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From ordinary people extraordinary deeds

/ 12:10 AM March 28, 2016

IF FILEMON T. Berba Jr. had chosen to pursue a military career through the Philippine Military Academy, I have no doubt that he would have finished at the top of his class with the presidential saber being awarded to him during graduation rites at Fort General Gregorio del Pilar. Aside from the presidential saber, he most likely would also have been the recipient of many of the medals that go to outstanding cadets for excellence in various fields of endeavor, both academic as well as military.

As for the position of first captain (commander) of the cadet corps, or in cadet parlance, the “Baron” he would also have been a strong contender. In the history of the PMA, only two cadets graduated as first captain and class topnotcher: Aristeo Ferraren, Class of 1938, and Leopoldo Regis, Class of 1951. (If I missed out on anyone, I would be happy to make the necessary correction.)

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Quite frankly, my interactions with Jun Berba were few and far between. After my stint at the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta, I was appointed administrator of the Export Processing Zone Authority (Epza), forerunner of what is now known as the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.

At that time Epza consisted of four major zones: Bataan, Cavite, Baguio City and Mactan. Each of these zones had special problems that included militant labor groups, irregular power supply, hijacking of raw materials destined for the zones, as well as finished products being delivered to the piers for export abroad. We were fortunate that in some of the critical areas, we had the strong support of local government officials. Among them, the late governor Juanito Remulla of Cavite was outstanding.

As administrator, I served under the Department of Trade and Industry headed by then Secretary Jose Concepcion. Epza had its own board of governors, and one member was Filemon Berba Jr. I had never met “Jun” before, but after our first meeting I knew he was a person of substance who could contribute ideas on how best to accomplish the mission of Epza.

Among the many problems faced by Epza in its growing years was the lack of land for possible expansion. This could be addressed by setting up new zones or expanding existing zones and taking over adjacent properties. Of course, this would involve difficult negotiations and huge funding requirements for infrastructure needs such as roads, power and water connections, and buildings.

It was board member Jun Berba who suggested the setting up of “Special Export Processing Zones” or SEPZs, within existing industrial parks. This saved the government a lot since all that was required was separation of the SEPZ from the rest of the industrial park, simply by a fence and the deployment of customs personnel as guards. Today, one finds SEPZs inside industrial parks all over the country, thereby extending the benefits of export zones in the most unlikely places without having to spend enormous sums for new infrastructure and facilities.

Incidentally, my stay at Epza was marked by a number of unusual and, to say the least, embarrassing situations which I could never forget. On one occasion, we had a group of Japanese investors in town checking out the export zones as possible export locations for their factories. We were eager to impress the visitors, and went all out to accommodate and attend to their requests and concerns. Unfortunately, during one particular briefing, the subject of power reliability was raised. After vigorously assuring them of an adequate and dependable power supply, the lights went out and the sound system broke down. It was the time of frequent brownouts. That was the end of that particular visit.

On another occasion, I was at my offices on Roxas Boulevard, when word came that Makati was under siege by rebel soldiers holding out at the Intercontinental Hotel. Sometime later, an overseas call came from Tokyo. A Japanese company was interested in putting up a factory in Cavite, and was willing to make the necessary deposit as required by Epza regulations. I asked if they were aware of what was happening in Makati, and the reply was that they were confident the problem would be resolved. Unlike the earlier incident, this one had a happy ending, as the Japanese company did push through with their plans for Cavite.

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Recently, Jun Berba came out with a book “Leadership for Extraordinary Results.” Unlike many management books that often require some time and effort to digest, the many illustrations of simple management principles and techniques in the book make for valuable lessons for all who aspire to excel in their vocations.

The “Danver Principle.” When Berba was president of Philippine Cellophane Film Corp., he noticed that most personnel in the field office did not understand communications from the head office despite the very good English.

Berba decided that henceforth, all communications and announcements for posting in bulletin boards at both the home and field offices should first be read by the company messenger, a fellow called Danver. He was typical of factory and field people. If Danver understood them, the announcements could be sent out. If not, they had to be revised until Danver fully understood them.

In Berba’s view, what was the use of very good English memos if the majority of employees did not understand them?

“Lunch with the President.” As company CEO, Berba had weekly lunches with small groups of rank-and-file employees. All partook of the same food, and the conversation was more about the employees and their concerns rather than company business.

When Berba took over Philippine Electric Corp. (Philec), it was on the verge of bankruptcy. The union was controlled by a militant Kilusang Mayo Uno faction. It was the “Lunch with the President” that eventually broke down the walls between management and the union, and as relations improved many human resource programs were developed with active union participation. After just two years, Philec became the most profitable company in the First Philippine Holdings Group. This earned him the title “Turnaround Expert.”

When you have a company of 2,000 or 3,000 men and women, it is certain that the great majority are plain and ordinary people. It is leadership that drives ordinary people to do extraordinary acts, bringing about extraordinary results. Time and again, Jun Berba has shown such leadership. Perhaps, one of the great misfortunes of our country is that Jun Berba has never been drafted in government in a position where he could have provided the same leadership as he has exhibited in his private sector endeavors.

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TAGS: Filemon Berba, Jun Berba, leadership, opinion, Philippine Military Academy, PMA
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