Calling the game

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Alfonso L. Salcedo, Jr.
President and CEO, Security Bank Corporation

BANK CEO highlights the link between sports and leadership
As a fourth-grader at the Ateneo, Alfonso L. Salcedo, Jr., president and CEO of Security Bank Corporation, was urged by a classmate to try his hand at softball. “Yogi” – as everyone, including his younger colleagues, ends up calling him – hit a home run. And ever since then, he has been at the top of his game.
The AB Economics Honors (with honors) graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University first had fast moving consumer (FMCG) goods giant, Procter & Gamble (P&G), not banking, in his sights as a career starter. He stayed in that industry, specializing in brand marketing, for 12 years “because I found it really very exciting, learning how to position a product and all that,” he recalls.

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Japan sojourn
Salcedo’s marketing trajectory received a further boost when another employer, Richardson-Vicks (eventually bought by P&G), sent him to Osaka as part of a novel cross-posting program for high-potential executives. His new company, Nippon Vicks KK (Japan), put him in charge of promoting a variety of products such as Vick’s cough drops and the company’s best-seller at the time, a laxative. He says: “Basically, you did in your new country what you did back home. I was group product manager in the Philippines, so that is what I was in Japan. It’s just that your colleagues and products were different.”

The experience was expectedly invaluable for the naturally driven Salcedo. “I was there at the height of ‘Japan Inc.’ It sharpened my marketing and people management skills.” He and his wife Claire stayed in Osaka from 1983 to 1988, and their daughter, Lianne Carissa, was born there. He did not manage to learn to fluently speak Japanese, but somehow picked up enough of the language to even navigate meetings conducted in Nihongo. “I just answered in English,” he says with a hint of pride.

Service challenge
With the Philippines in reenergized mode after the raucous 1986 People Power uprising, Salcedo returned, keen to be part of the nationalistic fervor at the time. It was then Citibank approached him, eager to capitalize on his consumer marketing background, which was in line with a new global initiative to entice executives of that persuasion to join them. Salcedo remembers meeting peers, who were veterans of companies like Coca-Cola, during international meetings. “However, the attrition rate was high,” he observes. “Many people couldn’t or didn’t want to adjust. Without any drumbeating, I was one of the few who stayed. I adjusted. I liked what I got into.”

There’s not really a whale of a difference between FMCG and financial services, Salcedo believes. “The marketing principles are the same. You identify a need, and you fulfill that need as best you can.”

What Salcedo does find more intriguing in the financial world is delivering the product or service “consistently on a daily basis.”

“In banking, if a person, who has a savings account with you, withdraws money at the ATM or counter and encounters a problem – that will prove to be a very inconsistent customer experience. Your processes and infrastructure should be as consistent as possible to deliver the best customer experience.

Salcedo confers with a colleague during a morning of meetings and more meetings; (below) taking a quick respite, looking through his Ateneo Class ‘77 Aegis Yearbook

“Contrast that with an FMCG product, and this is where the P&Gs of this world go to every extent to make sure their product is superior and consistent in manufacturing and packaging. So that when a consumer buys their soap from the supermarket and uses it, they can expect it to perform 100 percent of the time.

“In banking, it’s day-to-day work to make sure that service is delivered consistently in a high-level way. That’s what will determine whether a bank is just good or great.

“And that’s the challenge in my business I find very attractive.”

Digital future
Security Bank’s digital solutions such as its multi-awarded DigiBanker, which provides large and small companies efficient answers to their collection and payment activities, is the way forward, says Salcedo. “I foresee that within three to seven years max, digital platforms – how robust or consistently superior they are – will be the big differentiator among banks.”

Appointed in 2015 to head the 66-year-old Security Bank Corporation, which was established in 1951 as Security Bank and Trust Company, the first private and Filipino-controlled bank of the post-World War II period, Salcedo has focused on building up its retail banking capabilities. He explains: “I was hired to do that. Previously, the bank was more into the wholesale and financial markets and treasury business.”

Long associations with Citibank (10 years) and BPI (15 years), handling their retail banking operations and stints in insurance (BPI Insurance Group from 2000 to 2004 and Allstate Life Insurance Philippines in 1999) have helped enrich and extend Salcedo’s portfolio. It is only financial markets and treasury that he has not worked in. “But I’ve learned to ask questions,” he chuckles when asked how he tackles this “foreign territory.”

Learning advocacy
Salcedo is pleased that he and the bank fiercely share an advocacy – educating the Filipino.

“I believe the root of poverty [in the Philippines]is uneven education. The bulk of the population doesn’t get the right type of education. When you look at the developed countries, like the Scandinavian model, high quality education is free, and on many occasions, so are post-graduate studies. That level of education, I think, is everyone’s birthright.

“We are far from this, and that causes all the poverty, the drug problems and even the Muslim issue.

“The bank has always been engaged in educational projects, and we will continue that. Serendipitously, it is also something I personally believe in.”

In August, Security Bank partnered with Salcedo’s Ateneo Class of 1977 batchmates to realize the dream of Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (yet another batchmate) to introduce music and the arts to street children. The popular churchman conceived the idea when he heard an orchestra, composed of Korean orphans, play at Carnegie Hall in New York some years back. He shared his yearning with two classmates Irma Cecilio and Cynch Baga, resulting in the project being voted upon by their class as the outreach endeavor to mark their 40th Ruby Jubilee. Upon learning about the project, Salcedo immediately offered support to beef up funds to purchase violins, art materials and computers for the first beneficiaries, the youngsters of Tulay ng Kabataan, the center visited by Pope Francis, minutes after he celebrated Mass at the Manila Cathedral. The turnover ceremony, which took place in August at the Arzobispado de Manila, was a highly emotional one. Not only for Cardinal Tagle, but also for Salcedo and his former classmates, many of whom had not seen each other for years.

The Salcedo family: Salcedo, wife Claire and kids Lianne and Paolo enjoying dinner in Japan

Among Security Bank’s other notable educational CSR activities are The Classrooms Project, which has formally turned over 367 classrooms, benefitting 77 public schools in 44 cities and municipalities across the Philippines; scholarships since 1994 for 800 scholars, and now for over 300 scholars in partnership with various local universities and colleges; the Student Excellence Awards Project, recognizing students of business-related courses with outstanding scholastic records with a plaque and P50,000 in cash; and the Professorial Chair Program Grants rewarding deserving faculty members of Business, Banking and Financial Management courses.

Here and now
When the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ bought a 20 percent stake last year in Security Bank, Salcedo couldn’t have been more delighted. “Working with them [our Japanese partners]has been like second nature to me. It’s like connecting the dots after 30 years…my career coming full circle.”

What legacy would Salcedo like to leave behind? That subject couldn’t be farther from his mind. “I don’t even think about that. If I walk out the door and people forget me, that’s not a problem. I just think about what I should be doing in the here and now.

“I’ve always believed that we’re only passing through, and we should try to be a positive influence on anyone we touch or work with.” Perhaps, two bosses, who made the greatest impact on his corporate journey, are Russel Boyer at Vicks-Richardson, who sent him to Japan, and Xavier Loinaz, who hired him for BPI. “I appreciate them as well as the other bosses along the way from whom I picked up good snippets.”

BoardRoom Watch asked Salcedo to draw the inevitable analogy between softball and the corporate world. Living up to his nickname Yogi – also the pet name of one of the sports world’s greatest catchers and wits – Salcedo played catcher all through his athletic life, which unfortunately ended in Osaka “because my team lost, and it upset me,” he says ruefully. Upon his wife’s advice, he gave up the game since it was causing undue stress. He doesn’t even do golf, saying: “If I take up something, I have to be good at it.”

The catcher, he continues, “is the second most important player next to the pitcher. He is like the point guard in basketball. He tells the pitcher through hand signals what pitch to pitch because he understands the strengths and weaknesses of the batters.”

Ateneo Class ’77 batchmates Salcedo and Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle (center, second row) at the launch of a program for street kids

Ant scientist Dave General, a former Ateneo teammate and a right fielder, says: “As catcher, Yogi had a natural leadership role to play. He was able to see the whole situation on the field…the big picture, so he alerted us to the possible offensive plays that the other team could be attempting. As captain, Yogi was steady and supportive of us young ‘uns.”

But Salcedo makes it a point to say that ultimately, whether on the field or in the workplace, “It’s a team effort. And every team member should buy into the objective. If not, you won’t get there.”

Same principle, different approach
Marketing FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) and Financial Services is basically the same effort, according to Salcedo, but there’s still a twist to the equation…

  • SAME, SAME
    They are both products, and you have to find the right positioning for them in the market.
  • They’re based on the same principles of appealing to an individual’s certain need.
  • You have to fulfill that need the best that you can.
  • THE DIFFERENCE
    Manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure their item is consistently produced and packaged in a superior way. So that when a customer buys, let’s say, their bar of soap from the supermarket shelf, when it is used, it can be expected to perform 100 percent of the time.
  • In banking, it’s a daily struggle to deliver financial products and services in a consistently high-quality manner. That’s fascinating and where the challenges lie.
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