George S. Chua likes to ride bikes. He likes them all—small ones, in-between ones, and big ones. One thing you have to remember when you ride bikes fast is that you’ve got to plan ahead. You have to know the route and you have to know the proper safety procedures. That’s the paradox of being a good bike rider: these guys aren’t reckless—they plan ahead to be safe.
That’s the same kind of discipline that Chua brings to his Finex presidency. He thinks ahead, and he implements his plan. He scored a landslide victory at the presidential elections held at the board level last year and he takes over from Jimmy Ysmael, the outgoing president.
Ysmael’s theme for his presidency was Building Bridges Towards Sustainable Development, a reflection of the outward looking point of view given the impending Asean integration. Chua’s them is Supporting Financial Inclusion for All Filipinos. In a way, Chua is building a bridge to his fellow Filipino by offering them the tools and the education to stave off financial ignorance.
“I think it is about time that we focus on really doing something for the Filipino people as financial executives,” Chua says. “Every few months people are victimized by pyramiding scams, and people are taken advantage of by unscrupulous money lenders.”
The 2014 Findex Database shows that only 31 percent of Filipinos have access to the formal banking system. The remainder are “unbanked.” This also means that the majority of Filipinos lack basic financial literacy. Chua talks about his theme passionately because for those Filipinos with jobs, most live from paycheck to paycheck. “Shouldn’t we look closer to home first?” he asks. “Let’s reach out to our neighbors and make sure that we do our civic duty closer to home.”
Chua’s concern for the common Pinoy stems from his belief in the power of individuals to get things done. One may view him as an optimistic pragmatist. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” he explains. “My parents and grandparents were businessmen. I always felt it was my responsibility to get things done.” He believes that one of the highest imperatives of the private sector is to provide jobs to people qualified to do them.
“There is a big multiplier effect in manufacturing. There are upstream industries and downstream industries,” he says. “The value chain is longer, with more value added opportunities.” He believes people need jobs, not handouts.
Chua believes in the power of the individual, and he also believes in the power of business to get things done. He also happens to be the president of the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI). While he is now in the automotive sector, as president of Bayan Automotive Industries Corp (BAIC), he started out as a banker. He spent 15 years as a banker before moving to the corporate side.
“My career has been more evolutionary,” he says. “I have held CFO positions in the past, and I advanced to COO and CEO in my career.” He credits having gone through the finance function, and into general management, with giving him a broad based knowledge across industries and functions.
Chua dispels any notion of being satisfied with the status quo. “There’s an old saying that if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it” he states. He maintains this generally accepted piece of wisdom is false. “If it is the case we will never progress,” he says. “Maybe you need to fix what is broken first, but when everything is running smoothly, maybe you need to think about whether you can do more.” Chua believes that one has to set the pace, to be the example for others to follow.
In his career, he believes his best work has been done during times of distress. “My greatest achievements have been turning around companies,” he reveals. “I have restructured companies, stopped losses from recurring, and made firms profitable again.” He does not claim a secret formula or process for achieving corporate turnarounds. “The first thing to do is to assess the situation properly,” he explains. “Go out into the field, keep an open mind, and see everything yourself. Only then will you get the proper baseline information.”
Given that, he is an empiricist, observing what is, rather than what he wants it to be. “Biases cloud people’s judgment” Chua explains. “I try to assess the location of the bottlenecks, whether it is due to wrong people or flawed processes. I try to concentrate resources where they are most effective.” Our country needs more people like George Chua.