”We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.”
– William Jefferson Clinton
BY tradition, an incoming United States President gets 100 days to adjust to his or her new surroundings. I never aspired to become POTUS myself, but have enjoyed success as a leader elsewhere. I’m an American, born in the great State of Minnesota. You betcha! I’ve been visiting the Philippines for nearly a decade, having dated and then married my Filipina wife whom I met in New York. I fell in love with the country, the people, the food. How could I stay away? After many years working on Wall Street honing my skills and business acumen, it was time to move to the Philippines to take advantage of the many opportunities here. I made my decision to move here in March of last year, in the midst of a fascinating election season in both the Philippines and the US.
I (permanently) arrived in Manila just around the time of the first SONA delivered by the then recently elected President Rodrigo Duterte. (Note: Personally, I identify as apolitical, I’m not about platforms or rigid agendas but rather rely on a fair political process to select capable leaders.) Highlights of the speech were replayed on ANC news which I regularly keep on in the background while I work. One of his quotes that kept replaying, even though I don’t think it was part of the SONA speech, was “I serve everyone and not only one.”
By my 50th day I had disappointingly only played four rounds of golf. I had set a goal of playing at least once per week while here, potentially more if I could find a way to conduct business dealings on the course. Fellow Wharton alumnus Peter Coyiuto had invited me for a round at Manila Golf, which I very much enjoyed, and I was especially impressed with the condition of the course and the quick pace of play. My tee shots were an injustice to such a beautiful course. I’ve also had the opportunity to play Wack-Wack and Navy, as well as Apo Golf in Davao. Even this amount of golf was an upgrade to my ability to play golf in New York. I did enjoy taking the Long Island Railroad to Bethpage for a weekday round when time permitted but overall my game just couldn’t progress while living in Manhattan. The golf courses here are wonderful, and I enjoy at least the possibility that I can play more than one round per week in the future.
As for business opportunities, the dominant reason for my excitement to find the Philippines such a nice place to live is that I have great enthusiasm for the economic potential of the country. The likelihood of 7 percent-plus growth rates for the foreseeable future, potentially higher if certain administration spending plans pan out, is a great starting point. The possibility that rules and regulations will evolve to make it even more attractive for foreign capital is the icing on the cake.
I’m here to invest and to help others invest. I spend a large portion of my days working to bring global pools of capital and technological expertise into the country. If I’m good at what I do, then the Philippines is the beneficiary, more value-added products (and services) should be produced/performed here, and for an intermediate period of time the country can continue the “BPO theme” of exporting a talented and educated workforce. This activity includes finding partnerships and investment capital for established companies, but also involves funding and development of small and medium enterprises (or SMEs).
The SME sector is the backbone of strong economies such as Germany and the US. It is entirely possible for the Philippines to grow this sector into an engine that can lead to continued outperformance of regional and global growth. Why not? Let’s do it! I like to solve puzzles, and being able to have an impact on the Philippines through my efforts to traffic in capital and business ideas furthers my excitement to finally have found my way home.
Which brings me back to leadership. I’ve been fortunate to interact with many business and government leaders in my short time here. These are good people with talent and ideas, and my own ideas have been well received. The environment here is quite conducive to partnerships, in whatever form they may take. I’ve felt no specific effect of my status as an American on the possibility of working together.
On my 100th day in Manila, the people of the United States elected Donald John Trump as their next President. He has promised change, primarily on an America-first platform, yet he does have an encouraging early rapport with President Duterte. Wait a minute…now I have some questions: Do I get another 100 days? Can I now express my incremental (and even random) thoughts via Twitter? Should I learn Mandarin? Should I learn Russian? Answer: No! I’m still Matt, I’m still working hard and having fun here in the Philippines. My motives are uninterrupted, my plans remain, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m far from being upset at the election of Mr. Trump, many of his ideas are good ones. We live with our elected leaders, let’s support them and continue to work together toward our personal and common goals.
Matthew Peter Kolling is managing director at Primeiro Partners in Manila. A Wharton-educated finance professional, he has spent his 17-year career working on Wall Street in private equity, venture capital, special situations hedge funds and investment banking. Before moving to Manila, he worked at Providence Equity Partners, Caxton Associates, Och-Ziff Capital, and Morgan Stanley, all in New York.