economic down turn in Asia have made, even Unilever companies price conscious. The pricing was in US dollars. At the time severe forex upward swings were being experienced. Mixtrack found willing ears to what it had to offer because of friendly prices. Mixtrack had evolved into a tracking system that was customized to respond to the requirements of PRC’s information system. These would probably be no different from what Unilever would require in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. With Mixtrack, we were able to hold on to a sufficiently large amount of business. In the meantime, ACNielsen persevered with the development of a tracking system and finally came up with Winning Brands that had reaped a modicum of success thus far or from what I knew of it at the time of my retirement. Winning Brands was able to somewhat spare us from ATP and from a potentially injurious alliance with a global competitor in a big revenue service area like market tracking.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut: From An Admirer In A Distant Shore

I was really disheartened to hear of the demise of Kurt Vonnegut who was my idol in the sixties when I was pursuing a degree in English Literature. At that time he was not too popular in school because his writing style was not easily appreciated and considered by some as being forcedly irreverent. A relentless iconoclast, he surely was what he pretended to be, to paraphrase one of his memorable lines. Also, it was thought at that time that he was merely a sci-fi writer when science fiction was categorized just a little better than pulp fiction…more allied to Mills and Boon and Marvel Comic books. It was really a shame that some people missed out on the acerbic satire, the ingenious fusion of technical words and prose into refreshing literature and the rich portraiture of the denizens that made up Vonnegut’s menagerie.

I find it doubly troubling that I had forsaken the work of the genius. I have idolized him in my adolescence but had to abandon him as I pursued the common struggle of providing for the family at the exclusion of everything else. Now, after more than thirty years of serving false gods and getting just rewards for it I now have the luxury of revisiting the object of my neglected affection, the written word, a terrain in which , to my mind, Vonnegut dominated.

I am not even halfway going through a dozen of his books in my library when he all of a sudden just banged and quit with a damaged brain. I was taking my time reading and enjoying his Breakfast of Champions, Slaughter House Five, Cat’s Cradle, Mother Night…safe in the thought despite his age he was very much with us not giving thought that this promethean figure was mortal. I should take solace with one of my favorite Vonnegutian lines…”and so it goes”, a few words which captures his view of people, the human condition and of life generally. It so eloquently expresses his vigorous contempt and disdainful apathy towards the events prevalent during his prolific writing years. “and so it goes” an emphatic but subtle expression of indifference. Post Vietnam writers would find themselves preempted by the sentiments expressed by this insightful writer of Slaughter House Five which sprung from the deep impressions that the fire bombing of Dresden had etched in him.

I do not know if he is now happy having arrived at his invented place of “chronosyncratic infandibulum” where all truths fit nicely together and/or to be with Hemingway’s misplaced dessicated leopard in the slopes of Kilimanjaro or would he have preferred to keep slaying gorgons that continue to persist in our midst.

Well, Kurt, you will be missed finally.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

I will be away somewhere in the next two weeks. Will resume posting on my return.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

49. The Selling of Unisearch

In 1988, Rey Alejandro advised me that the concern was now going to pursue in earnest the spinning off of the market research unit. I was called to a meeting that included the then PRC Chairman, Cesar Bautista. In the meeting were Rey and the Commercial Director Jan Prudon. Cesar asked me to put together a strategy wherein Unilever could get best monetary value out of the spin off, maintain over the long term the high quality market research service despite it being no longer a Unilever service and to see to it that current employees’ interests are well served even as they sever their relationship with the concern.

Unisearch had an average annual trading profit of more than three million pesos over the last three years at that time. A good valuation of the unit would be a multiplier of between five and seven of the average trading profit. This could give the unit a market value of twenty one million pesos at the top end, an amount that can more than take care of funding the retirement and redundancy reparations of Unisearch employees. Not bad considering that the spinning off of the other company divisions which were done earlier entailed costs to the company over and above the redundancy payments as they had to assist them in their start up operations. The Unisearch spin off may have given Unilever a net gain even after paying the retirement and redundancy packages.

To ensure that the quality of the research service to Unilever is maintained even after the Unisearch spin off, I recommended limiting our prospects to the big and international practitioners in the business. Market research is a dynamic industry where new research methodologies as well as constant enhancements to standard methodologies are being introduced almost every year. We needed to ally ourselves with a company that is progressive to ensure that the market research employed for Unilever is state of the art. We gave top priority to Research International because of the Unilever heritage of the company but they were not interested at that time because their investment priorities were in Europe where they embarked on an aggressive acquisition and affiliation tact. The two other suitors were the Singapore based Survey Research Group, the largest market research network in Asia Pacific and Frank Small, an Australian company who had an existing unit in the Philippines, and with a fairly extensive presence in South East Asia. Earlier Survey Research Group had bought Consumer Pulse, the largest market research company in the Philippines which was owned by Rosie Chew, formerly the research manager of P&G Philippines. Rosie and Peter Weldon, one of the regional directors of SRG represented the network in the negotiations to acquire Unisearch.

We finally settled with Survey Research Group. The terms agreed upon were to use a multiplier of six, thus, an eighteen million peso outright sale. To protect the employees it was agreed with SRG that the employees will enjoy the same salaries and privileges as in Unilever and that Unilever will give the employees their retirement and redundancy pays despite the fact that they will continue to work and get the same pay, albeit, with a new company. This was the anxiety of most of the people in Unisearch. In the UK, when Research Bureau, Limited of Research International, the erstwhile research company of Unilever was spun off, the employees did not get their retirement pay because what transpired was just a change of company ownership.

I was a bit apprehensive about the carrying over of the same salaries and benefits into the new company. Unilever being a multinational company was at the top end of the remuneration spectrum in companies operating in the Philippines. An independent Unisearch will not have the same resources to afford the generous salary packages that were promised the carryover employees. However, I needed to assure the employees that we were getting into the best deal possible since most of them were feeling downhearted with the thought of leaving Unilever and getting into an upstart company. Getting their retirement money plus the additional redundancy pay appeased most of them. I knew that I was in for a rough ride on the first year. The eighteen million payment to Unilever was borrowed from a Hongkong bank and was part of the indebtedness of the new company. This was mostly as payment for the company name Unisearch and was amortized for twenty years, almost a million pesos a year saddling the fledgling company. What kept my hopes up was the three-year business guarantee from Unilever. A large business base such as that will make for less cash flow pressures and a good starting point to build the business. With the business guarantee Unilever insisted on a competitive lockout. It meant not being able to do business with their main competitors namely P&G, Colgate, and other companies actively engaged in markets where Unilever operated locally. As an SRG company this was not much of a problem because Consumer Pulse, now a sister company, took care of companies that we were constrained to serve. This also worked with other industries. In the petroleum industry we handled Shell while Consumer Pulse took on Caltex. We serviced Asia Breweries while they did San Miguel. This did not matter in the smaller markets whose research requirements tended to be ad hoc and infrequent.

SRG did not provide start up funds. No working capital infusion from the parent company happened. Unisearch was to fend for itself from day one. I negotiated for early payments of unsettled bills on Unilever projects to have some operating funds. To take care of immediate operating expenses I had to open a bank account in my name to draw funds for day-to-day expenses until we could open a corporate account. On our first year we would be dependent on the graciousness of Unilever to make quick payments of our bills. The Market Research department was quick to acknowledge and process our billings. Payment release by the Commercial Division was expedited with the help of Efren Samonte, who at that time was the PRC Commercial Director. It might have helped that Efren was an alumnus of Unisearch where he worked as my department accountant.
SRG allocated some shares of the new company for sale to management members of the new company. I distributed these among the directors and managers who joined me in the spin off.

Monday, April 02, 2007

48. Unisearch

Annual Planning 1979

Annual Planning 1978

The Unisearch that I found upon my assumption as its General Manager was a full-service marketing research organization. a quasi division that had all the semblance of being a separate entity from Philippine Refining Company. It had an office outside the premises of PRC and with its own trade name and logo. At first glance you wouldn’t know that it had ties with Philippine Refining Company. Housed in a residential building in Leon Guinto, a street parallel to Taft Avenue, the office was quite a distance from the PRC compound, which was in the United Nations Avenue in the Paco district.

Mrs Sexton, Ed, Pen Buenaventura
at the back Efren Samonte, Ding Malvar, Joy Mangahas

James, Aida Azuelo, Viging Galian, Sunio, Lacson, Pat Domingo, Flora Barredo, etc...

My earlier encounter with Unisearch was as a brand manager availing of their services for my brands’ research requirements. I have had several occasions to discuss my research briefs, analyses of the results, interpretations and recommendations for marketing actions with the research managers. This kind of exposure to the research trade and discipline helped in my forming a healthy and high regard for the researchers and their craft.
Research Seminar for 3rd party clients - Dusit Hotel

Unisearch was looked at in PRC as a proud and venerable institution with a history that runs alongside the PRC’s milestones in its business growth. I was destined to share this heritage with a few hundred others. After more than half a century Unisearch ceased to exist at the start of the new millennium when ACNielsen merged the ACN Consumer Pulse and ACN Unisearch into one company.

I would be remiss to my Unisearch colleagues if I allow the name to just disappear unceremoniously into oblivion without making a note of its glorious past.

The research unit came into being when John Ingliss-Arkell of Unilever N.V. paid a visit to Philippine Refining Company in 1947 to assess the postwar situation of the business in this far-flung station of the Unilever concern in the Far East. Finding that business data was virtually nonexistent, one of his recommendations was the establishment of a market research section to start the market information buildup for the company. The original section created was composed of four people, one male as head of the group and three female researchers. Unisearch grew out of this handful of field researchers who immediately after the second-world war set off to gather data on the demographic profiles of the population of Manila and the evolving postwar trade structure.

In the next ten years the research section would struggle to keep pace with the information requirements of a fast growing business. By 1957 the section had expanded its personnel to provide a much more extensive geographical coverage of the research activity. In 1959 an all female tabulation unit was formed and about seven field researchers were working under a certain Jose Rodriguez as section supervisor. A curious historical sidelight was the practice of discriminating against married women in the hiring policy. Apart from not hiring married women, a lady employee would have to resign from the company once she got married. This arcane policy that smacked of male chauvinism has been dropped some years back.

With the reorganization of the Marketing Department of the company in 1959, market research was made to report to the Advertising Manager. It was only in the early sixties that the research unit came into its own. The visit of Hans Khuner of Marketing Division in 1960 was a significant event in the life of the Market Research section. His visit focused a lot of attention on the reorganization and development of the unit. He not only gave guidelines on research methods and protocols but also made some helpful suggestions on standard operating procedures of the department. Each project had to have a formal proposal written up that had go through a vetting process involving the approval of the Advertising Manager and the Marketing Director.

Hans Khuner underscored the importance of having a person trained in Social Science Research in the Market Research Department. He also enhanced the department’s status with the upgrading of the unit’s supervisor to management level in 1961. PRC management took the advice of Hans Khuner and brought into the department an assistant manager who had experience as a social science researcher. This recruit was Bert Timbol, a social science researcher, a graduate Philippine Normal College and with a masters degree from the University of Colorado. Prior to his recruitment in PRC he was engaged in social research work in the University of the Philippines. Soon after his joining PRC as an assistant manager in the Market Research Department, Jose Rodriguez was retired in early 1962. With Bert Timbol’s assumption of the head position of the department he changed the definition of the department from Market Research to that of Marketing Research. This was done to recognize the expanding activities of the department. From consumer surveys and product development tests the services now included advertising research, trade research (distribution and shelf offtake), media research and got involved into experimental motivational research.

Upon the arrival of Chris Barber-Lomax as Marketing Director in 1963 he took the department’s administration and functional responsibility from the Advertising Manager. This was in line with the policy to give it independence from the users of research. This was a directive that came from the center in the UK that was applied to all research units in the Unilever world.

Slim Quiambao, RBL guest, Joy Mangahas,Ding Malvar, Ed Roa

Ed Roa with John S Downham

Peter Baker with Ed Roa

Bert Timbol spurred the growth of this once tiny data gathering section. The increasing importance of the department’s services was attested to by the number of researches requested by the Marketing Department that had phenomenal growth during the early sixties. This development necessitated the training of personnel (line and staff) to meet the emerging requirements brought about by new and improved methods and techniques and the increased volume of projects. The advent of computerization pushed analysis and interpretation to new and higher levels. Also, by this time Bert christened the unit Institute of Domestic Research to allow it to develop a distinct personality in the industry as a full service research agency whose services may be commissioned by non-Unilever companies.

Two Eds are better... Ed Cruz & Ed Roa

Learning computers with tutor

Recruitment profile for researchers was upgraded to get talented graduates coming from the better universities and colleges. Slim Quiambao, one of the early managers in market research in PRC was a witness to the radical transformation of the service that Bert Timbol ushered in. During this time Pete Bernardo, who would become the Coca Cola Research Manager joined as a trainee, Tess Valenzuela, Florence Capunong and Ernie del Castillo would join in the mid sixties. In the late sixties Angie de Villa Lacson together with Ed Cruz, Meng Lim, Dedette Gamboa and Jun Alcantara would join up. These people would later distinguish themselves in their respective post-Unisearch careers outside Unilever.

With the advent of the seventies, Bert Timbol would be promoted to take on additional responsibilities in Marketing as Marketing Services Manager followed shortly with his promotion as General Marketing Manager. Although market research would still be his responsibility, in his new capacity he had to give up the direct management of the Institute of Domestic Research. He tapped Ato Maningat, from the brand group to become the department’s manager. Ato, a Wharton graduate did not stay for long as he was taken into the Puyat businesses’ executive pool. Later he would become Commissioner of Public Estates, a government agency, after his stint with the Puyat Group. Ding Malvar succeeded Ato as department manager. This was short lived as he expressed his reluctance to handle the administrative, commercial and marketing functions of the department. Ding was an excellent statistician and had expressed that he would rather stay within the confines of his area of competence. By the early seventies Nonoy Reyes, a brand manager from the Toilet Preparations group took over the management of the unit. He rechristened the unit with a more upbeat trade name, Unisearch, to help in the effort to generate third party clients. This and the physical separation from the main office were intended to give it an image of being independent in order to attract research business from third party concerns.

At the time that I joined Unisearch they were already doing regular research for multinational companies like Shell, Warner Lamberts, Richardson Vicks, and big Filipino companies like Purefoods and a few medium sized ones.
The research organization that was handed over to me had competent people running the various operational aspects of market research. The only complaint that I had was the depletion of the research analyst group. Nonoy Reyes, the former head of Unisearch was appointed Marketing Manager of the Personal Products group and he took with him Nena Barredo and Joy Isla, the topnotch senior analysts in Unisearch to become brand managers in his group. All I can do was register my complaint. It was still left to the analysts to decide whether they agree with their new appointments or not. It was not surprising that they were all eager to transfer to the brand group. A post in Marketing, after all, was their ticket to the fast track,

When I first started with Unisearch in 1977 the staff I had consisted of Dedette Gamboa as head of the client service group, Ding Malvar, statistician. Ding was the erstwhile head of Unisearch but chose to give it up and confined himself to the technical responsibilities of research. I also had Slim Quiambao as Head of Operations who also assisted in client service, Ruby Torres as overall assistant in operations, Efren Samonte from the management trainee ranks as the department accountant. He eventually became the Commercial Director of PRC. The research executives at that time were Joy Mangahas, Marlu Emmanuel, Evelyn Gancayco, Clarissa Manzano, Marivi Jugo and Nelia Fabie who assisted Ding Malvar in statistics. Later on I recruited Meng Estrada, Jane Beltran and a few others like Cecille Bautista, Gladys Albano, Carina Pilapil etc. Then there were the newly recruited male executives Jun Osin, Rolly Bondoc, Manny de Guzman and Butch Lontok who came in as part of an attempt to change the gender profile of market research analysts. Other males who went into the service were Bong Oppus, Albertine Monteron, Ed Cruz, Jun Alcantara, George Sison and Benjie Encarnacion. There were several male trainees from brand management who were just passing through as part of their training program.

Under Slim Quiambao, the people in Operations were Pen Buenaventura for field and Lily Baranda for data processing. Patsy Aguinaldo assisted Ma’am Pen while Viging Galian and Marmi Alonso backstopped Lily. The mother of Marivic Azuelo, former research executive, Aida Azuelo, was with the data processing group. The Azuelos were truly a PRC family. Paquito, the husband of Aida, was with warehouse management.

People in market research tend to stay on to become career researchers and most of the staff that I had inherited had been there for quite a few years. One of the homespun wisdom we had then was that one couldn’t grow old in marketing. A thirty five-year-old brand manager is an anachronism. Like Advertising, Marketing gave a premium to youth for the currency of their ideas, enthusiasm and resolute aggressiveness. On the other hand, in market research, experience in techniques’ application and amassed knowledge of markets are the prized personal assets and like wine increased in value over time.

One could not ask for a better timing. I was middle aged and although having the status of a senior manager in Unilever the odds of a having another step up in the senior management of the marketing organization was really zilch. I was elated to start in a job that seemed to fit my background reasonably. More importantly I was going to run an organization that was structured like a company, complete with all the essential functions. This was a dream come true.

Although there were set financial targets the achievement of these were not of paramount importance because the main role of the unit was to provide the best market research resource to the company brands. There was, however, a connection between the paper profit and the quality of the service that the research unit can provide. While the profits were not real it was able to show management that whatever additional personnel resource or facility the unit proposed to acquire were justified and were well within the financial capacity of the unit.

Sales proceeds coming from third party business were real money, the researches we did for PRC have real money value. Even if all these pecuniary items were treated as notional they were in fact real incomes. The exercise of doing the financial statements of the unit, though seemingly a charade, became a gauge of the efficiency of company research money deployment. The “profits” of the research unit were ploughed back into the brands’ market research resource and they were translated into the quality and quantity of personnel; their training and the acquisition of software and hardware.

With the wealth of resources and up to date facilities Unisearch provided high quality research services to PRC Marketing at the same time it also gave opportunities to marketing cadets, who would have extended stints in Unisearch, an appreciation of market research as a tool in their management of brands and markets once past training.

The head of market research in the Unilever central office in the UK was John Downham, a gentleman who typified the best of the British. He was an authority on market research and had collaborated on a book market research with Robert Worcester, a well-published writer on market research in Europe. The book has been kept updated through the years and has served as authoritative reference to most practitioners of the trade in Europe. John's contributions to market research has been recognized by ESOMAR (the European Research Society) through their creation of the John Downham Award. The award encourages practitioners towards excellence by aiming for higher standards in market research. The annual seminars that he conducted for the Asian Unilever research units kept us up to date with the latest developments in market research technology. These seminars also served as a clearing-house for the collective experiences in market research in the Asian region. Often John would give us projects that encompassed basic research, results validation of certain techniques and introduction of new techniques in the different markets. These were reported on during annual conferences. The regularity of these gatherings fostered closeness among the researchers of the Asian countries.

The venue changed from one country to another each year. India was the exception because the regulation of foreign currency remittances at that time prevented them from remitting earnings to the UK. The foreign currency accruals were put to use in establishing a regional training center in Gulita, India, and the funding of seminars within the country not only for marketing research but also for the other aspects of the business. So there were more seminars held in India than in other countries. However, when it came to immersion training, the Philippines was the favorite. Newly promoted research managers of our units in the region would have on the job training in Uniseach prior to assuming their roles in their companies. We would have Japanese, Malaysian, Pakistani, and Indonesian trainees in research management who stay with us for the duration of three to six months almost every year. Most of these trainees ended up as heads of their respective country research units.

To digress a bit here’s slice of delightful trivia: I was barely a year as head of Unisearch when the Philippines became host to a regional seminar. After the seminar I hosted a dinner party at our newly built house in Loyola Heights. What made the party an enjoyable one was the wine tasting session I had organized. It was not, in a sense, a real wine tasting event. Included among the variety of wines from local fruits were potent brews fermented from coconut, nipa and rice.

You wouldn’t believe that this was a party of market researchers. What started as a sedate and formal social became a boisterous and an uninhibited bacchanalian bash. Even John Downham became a little less of the British gentleman that he was and was the one who cajoled his researchers to imbibe more of the joy juices. The head of the Japanese research unit Roger Brookin, a rather unabashed Brit, did a spontaneous strip tease number. My wife had to supply him a blanket to keep his modesty intact. After the wine session it was easy to convince everyone to sample “balut”, steamed duck embryo in the shell. The foreign lady guests were squeamish at first but soon had their first taste of it. Verdicts ranged from near puking to not as bad as expected. Most of them couldn’t believe that they have had so much fun until they saw the party pictures that attested to what was a raucous and fun filled evening. Some of the early leaders in Asian Unilever research who were at the party were Rajni Chadha, head of research of Hindustan Lever; Dhira Singhalaka, Lever Bros. Thailand; Janis Hanafiah, Unilever Indonesia; Tan Siew Bee, Lever Bros. Malaysia; Agha Akhtar Ali of Pakistan, and Roger Brookin, of Lever Bros. Japan. We had two other guests who were from Research Bureau, Ltd., the UK company of Research International who helped John in some of the conference sessions.

We kept ourselves very busy from the late seventies to the early eighties. Our Consumer Panel was launched in 1982 in Manila and on its second year we added a panel in Cebu. The Consumer Panel was very useful but expensive to maintain and that the limited coverage did not give us a national reading. By the end of eighties we shifted our market tracking to Mixtrack, a market tracking system evolving from the Consumer Market Index (CMI). Also, at this time we have been doing predictive market research. Sensor, a Research International proprietary predictive system was used in our toothpaste and shampoo launches. Later on we were introduced to Perceptor, the predictive system of the French company Novaction that enjoyed extensive use for most of the product groups of Unilever. In the early eighties I invited Oscar Schneerson of Novaction to give the industry a briefing on STMs (Simulated Test Markets) as these were increasingly being used in the South East Asia.

We experimented on a new research technique, Core, which took a snap shot of six weeks of the launch period of the launch brand to give reasonable movement projections and diagnostic directions to marketing during the brand’s initial year. We also came up with Optimate, a homegrown technique, involving optimization of product feature mixes through multivariate analysis. Price tests were of particular interest at that time because of the economic downturn experienced during the pre-Ninoy and post-Ninoy tensions. We introduced Price Wise, a modeling approach to pricing, to address a market that was increasingly becoming price sensitive.

We did a lot experimental and fine tuning work on research developed by advertising agencies. Two of the more imaginative techniques that we have made use of were PDA, or Problem Detection Analysis and Item By Use. PDA was very useful in ferreting out consumer concerns about products that lead to proposition and/or product enhancements. The approach is based on the notion that people tend to talk more openly and profusely about problems in products and services. They were asked to rate the gravity of the problems and the way they cope with each problem.

Item By Use creates product linkages by asking questions on how products are used and what other products may also be used in their stead until a map is formed according to the proximity of different product groups to each other in usage. This has been useful in Foods research e.g., creating a map of condiment alternatives in food preparation or the items that may make up a breakfast, lunch, dinner etc.

We borrowed a literary term when we named an interview process “Stream of Consciousness”. This was an extension of an observation research that had a researcher recording all the stages of a product in use by a sample of respondents until various pathways are observed. In this procedure we introduced researcher intervention by asking what was going on in the mind of the respondent as she went into each process. The research allowed the analyst to understand the nuances of each process in the product usage.

In qualitative research, aside from the usual elicitation techniques we experimented on transactional analysis wherein responses between authority and subject (e.g. child to adult, adult to child, adult to adult etc.) and vice versa were analyzed to help the advertiser fashion ad appeals.

Research on the use of the psychology of colors for marketing and comunications was also attempted although the results were not conclusive as there seemed to be marked differences among subgroups which made the directions, at best, tendential because of the smallness of the sample and the unvalidated psychological principles as givens. The local champions of these innovative techniques were Nena Barredo and Dedette Gamboa.

Pattern analysis was in vogue in the mid seventies and we applied a patented Unilever approach named BOMPAT (named after its author Brian O” Malloy) to most of the local Unilever brands. Regional champion for this was Roger Brookin, the head of Nippon Lever’s market research unit.

I look back with pride to the little in-house research agency that was doing more than what the more established research companies were capable of doing at that time. What company in the early sixties can claim having a national shop audit for more than five product categories, a monthly TV audience measurement service; in the mid eighties, a Consumer Panel service in two key cities, and employed STMs or simulated test market predictive systems? We also had unique mobile research facilities, which, were started by Bert Timbol in the early sixties doing quick ad research and group discussion on wheels through the use of a consumer research van. We had another research van that was used as a mobile test kitchen for R&D and consumer testing for the products of our Foods Group.

Despite our busy schedule we invested money and time to do basic research that helped improve the validity of our systems, enhanced the effectiveness of our scaling techniques and built normative data banks to improve the analysis of our product test protocols and reference norms for the quick ad researches.
More than the products and the facilities we had the ideal kind of people whose skills, imagination and dedication to market research made it possible to employ effectively all the facilities that they themselves have helped put together. I know that they too share the pride I feel of having been a part of Unisearch.

My years with Unisearch taught me a lot about running a company. It was providential that I had a topnotch accountant in the person of Efren Samonte to handle the financial aspects. This helped me to gain important experience without the anxiety of committing financial blunders. It also taught me the essentials of finance that one needed for the day-to-day running of a company. Unisearch taught me a lot about executive management and subordinate relationships down to the lowest level. The organization was female dominated and this required special handling. The staff, especially in the operations level tended to treat me as father, big brother and father confessor who not only looked after the day to day conflicts in the work but also in their personal relationships in the office and sometimes their domestic lives. Issues from these are sometimes touchy and one had to learn how best to administer Solomonic justice between contending parties.

While it was imperative that I kept abreast of research technology I had to caution myself to pull back on arguments on technical points. The researcher has a lot of pride in his or her work and I had to be sure that this is not threatened by my standing foursquare on issues. I argued a lot with my people on results interpretation related issues but at the end of the day these were resolved and the marketing issues got the best out of the exchange of views.

We had a thriving third party business. Non-Unilever revenues accounted for 34% of total Unisearch revenues. The revenue that we have gained from these ensured the financing of better facilities and justified the hiring of more research executives. Some of the long-standing clients were Mario Reyes of Pilipinas Shell and Bobby Kraut of Purefoods who provided a steady stream of revenues from projects they have commissioned. One of the biggest third party accounts that we had at that time was Wander, Philippines, the makers of the Ovaltine Brand. My client contact at Wander at that time was Titus Santiago, a former colleague in Unilever in the early seventies. He succeeded Bonggoy Verano, my former boss in Bernard Advertising as marketing director of Wander. Titus’ assistant in Wander was Bobby Sumulong, the first marketing director of the phenomenal marketing success story, Jollibee. Luvi Lim, our former “kygmy” in the Foods Group became marketing director of Wander during Dieter Lehman’s term as General Manager. Boy Martirez and Alan Lee of Philips Electrical Lamps, a Dutch concern regularly commissioned us to do their research projects and so, too, did Toto Floresca of Dutch Boy Paints. We did research work for Cititrust a bank that was headed by Gerry Ablaza, a former product group manager in the Foods division of PRC. Whenever I see Gerry I get reminded of Clark Kent for his mild manners and as an adult Harry Potter with his wire rimmed spectacles and wizardry in business. Gerry would become the President of Globe Telecommunications a giant in the burgeoning comer industry of mobile telecommunications.

The first continuous television audience measurement service in the country was the Monthly coincidental television that Unisearch ran since the mid sixties up until the early seventies. This provided a steady stream of revenues coming from the television networks as well as from other big advertisers. The establishment of the Consumer Pulse Peoplemeters by Rosie Chew caused the cessation of our television rating service. It was much too late when I became aware that Consumer Pulse was setting up the TV meter service. I tried to catch up by contacting Richard Hallwood of AGB in Hongkong to come up with a joint effort to preempt Peoplemeters. The effort was futile since Pulse had already set up the television household panels and were ready to be in service at the time the industry was having cocktails during the introduction of the AGB system.

The client acquisition that made a difference was the San Miguel Account. I was able to get through their Marketing Services Manager, Joe Pascual, some of their ad hoc requirements and some provincial areas of their beer shop audit. Joe is the husband of Marilyn, my creative director in Lintas. At the height of our success in revenue generation our notional gross profit was as high as 35%, an enviable commercial achievement by any standard. The best I could do when we became an independent company was 27%, but excellent when looked at against an Asian nine-country average of a little over 10%. This was one feature of Unisearch that could not be ignored when it was finally placed on the sales block.

Birthday Lunch

Birthday Lunch

Naic excursion

Naic excursion