What worlds are there left to conquer for Manuel V. Pangilinan?
Having established himself as a household name in the country, Pangilinan (or MVP) means different things to different people. Is he a businessman, a sports patron, a philanthropist, or even a family man?
Looking at what he’s achieved, Pangilinan, 66, should probably be described as a conqueror, as he himself said in so many words in a recent interview.
“I want to trace the path of Alexander the Great,” said this man who holds the reins of such corporate giants as the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (PLDT, as chair), Smart Communications (chair), Manila Electric Co. (Meralco, as chair), First Pacific Tollways (chair), Philex Mining (chair), Metro Pacific (chair) and ABC-TV5 (chair).
“He’s my idol,” Pangilinan said of the king of Macedonia who established one of the largest empires in the ancient world.
“I’m sure he had his own foibles as a person. (As conquerors go), he must have raped and pillaged, and sired a lot of kids to form political alliances. But you have to look beyond that to see what he accomplished,” he added.
A man of humble beginnings, MVP recalled growing up in a working-class home, his mother being a full-time homemaker who raised three children on his father’s average salary as a banker.
His father started as a messenger at then state-owned Philippine National Bank (PNB), where he eventually rose through the ranks. Pangilinan, who grew up with an older brother and younger sister, went through school mostly on scholarships.
He took the bus every day to San Beda College, where he spent his grade school and high school years. In past interviews, this business mogul recounted how he would see most of his rich classmates buying chocolates and burgers for lunch.
But all he could afford on his 25-centavo allowance was a bottle of Coca-Cola and some crackers.
“I guess that was a very strong impetus for me to tell myself: ‘I can’t live like this. I have to do something better than this,’” he said in a June interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
It is this attitude to do better in life that fuels his current drive to expand his business either organically, or by gobbling up smaller firms.
“One of my favorite sayings is by Chiang Kai Shek, who said, ‘What I want in life, my greatest achievement, would be to make sure that the lives of my children are better than mine, because their problems [would] be different from mine,’” Pangilinan said.
“If we grew up taking the bus, we don’t want our children to keep taking the bus. If we can afford it, we should give them cars,” he added. He was, of course, speaking figuratively since he has no children.
Well, if he did have children, it’s safe to say that he could easily afford to give them cars, and much, much more.
MVP first figured in the country’s business radar with his initial conquest: acquiring control of PLDT, which today is the most valuable company listed on the local stock market.
As managing director of Hong Kong-based investment firm First Pacific Co. Ltd., Pangilinan in 1999 architected a buyout of PLDT. By 2005, he assumed its chairmanship, following the acquisition of the government’s stake in the telco giant.
His takeover of PLDT was described as the “corporate deal of the century in the Philippines” by no less than the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce where he earned his Masters in Business Administration in 1968.
But being involved in the deal of the century was not enough for Pangilinan who, in 2006, bailed out the Lopez business empire by acquiring its stake in Maynilad Water Services Inc. in a joint venture with DMCI.
Two years later in 2008, the MVP-led Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC) acquired Manila North Tollways Corp. also from the Lopez family, which at the time was trying to pay off some debts.
MPIC is the subsidiary of Pangilinan’s First Pacific, which is backed by Anthony Salim, heir to one of Indonesia’s biggest fortunes. As a result, the Pangilinan group now controls the North Luzon Expressway (NLEx) and is working on a deal for the concession of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
Pangilinan did not stop there. In 2009, his group made a move on another Lopez crown jewel, Meralco. Pangilinan found himself in an expensive bidding war for Meralco shares with corporate rival San Miguel Corp., but he eventually came out on top.
MVP group’s biggest acquisition, however, could well be PLDT’s buyout last year of Digitel Telecommunications Philippines Inc., operator of disruptive mobile brand Sun Cellular, from the Gokongwei family. The P74.1-billion deal, the biggest corporate acquisition in the country’s history, cemented PLDT’s position in the lucrative Philippine telco sector.
It also relegated PLDT’s chief rival, Ayala-led Globe Telecom, from a strong contender to a far second-placer, in terms of industry and subscriber share.
Other MVP group investments include a majority stake in Philex Mining Corp., the country’s largest gold exporter, and several of the Philippines’ premiere healthcare institutions, including Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and Davao Doctors Hospital.
Through PLDT’s Beneficial Trust Fund, Pangilinan also controls Associated Broadcasting Corp., which operates the TV5 television network. The trust fund, through media investment arm MediaQuest Holdings, also has minority stakes in newspapers BusinessWorld, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Philippine Star.
With the money he earns from business, Pangilinan pursues his passion for sports, with several professional basketball teams being owned by PLDT, Meralco and NLEx. He also avidly supports his alma mater’s basketball team, Ateneo de Manila’s Blue Eagles, which won its fifth straight University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) title earlier this year.
San Beda’s basketball team, the Red Lions, is just as dominant at the National Collegiate Athletic Association, thanks to the MVP group’s financial support.
Pangilinan also continues to flirt with the idea of acquiring initially a minority stake in a National Basketball Association (NBA) team in the United States.
“One of these days, kakagat kami (we will give in to offers),” he said. Unlike the college teams that he supports out of love, and the local professional teams that he supports as part of promoting his companies, NBA teams make big money.
The MVP Empire has grown so big, in fact, that a local blog has sprouted up that pokes jokes on just how much the Philippines relies on one man.
One joke on the satirical blog “iammoneyp.blogspot.com” goes, “MVP loses wallet, PH loses 50 percent of GDP.” Another says, “PH Govt budget is P1.5 trillion? Earned that much last night.” In one of its latest posts, the blog asks, what (would) MVP’s reaction be to winning a P1-billion lotto jackpot? “Meh.”
Of course, the Philippines would probably not lose half of its gross domestic product if Pangilinan loses his wallet, but a recent off-hand comment by Pangilinan himself had many in the business sector worried.
Reacting to his alleged involvement in a territorial dispute with China, which would impact plans for oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea by the MVP group, Pangilinan complained about how unruly (“ang gulo-gulo”) the Philippines was, and that he’d probably be better off leaving the country and taking his money elsewhere.
No less than the Philippine-American Chamber of Commerce expressed concern over the threat, saying the local bourse stood to lose $2 trillion in market capitalization that would hurt the Philippines’ potential for growth.
Others, including Inquirer columnist Conrado de Quiros, blasted Pangilinan for his “monumental presumption that this country needs him more than he needs it. Or that this country has profited more from him than he has profited from it.”
Pangilinan defended himself, saying his comments, albeit made in frustration, should be interpreted as (being) made with a tinge of endearment or tough love.
“Binatikos ako kung bakit ko raw sinabi ’yon. Hindi raw ba ako Pilipino (I was criticized for saying that. I was asked, did I not consider myself a Filipino)?” he said.
“But that was a figure of speech. When a mother scolds one of her kids, what does she say, what does she say? Hindi ba, ’ang gulo niyo (you are so unruly),’” he said. “I never meant it to say that I wasn’t part of the system.”
Pangilinan swears on his love for the Philippines, citing his involvement in many charity groups that hope to improve the lives of millions of Filipinos.
He currently chairs the Philippine Business for Social Progress, the country’s largest umbrella organization for corporate charity work. The MVP group also recently raised over P110 million, mostly from donations from within the group (or out of their own pockets), for victims of typhoon Pablo.
His love for country can also be seen in his family life, he said. While he brings his entire clan of over 60 people to his second home in Hong Kong every Christmas as a holiday treat, he always spends New Year in the Philippines – despite it being transformed into a war zone every December 31.
MVP’s family life, rarely projected in public, is something he values, he said, despite his never having married or siring any children.
In a 2011 interview, Pangilinan revealed that the one thing he regrets about his success over the past three decades is that his father, an avid golfer, is no longer around to see it all.
His brother too was a big sports nut, he added. “If they were here, if they were alive today, they would have been happy,” he said.
So what other worlds are there left for Pangilinan to conquer?
Expanding his many businesses overseas in similar industries that the group already operates in, is a major goal for Pangilinan.
In sports, he still dreams about helping the Philippines win its first Olympic gold medal, “hopefully in Rio in 2016,” he said.
He admitted that he is now looking for a successor, although full retirement is not part of his plan.
And unlike his idol Alexander the Great, who was said to have wept on the banks of the Ganges River, crying “I have no more worlds to conquer,” Pangilinan wants to spend his semi-retirement years in relative peace. “Eventually, his men turned on him. They were tired. They had all the money in the world but they wanted to go back to their families,” Pangilinan said of the Great Conqueror from Macedonia. “He never got back to his home.”
And while he won’t ever rule over a real empire, Pangilian said he dreams of one-upping his idol in one regard. “I was born here and I want to die here.”