This Bulakeño stays true to his roots in the corporate world
When sports agent Jerry Maguire in the eponymous and highly entertaining film walked out of his job after being fired for standing up to perceived malpractices in his industry, only one employee – a dewy-eyed, idealistic secretary – followed him.
When Roman Felipe S. Reyes, then SGV vice-chairman, left the auditing giant in 2009 after 35 distinguished years, 13 partners marched out the door with him as well. They were vigorously protesting the integration of the firm’s local operations into global behemoth Ernst & Young’s (EY) larger infrastructure.
“They [EY] wanted us to be dummies, and it would be made to appear that they would be shareholders,” Reyes recalls that dramatic period in a life marked until then by a steady climb up the corporate pyramid. “But once the agreement was signed, they would do everything – manage, hire, increase, decrease. And our lawyer warned us that since it is a partnership, it would also mean joint liability. If the other party made a mistake, that would be our mistake too.”
Reyes and like-minded colleagues also felt that the terms of EY’s entry amounted to a constitutional breach given that the accounting field is a profession limited to mainly Filipinos.
There was no choice but to make a stand, resulting in Reyes and the rest of the “SGV 14” – as the mutineers were dubbed – walking away with a “withdrawal package,” which included a one-year non-compete clause, and their principles intact. What made Reyes’ decision more agonizing was that his father Eugenio had been a Senior Partner at SGV for over two decades and a member of the SGV Management Committee for 11 years. “It was really difficult getting out,” is all he would say when queried about his parent’s reaction to the furor.
Without employment and feeling responsible for people who shared his cause and left their comfort zone, Reyes went into action with fellow rebel Protacio Tan Tacandong and seven others to set up Reyes Tacandong & Co. (RT&Co) in 2010. “We never planned it,” he says, now able to chuckle over those uncertain early days. “We had never talked about going out on our own since we were always too busy with work.
“Kawawa naman yung mga bata na sumama sa amin. [We felt sorry for the young people who followed our example and walked out with us.] They were young CPAs, but very well principled. More from SGV would like to have joined us, but they were prisoners of their income and had bills to pay.
“All we had now was a dream.”
From RT&Co’s first office in PHINMA Building at the Rockwell Center, Reyes as Chairman tirelessly marketed the services of their start-up, networking at every opportunity and recruiting the best and the brightest minds to be found in various campuses.
Then came the firm’s “big break,” as Reyes gleefully describes the moment. They were able to attract to their corner, Marvin Martija, seventh placer in the 2010 Bar from San Beda College.
Inspired by news and web reports, which had covered extensively SGV 14’s bold move, Martija was keen to be part of their dream, but his parents did not share their son’s fervor. They wanted him to join the solid space carved by SGV. The partners, according to Tacandong, RT&Co’s Chief Operating Officer, decided to invite the Matijases to their office for a chat. Fortunately, the parents eventually consented, perhaps aided by the fact that Martija senior had very strong nationalist leanings and agreed that no accounting firm should be run – no matter how covertly – by foreigners.
RT&Co. managed to draw more CPA and bar top-notchers to join them in succeeding years, which made the competition take note of their former partners’ activities and try harder with their own enlistment efforts. And sometimes, they reportedly used enhanced salary scales to sweeten the offer.
Flash eight years forward from RT&Co’s inception in 2010, which sees it clinching a spot as a promising player in the auditing arena. Of this growing circle of accountants auditing the country’s 304 publicly listed companies, Securities and Exchange Commission 2016 data identifies SGV continuing as a market leader with a 54 percent market share, while RT&Co occupies five percent share, Punongbayan & Araullo 12 percent share, KPMG RG Manabat & Co. 12 percent share and others 14 percent share.
Reyes and his team are aware there is some way yet to go, but they have a clear road map of how to get there – through technology and even more focused networking as well as the time frame for achieving certain outstanding goals. “By 2020, we hope to be a fully IT-driven company and have 1,000 employees,” reveals Reyes. “By 2030, we intend to be the No. 1 auditing firm in the country.
“We didn’t think that we would grow this fast, but we have.”
Early on, the firm signed up to become a member of RSM, which Reyes says is the sixth largest network of independent audit, tax and advisory firms in the world with 128 member and correspondent firms in 120 countries as well the sixth largest global provider of tax services. “Many of our clients’ business are expanding overseas and they need our kind of services in other countries.
“Meanwhile, we already have so much local business, there is no need for us to expand overseas.” RT&Co, which now operates from the Citibank Tower, along leafy Paseo de Roxas, has opened offices in Davao, Cebu and Iloilo, with Reyes having nothing but praises for the ongoing economic boom in that formerly sleepy sugar trading hub.
A Bulakeño from Bocaue, Reyes at first wanted to take up engineering at De La Salle, but his mother Vicenta convinced him to remain at San Beda College to keep his younger brother Eugene company and pursue Accounting. “That was okay with me,” he says cheerfully. “Sila naman ang nagbabayad ng matrikula ko [Anyway, they were the ones paying the tuition fees.]”
He says with refreshing nonchalance that when it came to numbers he “never had to study.” He obtained a bachelor’s degree in Commerce, major in Accounting from San Beda College and a master’s degree in Business Administration, concentration in Finance from the University of Detroit in Michigan.
Did he see now-President Rodrigo around the campus? “Maliit ang San Beda. Iisa lang ang door for elementary, high school and college. [San Beda was a small place. There was only one door to enter and exit. You saw everyone from elementary, high school and college pass through it.]”
Despite being privy to the financial secrets and peccadillos of the Philippines’ wealthiest men and women – BoardRoom Watch won’t tell you which taipan he shared with us wrote a check for P80 million without batting an eyelash – Reyes remains unaffected and ready with a good laugh at remembered funny incidents. “Manny has always been himself up to this day even when he heads a big, important firm. Who you see is who you get,” says a friend from his days in New York where he met his wife Jowee Mathay-Reyes, also an accomplished businesswoman. Mrs. Reyes’ father Ponciano was a longtime public servant and younger brother of politician Mel Mathay.
Loyal to his rural roots, Reyes invested in a farm in Bulacan where he plants hard wood and fruit-bearing trees and has ostriches and peacocks. You will find him there every weekend without fail, if he and wife Jowee are not traveling. Their granddaughter, Rocio, daughter of their eldest son Roman, is the light of their lives. Obviously savoring lolo-hood, he says: “It’s a nice feeling pala [after all]to be a grandfather.”
If you happen to dine at Chef Jessie Rockwell Club and Top of the Citi by Chef Jessie, try the Bistek a la Manny Reyes, designed by Chef Jessie Sincioco at the request of Reyes for his foreign clients. “Not too exotic, but tasty,” he tells us. And indeed, the use of Black Angus Beef Tenderloin with this old favorite makes it a bestseller on the menu even with locals.
Asked which of his numerous awards he treasures the most, Reyes mentions his recognition as Outstanding Alumnus of San Beda College in 1993.
Here is a man for the basics and of principle. May his tribe increase.
PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN