• The lure of easy money



    Sometimes I will have a business meeting at Resorts World. It’s easy to get to from Alabang, handy for Terminal 3 if somebody is catching a plane, and it has comfortable chairs. Generally such a meeting would be in the morning or occasionally in the afternoon.

    Invariably though the casino is doing good business; there always seems to be quite a lot of fairly regular looking people there no matter what time of day, gambling away. Well, good luck to them even though “The House” always wins.

    Gambling, if you win is easy, fast money. Not too much effort is needed and you don’t have to spend time trying to convince other people. You may of course lose, but at least you do not have to depend on anybody else.

    The chances of losing at the tables are no doubt far greater than the chance of losing an investment through backing some sort of business or other.

    So, it doesn’t require much effort… nobody to blame but yourself if it goes wrong and the potential for instant gratification. A cynic may say it’s a bit like many approaches to business in the Philippines.

    I met a senior banker recently who wondered aloud why was it that quite often “expats” in some role or other seemed to be the drivers behind sorting out business development challenges in the Philippines.

    To generalize, there is a perception that there is a Filipino way of doing business and there is a western way of doing business, and it seems from what little I understand of “our reforms” that one of the objectives of the reforms may be to bring the two business styles closer together.

    But then we have seen the British bank HSBC getting itself into trouble by handling humongous amounts of money for Mexican drug cartels. Perhaps though that is not a fair comparison as big banks are not required to conform to normal moral standards.

    Developing a business, sustaining and growing its operations, are a challenge anywhere. In the Philippines it is a challenge of excruciating difficulty. People just give up if they even have the motivation to give it a shot in the first place.

    It requires a lot of money to cover the inordinate length of time it takes as well as to pay the endless fees; it requires the patience of a saint; but most of all it requires determination, focus and belief in the venture and its eventual success. As well as this, it needs an attitude that does not require instant or near instant gratification, and which sees giving up as failure which cannot be forgiven.

    I would hope that for the benefit of the Philippines that the days of easy money and being able to work the system doing “deals” will soon disappear. So often the deals that are done add no economic value of any substance; Party A obtains some form of rights or concession, holds onto it for a while and then, when the opportunity arises, sells it off to some other entity and pockets the profit.

    This type of approach seems so prevalent it is admired; and that’s just what everybody wants to do.

    Indeed, it may seem at times that the whole system is against the development of a new business and the hurdles and expenses are almost endless; but to succeed, unless you are in a supremely privileged position, like an oligarch, then you just have to meet each challenge as it arises and press on to the next. To do this requires a very solid unshakeable business case, belief, robust determination, and of course money.

    The “system” is a nightmare and it is really no surprise that many entrepreneurs just give up; and that is a huge detriment to the economic development of the Philippines. Better to just go to the casino and [try to]make more that way.

    Is there something lacking in the work ethic, the prioritization of family matters and fiestas? Is it the weather? Is it the obedience-engendered reluctance to challenge the system? Is it because after 4 or 5 hour commutes to and from work in difficult conditions that people just don’t have the time and energy to start new things?

    I suspect that it’s a bit of all these things. Life is hard for many Filipinos, and there are cultural mores that discourage serious entrepreneurship overlain by a system that just looks – and in reality is – like a massive obstacle to doing anything.

    Media needs to give more space to “rags to riches” success stories and what lies behind them. That an oligarch may have started off in life selling candles on a handcart in Tondo and is now a multi-billionaire would be seen as an almost unachievable example.

    Stories need to be published that are more realistic and appear really achievable; then people may get the idea that new things are worth starting up, that the system can in fact be challenged and taken on, that the rewards are better than the slim chance of instant gratification at the casino, and that honest hard work and steely determination can bring success.

    All that said something really does need to be done about the infrastructure in its broadest sense or any latent motivation to do something new will never be able to surface!

    Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com.


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    1. Amnata Pundit on

      Aren’t we westernized enough already? Was it westernization that made Thailand and Vietnam and China leap ahead of this country? Perhaps all we need is simply a change of the pro-western Yellow Edsa regime, what do you think?