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STUCK IN LONDON BECAUSE OF A delayed flight, Francis E. Flores had an epiphany.

This was back in early 2007, when Francis was still Unilever?s regional brand director for Axe Asia. He was in London representing Asia in the Axe Global Brand Team at Unilever?s Global Head Office. Because he was handling Asia as a whole, three weeks out of every month, he had to be outside the Philippines, working on marketing strategies for India, Japan and China. It was a big responsibility for someone who wasn?t even 30?but he had bigger things on his mind.

?Because my flight was delayed, I started writing my very first blog entry. I wrote about how, by traveling around for the past two years, I?ve proven that Filipinos are definitely world-class. In the corporate world, in marketing?we really are. Companies like Unilever acknowledge that. But how come the good Filipinos are not working in the Philippines? I can?t blame them because we don?t have as many opportunities here. But if you ask those Filipinos working abroad, if they had the opportunity to work here in the Philippines, all of them would say there?s no place like home,? Francis shared.

He continued, ?I felt bad that I was spending three weeks in a month servicing other countries, giving them strategies so their business would grow. When you do a lot of business, a lot of opportunities open up in that country. Lumabas yung pagiging UP ko. I wanted to give something back, in my own way.?

Rewind

In 1993, Francis graduated from high school. He was the salutatorian of his batch at UP Integrated School and, because of that, was invited to apply for a Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Foundation scholarship. ?The foundation invited the top five graduating students from different schools to apply. I went through the process ?there was an exam, there were interviews.?

One day, they asked Francis if he was available for one final interview. ?I said, ?With whom, ma?am?? ?With ma?am Cory,? I was told,? Francis recalled.

It was in the interview that Francis met Cory Aquino for the first time. ?She interviewed me. I was overwhelmed but she was very relaxed. She didn?t make me feel nervous or anything. She asked me about my family background, what my parents do. She asked me about high school, if I was active, what awards I got. She was casual, she tried to make me feel comfortable.?

Soon, Francis got the good news. ?I got a letter congratulating me on qualifying for the scholarship.?

The letter, signed by Cory, also reminded Francis of the values of Ninoy Aquino.

The foundation promised to shoulder half of his college tuition. ?That scholarship meant a lot to me. My family was going through a financial crisis at that time.?

Francis enrolled at UP Diliman, in Business Administration. There were three Ninoy scholars on campus but only Francis managed to keep his scholarship until he graduated.

Active in extra-curricular activities in school, Francis became president of the UP Junior Marketing Association. ?On my last year, it became the best org in UP - it was the first time in the history of the organization.?

Francis graduated cum laude from UP. The foundation held a graduation ceremony for scholars who finished school that year. At the ceremony, Francis sat beside Cory. ?I have a gift for you, she said. She gave me a book about Ninoy and wrote a message in it.?

Bright future

After graduating, under Unilever?s Business Week program?"Every year they get the top 50 graduating college students nationwide to participate,? says Francis?he was offered a job as management trainee in the company.

During that moment in London, Francis had been working for Unilever for 10 years, spending five years in sales and five in marketing.

He was then the Regional Brand Director for Axe and faced a great future but he felt the need to do something else.

Francis said, ?Look at the big brands of the world. Coke, Nike?these brands started in one country and some person thought of it. It?s my dream to have world-class Filipino brands. That will open up a lot of opportunities for people in the Philippines.?

Francis had his epiphany in February. Two months later, he got a call from a headhunter. There was an opening in Jollibee - was he interested?

?I went to the interview and I was interviewed by Mr. JV Tence, the VP for Corporate HR. He told me, we are looking for people who will make our brands world-class. I swear, I got goose bumps.?

Francis was assigned to Greenwich. He recalled, ?They said, ?Help us naman with Greenwich, the brand is in bad shape.?

Francis soon joined Greenwich as marketing director in October 2007. He had a lot of responsibilities - product innovation, brand communication, advertising, PR, even store design.

It was his first time to handle a food brand but he wasn?t fazed. ?I used to say that my only experience is I?m a pizza lover. Pinaglihi ako sa pizza, no joke. But when it comes to marketing, the science and the principles are the same. The only difference is the category.?

Changes

He quickly made changes. ?At the start of 2008, we started launching the Overloaded Pizzas. I got John Lloyd Cruz. I headed the redesign, we rolled out new stores.?

He?s proud of the changes he?s created. ?We?re already happy now. The brand, in terms of health, dati weak siya, but as of April 2009, we?re second to Jollibee when you ask people what their favorite brand is. We became the number one pizza chain in surveys, before hindi kami favorite. We got a Tambuli Advertising Award and our ?Ang Cheesy? campaign became part of pop culture.?

Francis believes working with good people was also a key to success. ?I?m very thrilled to have a great team.?

Francis still has a lot of plans for Greenwich. ?I think people are really starting to see the change in the brand. We want to give people the best and coolest store experience, a place to discover friendship. We want to keep coming up with the best-tasting products and campaigns that will give Filipinos a brand they will love and be proud of.?

And a big part of his plan is making sure people are happily working for Greenwich. ?I think I helped change the culture of the company. It used to be very corporate. Now we?re more relaxed and young. I would like to be known as the leader who brings out the best in his people - that?s my overlying principle. My role as a leader is not to be your boss but to help you succeed in your career.?

Francis also attributes his success to his scholarship. ?I?m really very thankful to the foundation. It came at a right time. I think being a scholar strengthened my conviction. I?ve always been pro-Filipino, I?ve always believed in the Filipino. I believe that we can compete with our counterparts in the world. From Ninoy, I learned the value of always finding ways to extend help, reach out and making a difference in the lives of your countrymen.?

(On Feb. 19, Flores will be among the recipients of the 10 Young Market Masters Awards 2009 given by Josiah Go/Mansmith Fielders.)

For Francis, there?s one thing that stands out about Cory and Ninoy. ?Their most admirable trait is their strong faith in God.? And this is something Francis feels strongly about too. ?Sunday for me is church and family day. I?m a Christian, I go to Victory. And I have a bible study group on Wednesday nights.?

This scholar is doing Ninoy and Cory proud.