SM executive finds a Corporate home for her value system
“I’ve almost died – twice.”
When Corazon Pilar P. Guidote, senior vice president of Investor Relations, SM Investments Corp., talks about her dangerously near brushes with Death, she could very well be discussing SM’s performance on the stock market that morning.
A toxic thyroid condition, when she was younger, led to complications such as an alarming bout of pneumonia and another time, to severe kidney infection. “But I survived,” Guidote declares. And oh, by the way, she adds that these occurred while she was preparing to take the board exams for a license as a certified public accountant (CPA).
Guidote also passed the exams to the surprise of her parents and even the dean of the College of Commerce and Accountancy at the University of Santo Tomas, who were concerned about her missing review classes due to her illness. “Ever since I was young, I always found myself different from others.
“I’m a stickler for my beliefs and can be uncompromising and passionate about certain things. So I was determined to take the CPA board exams and get it over with. It was just too difficult an experience that I couldn’t do it again.
“Malakas ang belief ko rin sa dasal [I also strongly believe in the power of prayer]. I succeeded in my goal.”
She never made it though to the accounting arena, choosing instead to become a stockbroker for companies such as Vickers Da Costa Philippines (now defunct), Peregrine Securities, Citibank NA and UBS Securities (East Asia) in Hong Kong, until the round of mergers and acquisitions, which characterized the late ‘90s, proved too stressful that she decided to “reinvent” herself.
She joined Metro Pacific in 1998 as group vice president for Investor Relations and Corporate Communication Director – Negros Navigation, kick starting a solid career path in a fledgling profession that over the years has brought her great satisfaction, both in the corporate and personal facets of her life.
Brave new world
“Investor relations (IR) really only emerged in the ‘90s when institutional funding started to proliferate globally. When this increased and company CFOs, and presidents no longer had time to meet with investors, then the job mainly focused on communicating with them, was created.
“There was no formal training for this,” Guidote recalls. “No one knew what it actually entailed.”
For Guidote, it was an unforgettable stint between 2001 and 2004 with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) as executive director of the Investor Relations Office that proved to be her crucible. She was recruited by then Finance secretary Lito Camacho, working closely with him and then BSP governor, the late Rafael Buenaventura, both of whom have her lasting admiration for their openness and unwavering support. “I set up the IR operations for the Central Bank at a time when the Philippines was still under the IMF (International Monetary Fund) program. Our image then was not very nice, and it was very costly for us to borrow money.”
To raise funds, the country’s economic managers, led by Camacho and Buenaventura, had to seek sovereign investors – usually governments of nations boasting trade surpluses and abundant foreign monetary reserves – to invest in Philippine government bonds. Not an easy task since credit agencies had classified the Philippines as a “junk bond country,” along with Chile and Argentina.
Tasked to improve international perception, Guidote developed www.iro.ph, the first one-stop information portal, which disseminated relevant and timely economic information for investors interested in the Philippines. Previously, they had to consult three or more government agencies to do their research.
The economic team also staged roadshows in important hubs across the country such as Subic, Baguio, Metro Manila, Cebu and Davao. “We were so busy,” says Guidote. “Dala dala ko yung mga bosses like Camacho and Buenaventura [I would get the bosses to come along.]. If they were not available, their undersecretaries or assistants would go. The Bureau of International Revenue and National Economic Development Authority would join too. And we organized quarterly economic briefings as well.
“Government was one of the hardest things I ever had to do in my life. It was demanding in terms of time and dedication, and we had to deal with changes in the Cabinet.
Guidote found herself constantly coordinating with the local staff and making sure everyone was singing the same tune when there were executive disruptions. “Consistency is key when dealing with investors,” she says. “Their decisions depend on the information that they get. Unfortunately, masyadong mabilis ang turnover sa atin [there was quick turnover in Cabinet positions]. Since our constitution gives our president only a term of six years, movements are to be expected.”
Eventually, the sacrifices paid off, with the Philippines achieving investment grade status. “I didn’t think I’d live long enough to see that happen. I’ve always been optimistic about our country’s potential, and we are being proven right,” Guidote beams. “We had such a huge debt problem, and now we are out of the woods. We’re even a net lender to the IMF!”
Not even the current international censure on President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs can alter the Philippines’ improved financial standing. “Credit agencies look at a country’s ability to pay its debts. Politics and civil liberty issues are a different issue. We have to give credit to all our economic managers from (former BSP governor) Jobo (Jose B.) Fernandez down to Amando M. Tetangco, Jr. and the finance secretaries, who worked very hard to deal with the banks and get our debt restructured.
“And let’s not forget the Overseas Filipino Workers, who sent the dollars home to provide ammunition to build up our reserves. It wasn’t all due to one administration, but was a collective effort through 25 years of tightening our belt.”
Valuing her values
Her employ with SM Investments Corp. as senior vice president of investor relations, which began in 2006 until the present, has been the longest posting she has held. A native intuition, which Guidote confides, has guided most of her life patterns made her think: “This was a company I could grow old with.”
The organization, then on the cusp of unprecedented expansion, also provided a rare opportunity for the idealistic executive. “I’ve always looked for a place where my value system would be consistent with management’s own. That took a while to find, but finally, I was able to.”
With a team of 12 people under her, Guidote makes sure the right information about SM Investment Corp.’s investments, subsidiaries and future projects is relayed to both major and minor stockholders in a timely and appropriate manner. Today, this includes social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. “You can’t discount the power of social media,” Guidote observes. “It can’t be ignored. It has become the norm.”
Working beside one of Asia’s unique business mavericks and the heir presumptive to the SM empire, Tessie Sy-Coson, has provided Guidote a front row seat to a first-class mind. “She’s exciting and dynamic. She’s an innovator, who will never let you sit on your laurels. The world is moving fast, and she and her team have to move fast as well.
“She’s always concerned about how to grow the company as it’s accountable to its investors. Do I see her father (Henry T. Sy Sr.) in her – yes, because she is a dreamer like he was. She dreamed of making BDO (legally known as BDO Unibank, Inc.) big, and she did, with her father’s support. In her success, she takes everyone with her.”
Apparently, the patriarch handed down the work DNA not only to his eldest child, Tessie, but also to the rest of his children Elizabeth, Henry, Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley. “They are all industrious and enjoy what they’re doing,” says Guidote.
Well aware of that life can be fleeting, Guidote embraces her yen for travel when the schedule permits. “I became adventurous after I nearly died. When I want to do something, I just do it.”
After having visited the usual tourism icons, she has now moved on to destinations that she describes “as more spiritually guided – a soul calling of sorts.” Ayers Rock, Australia’s Northern Territory, our own Banaue Rice Terraces and most recently, Lake Baikal in Siberia, the world’s oldest, biggest and deepest freshwater lake fall under this unusual category. Peru will be next.
With her trusty Canon G3X, Guidote brings home photo mementoes of her varied journeys, some of which she has packaged in a nifty journal that combines her images with a calendar and vignettes of a place. Her records of Tubbataha Reef, Sipadan, Ayers Rock and Banaue have delighted family and friends, who have been lucky enough to receive them.
If Guidote had to give advice to her younger self, what would that be?
Without missing a beat, she says: “Live each day to the fullest and count your blessings.”
Thank you for reminding us, Cora.
Guidote’s motto: Carpe Diem! Make it yours, too
• I almost died twice, which makes me appreciate every second and every minute of every day.
• Make the most of what life has to offer you.
• Be adventurous. Travel. See the world.
• If you want to do something, do it!
• During adversity, it’s very easy to fall into the pit and focus on the darkness. Why not look up to the light?
• Count your blessings, always count your blessings.