MVP’s ‘2nd FPLA Executive Talks’ spotlights nine inspiring thought leaders
“Talent does not necessarily lead to leadership.”
This was the resounding line from the speech of First Pacific Leadership Academy (FPLA) Chairman Manuel “Manny” Pangilinan that summarized the second season of the educational organization’s “Executive Talks.”
A part of FPLA’s commitment to produce a new generation of effective leaders, the forum, titled “Crafting Chapters and Lessons in Thought Leadership,” gathered some 700 high school and college students on July 10 at the Meralco Theater in Pasig City. The event also served as birthday dedication to Pangilinan who turned 69 on July 14.
FPLA is a “corporate university” in Antipolo that offers development programs on management and leadership for members of the First Pacific Group and their clients.
At the Executive Talks, nine leaders graced the stage of the Meralco Theater who all come from diverse backgrounds. There was theater actress and writer Grace Fabie; classical singer Randy Hilongo; violin prodigy Regina Buenaventura; Gilas Pilipinas Assistant Coach Jimmy Alapag; Argentinian priest Fr. Luciano Felloni; sex therapist Dr. Margie Holmes; restaurateur Margarita “Gaita” Araneta Fores; philanthropic public school teacher Randy Halasan; and eco-tourism developer Bryan Benitez-McClelland.
Each generously sharing their success stories, these nine accomplished leaders revealed and proved that there is more to making it in the world than simply talent.
The passionate priest
Father Felloni is known to Filipinos as the priest who personally knew Pope Francis thereby serving as his translator when the Pope visited the Philippines in January.
But what many didn’t know was that he was born in Italy, and raised in Argentina by atheist parents. Still, Felloni found his path towards God, evocatively through the poor.
He recounted that back in high school, a classmate of his invited him to join parish activities. Helping in outreach programs, the young Felloni found happiness in helping the less fortunate, leading him to stay with the parish for good.
“Kung dito ako masaya, gagawin ko ito habang buhay [If this makes me happy, this is what I’ll do this forever],” the Filipino-fluent Felloni said.
But right after he found his calling, the priest immediately met a new challenge: he was assigned to the Philippines, specifically the poverty-stricken town of Payatas.
At first, Felloni found it hard to adjust to everything—climate, culture, language, and food. After two years had passed, he had to choose between returning to Argentina and staying in the Philippines. Needless to say, his passion shone through and he committed to serving the Filipino poor.
“I think what makes a person really happy is when you find your way to help others. It might be through music, art, cooking, teaching, or being a priest,” he shared. “To wake up every day with challenges and to go to bed so happy, I’m a lucky man to be a priest.”
The selfless teacher
Another selfless vocation fueled by passion is Randy Halasan’s work as a teacher of indigenous children. Halasan has to travel more than seven hours every day to reach Pegalongan Elementary School, the remotest school in Davao City in the land of the Matigsalug tribe.
As Pegalongan is very inaccessible and practically cut from any communication, it actually took a year for Halasan to respond to FPLA’s invitation to be part of Executive Talks.
He confessed that his assignment as one of only two teachers in the school was not out of choice. After being sent to Pegalongan as a newly appointed public school teacher, he told himself he would opt to be reassigned when the opportunity presents itself. But Halasan had a change of heart when Pegalongan Elementary School had its first graduation ceremony.
Halasan witnessed the Matigsalug elders cry as they saw their children and grandchildren, overwhelmed at the idea that their youth had attained such an achievement amid the weight of poverty and the scarcity of resources in the school. It was that very sight—that very poignant sight—when Halasan realized that Pegalongan’s community needs him.
Today, eight years later, Halasan continues to be with the Matigsalugs, and is tireless in lobbying for changes that would improve the tribe’s life. He received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership in 2014 for his efforts, which have since surpassed the bounds of education.
Under Halasan’s leadership as head teacher, Pegalongan Elementary School expanded from two rooms with two teachers to nine rooms with eight teachers. A high school building was also built through his active representation.
Halasan further sought to end poverty in the community by working with the Pegalongan Farmers Association and reaching out to local government for more infrastructures to be built in the far-flung area.
Asked how he manages to lead such a selfless career that does not pay in terms of money, Halasan answered, “It’s really your heart, your passion [that makes it possible]. Hindi pwedeng plastikan, hindi pwedeng pakitang tao [None of it can be faked; none of it can be put on].”
Commitment and determination
To mobilize talent and passion, one needs hard work and discipline. These elements of success have played a huge role in the careers of retired professional basketball player Jimmy Alapag, violinist Regina Buenaventura and chef Gaita Fores.
Alapag is nicknamed “The Mighty Mouse” for his three-pointers despite his less than ideal height of 5”7.
His physical stature evidently did not stop him from pursuing basketball and becoming team captain for Gilas Pilipinas. He even led the national team to its first World Cup victory in over 40 years.
Alapag put a lot of effort in strengthening his body and mind to become competent in the sport.
“I’ve always gained confidence from the work that I’ve put in,” he said.
Coming from a family of accomplished musicians, one would think it a no-brainer for Regina Buenaventura to be a prodigious violinist. Her late grandparents were National Artist for Music Col. Antonino Buenaventura and premier violinist Rizalina Exconde Buenaventura.
However, being regarded as extraordinary in her craft did not come easy for Buenaventura as the passing on of genes. She used to practice violin seven hours a day, which she has now cut to six after learning how to play the instrument more efficiently.
This sacrifice evidently bore fruit as the young Buenaventura made her orchestral debut at 14 with the Manila Symphony Orchestra II. She also began holding international concerts at age 15.
Another factor Buenaventura had to overcome was the pre-show jitters, but her dedication to her craft carried her through.
“It takes a lot of courage to study a piece and go out on stage to perform it. But in the end, your desire to share outweighs the scare factor,” she said.
It was also determination and the desire to share her craft that propelled Gaita Fores to be the renowned gastronomic expert that she is today.
Fores humbly declines the titles “chef” and “expert” as she did not have formal training in culinary arts. She is actually a Certified Public Accountant from Assumption College who prefers to be called “cook” and “foodie” for the hobby that led to her to become president of food ventures Cibo, Café Bola, Pepato, Sostanza Health Line, Fiori Di M, and Grace Park.
The restaurateur made the best out of the worst times when she discovered love for Italian cuisine during her family’s exile in New York due to Martial Law. After the exile, Fores asked her mother to let her live in Italy for a while to see whether the country’s gastronomic culture was really what she wanted to get into.
“It was all of four months, and I had no Filipino friends, so I was kind of forced to embody the Italian culture,” Fores recalled.
After her training in Italy, Fores went into some catering gigs before finally opening her own restaurant. As a young woman who could not quite let go of carefree nightlife, she confessed it took her 10 years before launching Cibo.
According to Fores, it was her son who helped whip her into shape.
“I’m a single mom,” Fores revealed. “My son is 24 now and I think that he’s the one who brought my feet down to Earth.”
Blazing a trail
“Our young people must remember that businesses and society must conduct their activities in a very Darwinian landscape. It is not the biggest or the strongest that will survive through the ages, but in fact, those that are most adaptable to change,” went another enlightening quote from business wiz Manuel V. Pangilinan.
He stressed the importance of changing with the times to keep a business, or a leader, afloat. He pointed out though that the better alternative to being adaptable is having good foresight, the ability to be the one to initiate change.
Being an innovator was what encouraged Dr. Margie Holmes and Bryan Benitez-McClelland to find their niche in saturated fields.
During her college years, Holmes wanted to find a person she could openly talk to about sexuality, without being judged or lectured.
“May mga nagsasabi na wala nang magkakagusto sa akin kapag hindi na ako virgin, so hindi ako naniwala [There were those who said no one would fancy me if I weren’t a virgin, so I didn’t believe them]. Holmes, who was seated near Fr. Felloni, said bluntly, prompting laughter from the audience.
“Naghanap ako ng taong pwedeng kausapin na hindi magsasabing, ‘Ay, kasalanan yan sa Diyos.’ Ayokong ma-lecturan [I looked for someone whom I could talk to without telling me, ‘That’s a sin.’ I didn’t want any lectures],” the clinical psychologist further shared with a laugh.
So, she became the person her younger self needed; someone to share science-based facts on a topic often seen as taboo.
“Naisip ko, paglaki ko, gusto kong maging klase ng tao na pwedeng mapuntahan ng mga kagaya ko, ng mga babaeng pilya pero mabait naman [I thought to myself, when I grow up, I want to be the kind of person who people like me can approach—girls who were naughty but good],” Holmes concluded.
Since then, the lady doctor has authored 18 books on sex and relationships, appeared on Philippine TV shows, and wrote about her specialization via columns in publications.
And while Holmes’ career track often touches on the taboo, Bryan Benitez-McClelland’s chosen path was regarded as unheard of.
McClelland is the brain behind the Bambike Ecotours in Intramuros, Manila. Bambikes, as one might discern from the name, are bikes made of bamboos.
The first doubtful question McClelland heard from countless people, including his own parents based in San Francisco, was, “Is it strong enough?”
Amid the doubts, McClelland pushed through with the help of “Bambuilders,” members of a Gawad Kalinga village in Victoria, Tarlac.
“I told myself, I’ll be a trailblazer instead of following someone else’s path,” McClelland said.
As proven by the shop he now runs with the help of his mother, not only is bamboo strong enough to be the body of a bike, it is also eco-friendly and efficient for sustainable community development. The gamble McClelland took with a unique concept evidently paid off.
The common factors of these individual stories seem to affirm Pangilinan’s beliefs when he said, “I’ve always felt that if you were to distill all of literature down to the most essential elements of what makes a good leader, there are only three.”
“First is passion. Passion for your work, passion for excellence, passion to compete. Second is competence, and the third is integrity.
“All three must be in an individual to become a good leader. For one, competence without integrity leads to dishonest practices. Integrity without competence, however, leads us nowhere.”
Armed with these nuggets of wisdom embodied in the nine thought leaders, Pangilinan hopes that the youth in the audience step up to become “good leaders who will eventually lead this country to better times.”