5 lessons the young can learn from Manny V. Pangilinan


THE AUTHOR with MVP: “The youth now are definitely brighter than we were.”

The Internet generation is used to having a world at its fingertips, and though it may be more intelligent and more creative, it does tend to think everything comes easy.

Reinforcing the belief that everything comes easy are the Mark Zuckerbergs, Steve Chens and Ben Silbermanns of the world: Young millionaires who made big bucks—even if some people say “accidentally”—while in their 20s.

Though in this era it is possible to earn so much, and so fast, from creative ideas, one must not forget that what fueled such creations as Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest are hard work, patience and a whole lot of luck.

The rags-to-riches stories aren’t fairy tales; they are long, tedious narratives of ups and downs. But they are worth it, and numbers will prove it. According to the ranking system Bloomberg Billionaires Index, 75 percent of the world’s billionaires are self-made.

Manny V. Pangilinan, or MVP as he is called, is one of the most eminent, self-made businessmen in the country, and he’s quite proud of it. Although his backstory isn’t news anymore, this may need further emphasis: He grew up in a time when the Internet did not exist.

There was neither magic nor a high-tech, moneymaking Internet scheme in his life story. He strived through school, riding jeepneys and buses, moved out to work abroad, and struggled through entrepreneurial failures.

But his words, spoken calmly and carefully, are conceived unquestionably by a man of superior education and experience. The journey has made him wise.

MVP shares with the youth his most important life lessons, in the hope that while they are young, pliant, and not quite on the Forbes list yet, they might as well develop Forbes-material habits instead.

He says so himself: The Internet generation is smart. No matter how clever it may be, however, it is not as smart as it thinks it is, and clichéd as it sounds, that money does not grow on trees.

Hard work

PANGILINAN encourages the youth to set up their own businesses, find their niche, and work toward becoming their own boss.

1.  Be diligent.

Pangilinan stresses that there really are no shortcuts. He was a consistent honor student, and was on scholarship all his academic life, up until his MBA at Wharton School, Pennsylvania.

He looks back on his San Beda and Ateneo scholarships as his “lucky charms,” while his Wharton scholarship was from a Procter & Gamble national competition he won.

“I was a hard worker in school, I studied very hard. I guess I had to be studious because I wasn’t necessarily the brightest kid in class,” admits Pangilinan. “The only way to make up for that was to be diligent in studying. I was trained by that kind of work ethic. There is a tendency to be hands-on, a perfectionist and maybe insecure even, since one tends to get down to the details of the problems at hand.”

When you’re rich, are there rules on spending your money the right way?

Pangilinan, known to be low-key and unobtrusive, answers humbly, “Well, you have to earn it first.”

According to a similar survey he encountered, of the 100 richest people on earth, only 23 were inherited wealth; 77 were men and women of no pedigree, and not heirs to vast fortunes.

“The abiding lesson is that enduring long-term wealth, especially for self-made people, really comes from doing the right thing—no shortcuts, no corruption—and earning it the right way.”

When success is attained by hard work, one tends to see things long-term.

2. Value temperance.

One of the frequently reported habits of the rich is that they see money as the way to freedom and opportunity, not the source of all evil. But when one is rich, does one get to spend money the way one wants it?

Pangilinan pauses, thinks for a while, and replies, “Well, within reason.” But one can argue, “That’s my money.”

He shakes his head slightly, “But, you know, we don’t exist in a vacuum. We exist within a certain milieu. If you flaunt your wealth, some people will be upset, especially in the context of poverty.

“I’m not saying that the rich should give all their money to the poor,” he continues. “One just has to be sensitive about spending his money.”

“The traditional role of business is to provide goods and services for a profit. Businesses have to make money, because if they don’t, it’s not sustainable. But I believe there is a very significant social dimension to business, one driven by self-interest. If we assist the incomes and welfare of all the people, especially the poor who buy our products, they will be more capable of buying our products. The rising tide lifts all boats.”

Improve lives

3. Think inclusive.

People are told that the country’s current economic growth does not trickle down to the lower socioeconomic classes. When this is raised, he goes into another important lesson: inclusive growth. “It creates a cycle. We are here to improve lives, because improving lives helps our business.”

Pangilinan says economic development must encompass as many people as possible. He mentions two industries that have the greatest impact on employment: agriculture and tourism.

According to him, “rich getting richer, poor getting poorer” is a rather harsh way to look at the situation.

“The government has been doing well in increasing economic wealth these past three years. We have to start somewhere. If the economy has slow growth, it would be more difficult. Now that we appear to be on a high-growth track, the focus of the government has been on promoting inclusive growth.”

4. Be practical.

This is evident not only in Pangilinan’s life story, but also in the way he perceives complex economic issues, such as the great Filipino Exodus.

“It’s simply a reality in this country, and I take a rather liberal perspective on this matter,” he says. “I’ve seen OFWs up close, especially in Hong Kong, where I worked for 22 years. They have been one of the main engines of economic growth in this country for so many years, and the largest export and industry of our economy. You can take a negative view about it, saying we are running out of quality labor or exporting our people and destroying families, but I don’t think we should make judgments about it.”

It will always be a fact, according to Pangilinan, and this should be perceived as a good opportunity to promote economic growth.

“I’m not pushing our people away, but instead of criticizing the situation, it would be better to deal with the issue. Let’s train our people properly and upgrade their skills, so they can receive proper compensation abroad and help out their relatives back home.”

Reverse migration efforts have also been made, according to Pangilinan. The government and various institutions have been pushing OFW retirees in the healthcare industry to come back and work here, even for a few months, to share what they learned abroad and contribute to local healthcare.

Personal initiative

5. Be independent, then take risks.

He raises a common sociological inquiry: “Why have Filipinos excelled abroad but not here?”

Pangilinan believes that the extended family system in the Filipino culture tends to incubate a comfort zone: “The youth think that when they get sick, or lose their jobs, they can rely on their parents and relatives. This tends to stifle personal initiative.”

That was the reason  he left for HK in 1976. “There is nothing wrong with the warm cocoon of family. It feels good, it is comfortable,” he says. “But I wanted to be on my own, take the risk and see where my fortunes are.”

He was then 29.

It is a common notion that Filipino youth are traditionally inclined to become employees. There is nothing wrong with that, says Pangilinan, but he hopes that a number will grow to be like the innovative thinkers in the History Channel television series, “The Men Who Built America.”

“They should be enterprising and become risk-takers. They are young enough to make mistakes, and they will learn from them,” he says.

Pangilinan encourages the youth to set up their own businesses, find their niche, and work towards becoming their own boss.

This attitude will be a great engine for growth, not just for themselves, but also for their families and the economy.

“The youth now are definitely brighter than we were, and certainly more personal thinkers,” Pangilinan says. “I think the younger generation will be better. I saw a manifestation of that in the 2013 elections. A number of the officials from the Senate down to the local levels are quite young, which I think is a good trend. I hope to see a better set of public officials.”

Mara Santillan Miano is  associate editor of Inquirer’s luxury monthly, Red Magazine.

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  • koolkid_inthehouse

    Easy to say from people born with a golden spoon.

    • cato_the_younger

      I’m not so sure if he was born to a rich family. My understanding is his father started as a bank employee in one of the banks and worked his way up till he became one of the VPs. He is not “golden spoon” as the Zobels and the Aranetas are.

      • koolkid_inthehouse

        For arguments sake, if you live in a squatter and your parents can hardly feed themselves, I’m sure you will look for every opportunity to get over poverty. Say you didn’t finish higher education because of financial slavery, where can you go to start up a business? There’s no saving from whatever you are earning.

        Is there a government agency that go to your shanty in a squatter area and inform you available jobs or this is what you can do to startup a business?

        Dumb donkey Filipinos are hardworking, they hardly complain. Imagine if they can work on a decent full time job with benefits, they will be very busy working and earning money and can put aside big savings and still spend money to keep the economy going. If they have savings they can decide to start their own family business.

      • juan_liwanag

        I know of a number of OFWs who started in the slums and now have their own successful businesses. And yes, there are people from government who go to the slums to inform and teach people of the opportunities for employment and livelihood and some of the people have come out of their poverty. It is only those who are too negative to come out of their laziness that have no hope. I guess those who just want to criticize and put down people and do nothing are really the “Dumb donkeys” that deserve your favorite tag line.

  • Guest

    MVP thrives on political connections and not so much business acumen. That’s his business strategy. If the Lopezes are any indication, such business strategy do not last for long. The Lopezes were hit hard by the Asian Financial Crisis. When will MVP take a big hit?

    • pinoyobserver

      Evidence please. Your statement is very simplistic.

      • Guest

        The evidence is out there. You’re statement reveals you’ve been living inside a cave. Time to come out.

      • malvar pagasa

        i agree with pinoyobserver, mvp is the new kid on the block and yet more savvy than his more politically connected competitors.

      • pinoyobserver

        Talk is cheap. You have no evidence to back up your statement and you resort to a personal attack to defend yourself as you exposed yourself as lacking credibility. It is easy for simple people like you to make sweeping, simplistic statements. Dime a dozen ika nga. To attribute MVP’s success to mere political connections is an extreme fallacy. Typical crab mentality.

      • cato_the_younger

        I’m not sure it its MVP per se who has the political connections as far as Indonesia is concerned. He worked (still works?) for the Salim family in Indonesia who were cronies of the Suhartos. But I thought he was more on the management side. On the RP side though, we must remember that he was one of the depositors to that Estrada slush fund in Equitable (P20M or P40M, I no longer recall) so as far as RP is concerned, there’s definitely some political connections involved – it seems there were “shortcuts and corruption”. My question though is, in RP is there a big business that does not engage in it?

  • Mona

    I am also a self-made man. Some are just more equal than others. Business grows when people grow so make people grow to grow the business. Self-interest makes man self-made.

  • denillepascual

    nice read

  • Guest

    No.6. Do not get married.

    • Jose Pepe

      MVP didn’t married because he’s a gay. I have many colleagues who like him is gay. Professionals are more discreet with their sexuality.

  • Samboy_rod

    I HOPE rich businessman will impose a company wide wage increase specially to the employees at the bottom so these will also live with dignity.

  • Prouder than ever 2B Filipino


  • jctmpt

    This disappointing article is full of cliches — be diligent, be practical, be independent, take risk, etc … There is nothing original or thought-provoking.

    But what do you expect from Mr. Pangilinan — someone who plagiarized his entire speech to the Ateneo graduation class just a few years ago.

    What Mr. Pangilinan neglect to mention in the article is that his success is not entirely due to hard work, diligence, etc … His business success is being bankrolled by Anthoni Salim — an Indonesian-Chinese. Without this financial backing, we may never have heard of MVP. And of course, his Wharton degree also opens doors that are not normally available to ordinary hard-working filipinos.

    As to his business acumen — you have to question some of his business decisions, including his ill-fated investment in TV5.

    Mr. Pangilinan talks a lot in the press and project a “mythical” image — but he is way overrated.

    • iceman

      say what you want, but he’s still richer than you are. lol

    • PerfectPoster

      Are you insecure? Sounds a lot like it. His plagiarized Ateneo speech was quickly addressed, when he immediately tendered his resignation from the Board. That’s a true gentlemen, not some senator that I know.

      His TV5 investment is not ill-fated. It was a good trade. Becoming a risk-taker is all there is to business. And good economic / financial fundamentals. What is there to lose? Eh’ ikaw? Ano ka? Puro ka lang comment ng comment.

    • pinoyobserver

      Well, well, well. I believe the rules of success never change. If you do not wish to believe MVP, who is very successful, then you are entitled to your own opinion. What is your mantra by the way? And more importantly, what is your level of success in relation to MVP? If you are more successful than him, then by all means share your knowledge. This Mr. Salim you speak about, do you think he is that stupid to give MVP his financial backing if he did not believe MVP would give him the best opportunity to increase his investment? Well the story is they both were brilliant. One for backing the other and the other for delivering the goods on the financial backing given to him. Seems to me they BOTH deserve their respective success.

    • Guest

      Thank you for your thoughts. I regret that you see my writing as cliche, but you have probably failed to note who this article is addressed to. Please do not mistake for “cliche” my paying homage to what is essential and fundamental; lessons that young people—the Internet generation, especially—often overlook in today’s world of instant gratification and pluralism.

      He did mention Anthoni Salim in the interview, and humbly admitted that he owes him a great deal. But Salim met MVP through Taiwanese billionaire Chen Yu’s referral, MVP’s satisfied client at the time he was an investment banker for American Express Bank in HK. I do not think anyone would recommend and hire MVP, much less billionaires, if he possessed questionable business acumen.

      Like I said in the article, his Wharton degree was provided for by Procter & Gamble, when he won a national competition offering a rare prize of a Wharton scholarship. He wanted an MBA ever since he was in college and even talked to his father about it, but his father clearly expressed how they did not have enough money for him to study abroad. That was why he entered that contest in the first place.

      This article does not mean to fuel this “mythical” image you talk about (because it does not, in any way, insinuate that MVP is the greatest businessman in history), but to show the youth a simple, tangible example of success earned from hard work.

    • Mara Santillan Miano

      Thank you for your thoughts. I regret that you see my writing as cliche, but you probably failed to note who this article is addressed to. Please do not mistake for “cliche” my paying homage to what is essential and fundamental; lessons that the youth—the Internet generation, especially—often overlook in today’s world of instant gratification and pluralism.

      To his credit, MVP did mention Anthoni Salim in the interview and humbly admitted that he owes him a great deal. But just in case you don’t know yet (you’re seemingly so well-read with current events), MVP met Anthoni Salim through his satisfied client Taiwanese billionaire Chen Yu’s referral, back when MVP was working as an investment banker for American Express Bank in HK. I do not think anyone, let alone billionaires, would recommend and hire MVP if he possessed “questionable business acumen.”

      Like I mentioned in the article, his Wharton education was financed by Procter & Gamble, because he won, by his own means, a national competition that offered the rare prize of a Wharton MBA scholarship. He wanted an MBA ever since he was in college and even talked to his father about it, but he clearly expressed how they did not have enough money for him to study abroad. That was why he entered the contest in the first place.

      This article does not mean to fuel this “mythical” image you talk about (because it does not, in any way, insinuate that MVP is the greatest businessman of all time), but to show the youth a simple, tangible example of success earned from hard work.

      • jctmpt

        Ms. Miano —

        Thank you very much for your response. I am very sorry for my nasty comments about Mr. Pangilinan and your article. It was totally uncalled-for and very unfair to you and to Mr. Pangilinan.

        Mr. Pangilinan is certainly a pillar of our society, a giant in the business community. His influence on our culture and society is immense — from sports to entertainment, to communication — he touches almost every aspects of our lives. He deserves all the accolades and is certainly a role model for the Filipino youth.

        I enjoyed reading your article and agree that the Philippines is on the cusp of greatness. The explosive growth in our economy will present unprecedented opportunities for the younger “internet” generation to accumulate immense wealth and, in the process, lift the welfare and standard-of-living of all Filipinos.

        Going back to the article, I would like one more item to Mr. Pangilinan’s life lessons — if you won’t mind. Item 6 — “Follow your dreams”. It certainly sounds “corny” and cliched — but it is true. You have to find your passions in life and pursue your dreams — whether it is in work, career, or love.

        Thanks again for the response.


        LOL… sup0t ka pala eh.. naduwag ka agad.. as for Ms. Mara Santillan Miano, magkano ba binayad sayo? LOL

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