Thursday, November 25, 2010

Riding Towards the Horizon - A Eulogy For Bert Timbol

During our better looking days. Mang Bert, Ed Roa, JJ Calero

When Raymond Timbol called me up the other day to tell me if I could be among those who would deliver a eulogy for his dad, Mang Bert, Isaid yes without hesitation. In fact if Raymond did not ask I would have volunteered to do so.

Bert has a special niche in my heart. We were together in Unilever, known as PRC then, for more than 15 years, he as boss and me, as a struggling young manager in the Marketing department.

Let me just limit my recollection to the early years in Mang Bert’s career in Unilever, I’m sure there would be a lot of eulogizers who can speak much more competently on the more recent years and talk about a successful Mang Bert in the media industry where he had become an iconic figure not only in the glamorous world of beauty pageants but also as the ultimate professional in the fun but raucous world of media.

I have chosen to talk about a Mang Bert whose star was on the rise suring the sixties.
I don’t know how many of you would know that he was a pioneering spirit in Marketing Research in the Philippines. Had he chosen to stay in this discipline he could have been acknowledged by industry peers as one of the founding fathers of modern Market Research in the Philippines. During his stint as the Market Research Manager of PRC he introduced a lot of innovative market research techniques which are still being used today by local research practitioners.

For media guys who are old enough to remember, Mang Bert was the first to start a monthly television ratings service which at that time was the only known tv audience measurement system done on a regular basis. In the absence of the more sophisticated and hi tech techniques now employed by Nielsen and others, this served as the buying guide for those advertisers who subscribed to it.

He did an outstanding job in PRC’s market research and was rewarded by a promotion to Marketing Services Manager. The services within his responsibility were composed of market research, promotions and advertising. It was such a comprehensive responsibility that found him involved in almost everything that concerned the brands.

What set him apart from most of the managers were his articulateness and his wide range of interests and knowledge. He was conversant about most topics dealing with humanities, politics and world history. The traditional perception of a researcher would be some sort of an egghead or a numbers whiz kid and nerd whose interests were caged in insipid narrow confines. He was completely the opposite of this. His incisive analysis of data and the sagacity of his interpretations lead to sound marketing decisions. Presentation was his forte. What made his presentations impressive was the way he embellished them with apt analogies and his flair for the dramatic that made the otherwise stark and boring data come alive with mind boggling possibilities and stimulating marketing breakthrough ideas.

You could say that he was a virtual Renaissance man and as such would be allowed some latitude for eccentricities which were not readily appreciated by some. What contributed to the perception of his being a larger than life personality was his penchant to share the highlights of his life story to anyone who was willing to listen. He gave a variety of accounts of himself being portrayed as characters of almost heroic proportions. He would be the boy courier in the resistance during the war, the working student doing cowboy chores in ranches in Denver, Colorado, a painter, art connoisseur and critic, a literary man and an orator with few equals.

Bert’s favourite character was that of a wrangler, an offshoot of his student years in Denver, Colorado as a Fulbright-Mundt scholar. He loved living the part down to the gaudy boots, blue denims, big ornate brass buckles and the cowboy hat. Even his preference for vehicles were for the rugged “off road” type long before SUVs became fashionable. This earned him the moniker “Cowboy Cabalen” in PRC. I am reminded of the time when he was accosted by the PRC chairman about his informal clothes choice to which he quipped “I believe the company took me in not for my sartorial preferences.”

Bert excelled in handling the demands of the job and became indispensable in marketing and no sooner was again rewarded by a promotion to General Marketing Manager, a position that extended itself as head of all marketing inclusive of brand groups and marketing Services which, to my mind, deserved a better recognition than what the title suggested from a Unilever hierarchical point of view. With the purview of his responsibilities he should have been a director as opposed to being just a manager. This is a sentiment that has been shared in whispers by many in Unilever but never aired openly. I am glad to have said it now.
My career seemed to have run parallel to his since my professional path traversed brand marketing, then as company media manager in PRC, as an advertising man with Lintas, an advertising agency erstwhile owned by Unilever, that later teamed up with Hemisphere and finally settling down as head of market research in PRC and later in ACNielsen. All through these, Bert leant me a helping hand not only with his influence but, more importantly, serving as a model by which I have patterned my work style throughout my career.

If there is anything that I would value the most as a legacy from this extraordinary man it is that of doing the job, any job for that matter, with unassailable honesty and foursquare integrity. Media work or the media buying profession to be specific, is replete with all sorts of temptations which try one’s resolve. It is not uncommon for one to hear of large scale venalities and other underhanded persuasions in media which many media buyers have, in their weak moments, succumbed to.

Unilever was indeed wise to have chosen a man like Bert to entrust its huge advertising war chest which consisted of billions of advertising money. Bert had been faithful to the trust that was given to him by Unilever and not a single centavo of that vast resource has been spent without the interest of Unilever at heart.

Bert has the comfort of having to leave Masscom to men and women close to him, Ed Cruz a long time partner of 42 years, two daughters, Lorraine and Elaine and son Raymond, to all of whom he has inculcated the virtues of constant Honesty and Integrity. He will live on every time his successors put to practice these inspiring qualities in the course of their work.

And to Tita, he bequeathed memories of a soul mate who shared with her a life well lived, a consolation befitting a dutiful and devoted wife.

In the fashion of legendary men, Bert, the Unilever Cowboy rides on towards the horizon leaving his imprint on a vast marketing and media landscape for other men and women to follow.


Ostrayan said...

I met Bert and his lovely wife Tess and son Raymund in 1995 when we were on the same tour of Europe and later they were nice enough to contact me when they came to Australia. It saddens me to hear of his passing even so long after the event. He was a very kind, generous and interesting man and I've never forgotten him nor will I.

Rene said...

Fate has played a macabre joke on me. I'm planning a visit to Manila this year and Bert was on top of my list re people to see. Bert and I go back far, far in time... I was a toddler then and his family was our neighbor somewhere in Oroquieta or M. Hizon, Sta. Cruz. Bert would give me a piggy-back ride as we chased the Jap vendor of snacks. Unknowingly I paid tribute to him by narrating that childhood episode in my book. I feel so alone now. My aunts and uncles who were Bert's contemporaries are all gone, too. His passing proves the adage "the good die young" wrong... I'll always be thinking of him. Please extend my condolence to his family.

Rene S. Gramonte

PS - best regards to you, too.

Rene said...


Please edit my comment... change "macabre" to sad... it was a wrong adjective choice. I was planning to see Bert about acquiring a dog from him when I visit Manila since I knwo he breeds good ones. I still feel the loss.



wayfarer said...

Rene it's nice to hear from you.
Mang Bert was truly a man who leaves an indelible mark on friends and associates.
He is sorely missed.