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

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