A batch that made a differenceBy Rene Guatlo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
In one corner of Legazpi Village, near the intersection of Paseo de Roxas and Pasay Road (now Arnaiz Avenue), a six-story structure began to be built in 1968.
It was to be the culmination of a dream to establish a modern school for postgraduate business management studies in the Philippines—the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The course was patterned after the Harvard model, based on case studies, and the professors were all Harvard-trained.
One of the first, if not the first to start and complete their studies at the permanent campus in Makati was the batch of 1973, close to 200 individuals from various backgrounds and countries, who started their Masters in Business Management (MBM) classes with the convocation on July 29, 1971.
Ashok Soota, an engineering executive from India, remembers thinking, “This will be a challenge, with a staggering mountain of case studies.”
Fresh from two years in SGV, 21-year-old Jing Lapus recalls, “The area we now know as Greenbelt was the grazing ground of Enrique Zobel’s cattle and horses.”
The dormitories were composed of clusters of two bedrooms, with two students sharing each bedroom. All of the buildings were air-conditioned Cafeteria food was, in a word, adequate.
For late-night cravings, there was always The Plaza off Makati Avenue. For those who did not want to step out, they would cook noodles and other simple recipes on burners that were prohibited by dorm rules.
According to one class member, “The AIM campus was literally a lovers’ hub when the MBM ’73 freshmen would hold their Saturday night ‘jam sessions.’”
Many became married couples, such as the Nazarenos, Velascos, De los Reyeses, Fernandezes, Jazmineses and many others. Just a few weeks after graduation in 1973, Malaysian Johari bin Hassan married Minda, a local lady, with members of the class pitching in for their classmate’s big day. It was a memorable wedding, with a private ceremony at the Hilton in the morning, and a Muslim wedding in the evening at the residence of the Malaysian ambassador.
TC Lee was challenged by the need for participation in class, English not being his mother tongue. Amid many nationalities, he felt “like I was in the United Nations.” With classmates from Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, India, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan and Sri Lanka, among other countries, AIM was, indeed, a microcosm of the global village.
Fil Alfonso, who taught Human Behavior in Organizations, recalls how his students would tend to focus on math and the other “quantifiable” disciplines, rather than his class, which was considered a “soft” subject. “But this is the course that they remember.”
One of the truly memorable activities that Fil initiated was a “conflict/collaboration exercise,” a war game in other words. Residents of the two dormitory floors were pitted against each other. The details may now be vague, but the resulting strain on interpersonal relationships was real.
Quintin Tan, now 84, recalls the confidence of the students of Batch ’73. “They were chosen on the basis of an examination, an interview, and their submitted references … Since the students lived on campus, there were hardly any holidays, and classes were held even during the typhoon season, when classes are routinely cancelled in other schools.”
Ambitious, driven and energetic, the classmates went through the rigors of daily classes, each one participating in his way. Some are remembered for their “quirks,” like the most senior class member, Rey Felizardo, who would laboriously prepare 24-column financial projections on endless sheets of manila paper, thus earning the moniker “banig” (woven mats).
Known for his detailed analyses, Nick Melecio would enumerate topics “with litanies of sections and subsections,” ensuring a debate on a range of issues.
Apparently, the professors too had their quirks. The kindly Fr. Terry Barcelon of Finance would show pleasure when his favorite phrase, “dilution of equity,” was mentioned during recitation. The smart students would therefore make sure that the phrase was used, no matter how tenuous the connection with the subject at hand.
Upon graduation in 1973, the individual graduates were hired by the biggest companies, both in the Philippines and abroad.
Derek Liew, diarist and letter-writer, kept a record of his student life in his diary entries, and in correspondence with wife Bee in Singapore. Later, in the 1990s, he returned to AIM as a professor.
The AIM Alumni Association was established in 1973 with Art Macapagal (AIM ’71) as first chair. Mon Enrile became head the following year. Mon Abad (AIM ’73) was elected in 1975. Digoy Fernandez, also of the class of 1973, succeeded Mon the next year for an unprecedented three-year term, during which he created a formal organization.
Inspired by the Jaycee awards, Digoy, with classmate Chris Gotanco, who drew up the criteria and mechanics, came up with the Triple A awards to recognize outstanding achievements by alumni in entrepreneurship and management.
The first group of recipients included Robert Kuan, founder of Chowking, and was selected by an elite board of judges headed by Senator Ting Paterno.
Felipe Diego, meanwhile, created the Yahoo Group that became the virtual “frathouse” of AIM ’73. With class members in varied and faraway locations, the Internet site was a convenient communications link and bulletin board for all. From the usual holiday and birthday greetings, sad news of death and illness, and the good news of recent accomplishments and awards, to lively discussions of visits to proctologists, among other medical procedures, as well as political and social issues, it was the vital link to all the classmates.
It is obvious that the members of the class understood their lessons only too well, as shown in their record of excellence in various fields: 19 Triple A Awardees (out of more than 120 given); 10 Alumni Association chairs; Jing Lapus, the first alumnus graduation speaker; Jess Gallegos, the first alumnus dean; Francis Estrada, the first alumnus president; and Polly Nazareno, the first alumnus chair.
Individually and as a group, they have supported AIM graduate students with scholarships, and endowments to create programs for the institute.
The members of the class have also made a difference in their respective areas of influence.
In the 40 years since AIM ’73 graduated, Makati has grown and diversified. The vacant fields in front of the institute are now filled with condominiums, office buildings and Greenbelt 1 through 5. The edifices on Ayala Avenue have been largely torn down and rebuilt, some a couple of times.
The quiet corner of Paseo de Roxas and Arnaiz is quiet no more.
But the AIM campus remains the same, a beehive of study and academic activity, now with a larger student population, and offering a myriad of programs. AIM ’73 plays a part in sustaining and growing the “home of their souls” through active participation in the alumni organization, contributions to endowments and scholarships, and actual involvement in the institute’s programs and activities.
In things big and small, the members of the batch can rightfully claim the difference they have made in their companies, in the lives of their fellow managers and workers, and in the lives of their families and communities.