Leo Dolendo still remembers with fondness the days when he was a part of Mercedes-Benz in the Philippines and the Middle East. Since he was also servicing commercial vehicles like trucks, this meant literally getting his hands dirty from repairing or dismantling large engines, gearboxes or anything mechanical. And even up to now if needed, he does not mind tackling the most complex mechanical problems and get his hands or arms dirty in the process.
He even narrated that when he was still working for Mercedes-Benz that was then represented by Commercial Motors Corporation in the Philippines, he lead the repair of a transmission of a truck bearing the tri-star logo that broke down in the hinterlands of Mindanao while transporting large logs.
From getting his hands dirty servicing Mercedes Benz vehicles, Dolendo rose from the ranks to become the acknowledged guru in the Philippine car industry on after-sales and service. Currently, he is the Vice President and Functional Director for Aftersales (Service and Parts Operations) of Ayala Automotive Holdings Inc. assigned to Honda dealership operations, and concurrent head of dealer expansion programs. Besides Honda, also under the Ayala automotive group are the Isuzu and Volkswagen brands.
Dolendo, however, was not an ordinary “mekaniko” or mechanic when he started his career in the automotive industry because he was trained in Germany in Automotive Engineering under a scholarship program.
“I am a recipient [during the 1970s]of a technical scholarship in an Automotive Engineering course from Daimler-Benz AG courtesy of the German Development Aid Program for Asia,” he said in his official executive profile.
In an interview with Fast Times, Dolendo said he started from the lowest rank when he first entered the automotive industry.
“I started as a technician in my career at the lowest available rank,” he said.
“It was with Mercedes, I was a field service representative. Whenever there are problems with cars [or vehicles]outside the Philippines, outside of this territory [Metro Manila], I go there to fix it, troubleshoot. I [even]go to the mountains of Surigao to fix trucks,” Dolendo added.
It was his stint as field service representative that he experienced removing and repairing a transmission of a Mercedes-Benz truck loaded with logs in the hinterlands of Mindanao.
“Whenever you remove a transmission of a truck in a logging area [and fix it there], that’s really hard,” Dolendo said.
It was his willingness and ability to handle difficult tasks that made Dolendo stand out and that also resulted in his servicing the cars of then-President Ferdinand Marcos.
“I get fascinated by problems of cars that cannot be resolved. I remember when I was a technician, I go up to the supervisor and request to give me only the most difficult problems [to solve], not the easier ones. And that made me hone my craft. So I was assigned to special vehicles in the Philippines,” he said.
“There was a time I was handling the presidential limousines during Marcos’ time because presidential vehicles then were all Mercedeses. I was assigned to do that. My expertise was on trouble diagnosis with Mercedes,” Dolendo added.
His stint in the Middle East, also for Mercedes-Benz, also saw him conducting training for the brand’s technicians. And since he was one of the experts in after-sales for the brand, he was assigned a dynamometer system, an expensive set-up of machines and computers to test vehicles.
“That [dynamometer]is something you don’t usually give to Filipinos [in the Middle East],” he said.
The dynamometer can test a car up to 180 kilometers per hour and can diagnose a vehicle being tested through a complex computer set-up.
“It [dynamometer entrusted to me]is very expensive, I think it costs millions of dollars. You don’t give that to persons who don’t know how to operate it,” Dolendo added.
Unusual training module
During his training under Mercedes-Benz, Dolendo and his classmates were given files and a solid cylindrical aluminum to hone their skills as technicians. It was an unusual training module that had an important purpose.
“I was surprised at the early part of the training because we were given a set of files to keep in a drawer, and a round aluminum to file it to a certain degree that you have to produce a cube out of the round cylindrical shape by simply using a file. And that took us around four months to do, every day, day in, day out. You start in the morning [and]you file until the evening,” he said.
Dolendo added that the purpose of creating a cube from a solid cylindrical piece of aluminum was to teach students the virtue of patience and tolerance, both literally and figuratively, because the cube had to be created based on a tolerance measuring hundredths of a millimeter.
Also part of their training was to assemble a small Mercedes-Benz truck, among others.
Looking back, Dolendo said he feels lucky that he was one of the select individuals who came from Mindanao to train for Mercedes-Benz.
“I was lucky I represented Region 11 [Davao Region] at the time,” he added.
After a fruitful stint with the Mercedes-Benz brand in the Middle East and the Philippines that included helping jumpstart CATS Motors Inc., Dolendo found his way to Ayala’s automotive group.
He would also take a Service Management course from Honda Motors Japan sponsored by the Tokyo Association of Overseas Technical Scholars.
His stint with the Ayala automotive group saw him getting involved with Isuzu Philippines Corporation, also with the company’s manufacturing facilities besides the after-sales.
Now involved with the Honda brand, Dolendo has worked not only in after-sales but also in starting new businesses for the Ayala automotive group, which also counts at least 11 dealerships located in Metro Manila, the Visayas and Mindanao. Honda Manila Bay is one of Dolendo’s new business start-ups. Also under Ayala Automotive Holdings is Honda Cars Philippines Inc. that assembles a number of cars bearing the brand in the country.
Dolendo believing in the Honda brand also stemmed from its winning five Formula One World Constructor’s Champion from 1986 to 1991 in tandem with Williams (1986 and 1987) and McLaren (1988 to 1991). It was from the late 1990s that Japanese car makers led by Toyota, Mitsubishi and Nissan started to introduce their cars in the Philippine market again after a long hiatus. Honda came into the picture from the early 1990s.
Notably, Honda won nine championships with various teams at the American IndyCar circuit from 2003 to 2011 and in 2013.
Dolendo said Honda’s CVCC engine, from where the Civic name was derived, also fascinated him. CVCC stands for Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion or Compound Vortex Combustion Chamber.
“Honda made waves [in the 1970s]when it invented a new engine called CVCC or Compound Vortex Combustion Chamber. That’s where the Civic name came from. So it was introduced in the US and it made waves after the motorcycles [also of Honda],” he added. Dolendo said the first-generation Civic gained a following in the United States because of its fuel efficiency, low emissions and adequate power.
According to him, Honda would be among the first car makers in the United States to introduce fuel injection in its cars.
“That racing spirit and the prestigious marketing campaign, I think, did some wonders for Honda that people started buying the brand [in the Philippines]. Honda also chose good partners in the Philippines, the Ayalas and the Yuchengos, which are credible institutions in the Philippines,” he said.
And having been in the automotive industry for at least 35 years, Dolendo believes that it is the experience after an individual purchases a vehicle that counts more.
So if there is a complex problem at a maintenance bay involving a Honda vehicle, Dolendo is still willing to get his hands dirty.
“Every now and then [I still do that]. The last time I did [that]was when we had a problem with a cylinder head. And it was very difficult to solve. So I still roll up my sleeves and go down to the technicians on very isolated, difficult cases. I dirty my fingers,” he said with a hearty laugh.