The people who boosted my ego through the years | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

I got my best counsel from friends who are fantastic individuals. They dished them out to me as ego boosters, banishing instantly my insecurities and skepticism.

Take, for example, a social disease called colonial mentality. In the mid ’60s, I was under the impression that admen in Madison Avenue, NY, had superior skills and practice than us locals on Ayala Avenue and Vito Cruz agency row. During those times, I was an underpaid and overworked creative director at Ace-Compton (now Saatchi and Saatchi).

Our American partners, as part of a technology transfer agreement, assigned us the quintessential Madison Avenue VP for creative. She was Connie Reid, tall, regal, calculating and fiftyish, every inch a New Yorker. Connie was the ideal creative guru, mentoring, nurturing and, when called for, bold and feisty in front of clients. She keeps a bottle of whiskey in her drawer, her 5:30 p.m. hobby.

Connie knew me as the guy who stayed working overnight because I had dozens of radio commercials to do with tight deadlines for recording and airing. One day I told Connie of my dream to work at Compton New York so that I could acquire up-to-date knowledge the Compton way.

She ignored my dream and answered me matter-of-factly, “Minyong, you won’t learn anything in Compton,” Connie said without mincing words. “They’re the ones who should learn from you. At Compton, one copywriter is in charge only of writing copy for the package, and that’s all he does. Your load and deadlines are 10 times more than a single copywriter in New York. They should be the ones learning from you!” End of my dream to work in New York! I walked out of Connie’s room 10 feet tall, with some hubris to spare. A week later I got a raise. Connie told the president I deserved a raise.

Something similar happened in 1980. This time it was envy. I was envious of guys who got scholarships (I’m out of this league) for graduate studies in New York, Boston or Los Angeles, or sons of the old rich (or nouveau rich) who were sent by their parents to pursue master’s degrees abroad.

Fancy titles

I envied them because they immediately landed high-paying positions with fancy titles, or if he’s the son of the owner of the company, he was sure to inherit his father’s presidency. It was presumed that they had some managerial, financial and business planning knowledge.

How I wished I had studied abroad, too. I told Tony Mercado, my business partner and chairperson of the agency. Tony sneered at the guys I envied. He said, “Minyong, you’ve got superior instinct in understanding and talking to the masang Pilipino. You’re different from them. You can do what they can’t do.” Coming from Tony, I felt guilty of underrating myself. Immediately, my envy was gone.

Tony is one of those rare individuals whose right brain (the imaginative and radical) and left brain (the logical and rational) both work like a well-oiled machine.

Tony and I took over a bankrupt advertising agency in 1977. Within a few years, we made that agency, which we bought for a song, No. 1 in size and revenue. We shared profits generously with all employees. Everyone’s morale was very high, and so was our pay.

Tony was a visionary and risk taker, oozing with the spirit of entrepreneurship. He initiated many marketing communications projects that were ahead of their time. When we lost money on a bad investment, we merely laughed ourselves silly.

I guess my being envious at guys who studied abroad was silly.

I had a chance to work in Bangkok in 1971. I was hired by a ragtag Thai agency called Tri-ads to be its new business head for the simple reason that the agency had no real business to speak of. I went literally knocking on doors to get pieces of jobs. I even knocked on the Russian Consulate’s door to get Aeroflot advertising. I rode one of them, only to discover that the plane’s interior was tailor-fit for airlifting soldiers, not tourists. But the fee was a bargain. The Russian country manager gave atrociously big discounts. There were no rules.

My employer in Bangkok was a rich Thai gentleman named Khun Praphot Pauruhitya. He was properly educated in England, a culture vulture for Thai classical dance and collector of Ming dynasty dinnerware.

One late night, Khun Praphot dropped by our office on Silom Road. He was surprised to see me still working (working overtime at Tri-ads was unknown). I told him I was rushing a presentation for a new medicine account. “But you’re due to visit your family in Manila,” he asserted.

“I’m postponing my trip! I want to win this account. We need the business badly!” I answered him.

“No, Minyong. Money is not important. Your family is.” My jaw dropped, and I felt a sudden embarrassment. Khun Praphot was cool. He showed me real class, the dignity of men who shun greed.

From Praphot, I learned to be cool. The need to detach ourselves from pressure sometimes has a bigger value than acting harassed and oppressed. Love for the family is not postponable.

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