Secretary Gregory Domingo combines the perfect ingredients to make the Philippines a delicious investment
For someone who hadn’t a clue what to do in the kitchen, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Gregory Domingo now cooks a mean dish of sinigang beef ribs.
His culinary journey towards formulating the perfect ingredients for this classic Pinoy comfort food—and eventually a host of other native dishes—initially sprung from his love for country.
Domingo had just begun graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in the United States when he found himself yearning for everything Filipino.
“I didn’t know how to cook when I went to the US,” the results-oriented cabinet secretary recalled to The Sunday Times Magazine. “Whenever I missed Filipino food, I kept trying to cook sinigang until I finally cooked it well.
“These days, I can cook a few other dishes because I already know some principles in cooking,” the self-confessed foodie humbly added.
A full-time scholar at the prestigious American business school, Domingo had also mastered his way around the kitchen by the time he secured his diploma for Master of Science in Operations Research in 1982.
Clearly a methodical and meticulous worker, Domingo applies this very approach in all the undertakings and goals he sets his mind to. If he began with finding the right ingredients and procedure in perfecting his beef ribs sinigang when he decided to become his own chef, he also treaded the same course when President Benigno Aquino 3rd appointed him as Trade secretary in July 2010.
“I was essentially mandated to create a good business environment, generate employment and protect the consumers,” Domingo elaborated.
And as he detailed to Leaders Magazine in its 2013 fourth quarter issue, Domingo first identified the nation’s strengths to fulfill his task of attracting investors to the Philippines.
“Our strongest suit is our people,” he was quoted. “When the Department of Trade and Industry promotes investment, our tagline is, ‘Your business, our people,’ because that captures in essence what the Philippines is known for.”
He then figured out the industries that offer the “greatest opportunity for foreign investment,” namely the business process management industry and manufacturing, and then strategized specific plans on how to market these to investors.
Domingo’s compendium of ideas is just as systematic by the way, ranging from small scale to big scale. In promoting Philippine-made products, he begins in his very office, which is a veritable showcase of local ingenuity and excellence.
All the furniture—from the sofas to the armchairs, to center tables and accessories—come from the collections of Filipino world-class furniture designers, such as Ann Pamintuan and Kenneth Cobonpue, among others.
“I usually entertain visiting investors in this office, so I thought of showcasing Filipino-made furniture so they can see what Filipinos are capable of doing,” he explained.
Raising the bar
Secretary Domingo, who once joined the DTI-Industry and Investment Group (IIG) Undersecretary and Board of Investments (BOI) managing head, further knows that another strength of the DTI are its regional, national and international trade fairs. These comprise his larger-scale projects.
“We conduct many regional and national trade fairs, as well as international ones. The flagship fair is ‘Manila Fame,’ which we conduct twice a year,” he informed.
Manila Fame is Asia’s only design and lifestyle event that caters to a wide variety of exceptionally handcrafted products, from furniture and furnishings to décor and fashion.
“I must say that since 2010 we have brought up Manila Fame to a truly international standard. Now we see hundreds of foreign buyers who come regularly to our flagship fair to look at what Philippines has to offer again and again,” he said with pride.
The DTI’s success in raising the bar of Philippine trade fairs, according to the secretary, was due to their move to change the format of a straightforward national fair in to a specialized one.
“This is where our local delicacies take the spotlight,” Domingo singled out. “Visitors to our trade fairs can now expect ‘specialized Filipino food’ in the way they are presented by region such as the bagnet in Ilocos to the suka from Iligan, among others, all designed and packaged using international standards.”
Himself an incessant learner, Secretary Domingo has also ensured that the DTI, under his watch, provides continuous seminars and training sessions for the Filipino entrepreneur and manufacturer, with the help of the Design Center of the Philippines. This is one of the bureaus of the DTI that is mandated to promote industrial design as a tool for improving the quality and competitiveness of Philippine products, while servicing the design needs and requirements of small and medium enterprises at the same time.
Consequently, one of the secretary’s pet projects is the propagation of small businesses or the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). He told The Sunday Times Magazine that direct interventions are being implemented to help this industry along, one of which is the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) Program.
The SSF has been specially formed for manufacturers in the countryside to help them improve their production capacity and therefore allow them to compete with bigger businesses.
According to Secretary Domingo, the DTI is planning to put up 700 SSF centers nationwide for these micro-businesses in small communities.
“We provide free machines and other assistance to these community-based entrepreneurs,” he elaborated, while noting that more than 90 percent of the registered businesses in the country are MSMEs.
With such programs in place to create a good business environment across the country, Secretary Domingo also makes sure that the DTI is not isolated from other immediate concerns of the government.
For example, following the devastation of Super Typhoon Yolanda in Central Visayas, the agency reacted quickly played a very significant role in providing assistance to victims through the Diskwento Caravans (Discount Caravans).
Domingo explained, “This is a public service conducted by the DTI in partnership with big manufacturers and/or distributors wherein goods are sold to consumers at discounted prices. It is also an act of public service by our partners as most of them do not make money in the Diskwento Caravan activities.”
For the families affected by the super typhoon, truckloads of bread, canned milk, assorted canned goods, beverages and personal products, as well as construction materials were sold in Samar and Leyte.
Outside emergency situations, the secretary constantly makes sure that the DTI protects the consumers’ rights by monitoring and regulating prices of basic commodities.
“This is another responsibility of the DTI, which we take very seriously,” Domingo declared.
To head the DTI entails a seemingly endless list of tasks, but since his appointment to the agency, Secretary Domingo has been credited for ably juggling these responsibilities, and more importantly instigating remarkable changes in the business and consumer landscapes of the country.
And just like finding special ingredients for his hobby of cooking, he also scours for qualified and self-motivated staffers to help him come up with the best plans for the agency, and more importantly assist him in implementation.
“At first, I tell them what needs to be done, and then I leave them to work on their own,” he explained.
The Management Engineering graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University credits his extensive experience in both the private and public business sectors in providing him the tools to lead the DTI.
His very first employment was with an advertising agency and then with accounting giant SGV, after which he took his Master in Business Management at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) before attending Wharton.
A well-rounded manager and financial whiz, Domingo went on to work for Chase Manhattan Bank (Manila), Chemical Bank (New York), and other financial institutions in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and New York including First Boston, Drexel Burnham Lambert, and Mellon Bank.
He has also served as director to private companies, among them the SM Investments Corporation, BDO Private Bank, Belle Corp., Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club, Pampanga Sugar Development Company, Carmelray-JTCI Corp., and Meralco.
He also believes that consciously making an effort to lead a balanced life complements his leadership at the DTI. He makes it a point to spend quality time with his wife Rowena, a businesswoman and of course his pride and joy, his children. He is also smitten with his only grandchild to date, a lovely little lady named Lucy.
“I’m blessed to have four children,” the secretary shared. “My eldest girl is Sophie who is working at the Department of Finance; Bobby is into software development; Migi is also into software development and a high-end skin care product business; while the youngest Chrissy is still studying at the Ateneo de Manila University.”
His stress-buster, as expected, is tinkering in the kitchen. And while he is unable to cook his beef ribs sinigang as often as he wants to, Secretary Gregory Domingo just makes sure he leads his life in the same way he was inspired to whip up his favorite dish. By starting off everything he does with his love for country.