A Life of Experiment

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PHILAB’S TOP MAN WANTS HIS COMPANY TO GO BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE

Hector Thomas A. Navasero, chairman of Philab Holdings Corp., wanted to be a doctor or join the bio-medical field when first faced with the prospect of choosing his future career.

“Tom” to his staff, clients and acquaintances (and “Tinky” to family and very close friends) says: “But life took me on a different path, and now that I’m involved in medical services and healthcare, I find that I can serve more people.”

Community service


Service is a mantra that runs through the tapestry of Navasero’s multi-speckled journey. The son of philanthrophist and businessman Hector Navasero, young Tom grew up seeing his father intensely involved in the Los Banos community where they lived.

Hector Sr. founded Philab, forging his reputation in the specialized field of designing and building laboratories, notably in the early 1960s for the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and University of the Philippines at Los Banos. This was followed in later years by commissions from the main UP campus in Diliman, Lung Center of the Philippines, Philippine Heart Center, National Kidney Transplant Institute and countless schools and educational centers among others. It was actually the drug problem of his older son Hector Paul that moved Hector Sr. to organize little league baseball in their hometown. “He felt it was a way to bring my brother off the streets,” recalls Tom. “To get any kid off the streets. The money that my father made in Philab, he ploughed into sports and youth development.”

Tom and Hector Sr. never shared a cosy son-father dynamic. “I know he loved me. But he wanted me to find myself elsewhere and learn on my own – just not in Philab.”

Better human being

That firm push out the door certainly must have hurt in the beginning, but Tom believes he evolved into a better human being and entrepreneur because of the rejection. “It allowed me to work in other companies and outside the country for years, in the US, Japan, China, Europe.” Backed by a masters degree in electrical engineering from Cornell and post-graduate studies from Stanford, he occupied several top executive positions in technology and engineering firms.

With Navasero at the helm, Philab has been busy acquiring medtech companies and technologies to find solutions to better local healthcare

This upward trajectory was rudely stymied by a business in 2009 that went terribly wrong when his partner ran out on him, leaving him “slam-dunked and ripped off”. He lost everything. At the same time, his wife left him.
When things seemed their most daunting, a turn of events arrived when his mother Sylvia rang up her son in the US, revealing that she had breast cancer. “She basically created that change in my life,” says a thankful Tom. “I thought that now I should help my mom, and we fought it. She was offering her body for research, and she did by participating in a group where genomics were used on her and her tumor.” Today, Mrs. Navasero is a hearty 82-year-old who sits on the board of directors of Philab. Hector Sr., who planned to sell the company to his balikbayan offspring died suddenly in 2013 before the deal was inked.

Now as chairman and chief executive officer, Tom finally could instill change that his father long resisted. The core business of designing and building laboratory spaces would remain – a good source of income still – but a new culture would be established. “Here, I’ve tried to create a company that is focused on giving back and doing good. It shouldn’t be the individual, it’s the company.

“Yes, we have to make a profit as we are still a business, but we go beyond the bottom line. That’s why our slogan says, ‘creating change’.”

Efficient solutions

To achieve that purpose, Tom directed Philab and its feisty team of scientists and lawyers in the direction of healthcare and education, saying: “We need to improve the educational system and healthcare services of our country through (efficient) solutions, which can also provide good returns. That’s why Philab has been investing in medtech companies and technologies that will do this.” Last year, it went public in order to gain fresh funding for its future projects. “We are the first healthcare company in our stock exchange,” Tom beams.

One of Philab’s star initiatives these days is Project Medx, described by Tom as “a personal medical diagnostic hub”. While still in the trial stage, the equipment is set to redefine the doctor-patient relationship, particularly in deprived neighborhood and areas where a physican’s presence is hardly felt or virtually nil. As designed, the apparatus allows vital signs to be measured, and even bloodworks to be collected. It would be just as if the doctor were there to listen to the voices of your body.

Navasero’s joys: Alexa and Ava, both doctors of dental surgery, Allen, an architecture graduate and Ariana, a licensed paramedic; dog’s day off with Tom

“If such technological information can be capture remotely, it can expand the capacity of doctors as well as empower patients,” Tom says. “Teachers in Tawi Tawi can examine their students for dengue and other diseases they may be carrying around.”

To ensure there is human element behind the technology, a medical command center (i.e. specialized call center) will complement Project MedEx. “There has to be a person who cares for the patient,” Tom explains. Manning the station will be nurses, doctors and even scientists, who can clarify outpatient concerns.

No nonsense boss

Tom’s return to the Philab fold has not been without certain challenges. “I’m very stiff and looked upon as arrogant. But I guess that’s been due to my years in America. I notice people here are not as confrontational and much more reserved. It’s just that I’m no nonsense and straight to the point. Let’s just work is my attitude.

“But I like to think I’m more localized now. I listen to people and try to understand each and everyone. Humility, yes, that’s been my real challenge.”

Recently, Tom stepped into the position of Chairman of Philab Holdings Corp, giving way to lawyer Darlene Marie B. Berberabe, who has assumed the mantle of CEO and President.

He says: “I want to grow the company and that’s why we started up a holding company and started acquiring companies – all health related.

“Darlene takes care of the operations, administration, sales and marketing and legal operations. I will manage the shareholders and investors.

“This means I can start to dream again…to innovate. As an engineer, my job is to develop new products.”
Many people are not aware of it, but there is deeply reflective side to the usually ebullient Tom Navasero. His role as a “cooperator” with the Work – also known as the Opus Dei – is a vital part of his life and work. The death of his close friend and confessor Fr. Joe Cremades deeply saddened him, saying: “He was the father I never had. I wish I had spent more time with him.” Tom, a firm devotee of St. Therese of Liseux, used to attend mass twice daily but has scaled back due to his hectic work load.” But he jokes: “May sungay pa rin ako.”
Well-known BBC anchor and old friend from their choir days at Sanctuario de San Antonio Rico Hizon says: “Tinky is very friendly and helpful. He always has a smiling face and a very positive outlook on life. He has always been humble, down-to-earth and blessed with a great sense of humor.

“When he moved moved to Singapore, he went through many challenges in business, but he always managed to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He believes every problem has a solution.”
Which exactly sums up the winning life of Tom Navasero.

MARGIE T. LOGARTA

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