Having “Lacson” appended to one’s name may both be impressive and daunting. Living up to its legacy could be a challenge.
For Dr. Ronald Raymond Lacson-Sebastian, grandson of the renowned master mariner and decorated coast guardsman who founded the John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University (JBLFMU), Juan Bautista Lacson, carrying through the legacy of their family is inherent for the preservation of the Philippine’s reputation as one of the best seafaring countries.
“[S]ince I was little, I have always been aware of the responsibility of helming the school that would soon be passed on to us [my sister Terry and I],” Sebastian said, referring to JBLFMU, the Iloilo-based maritime institution that is considered as one of the finest in the country.
“I knew that one day, I had to return to continue the legacy of my grandfather. In that sense, the attraction for me to work here was the passion I had to see my grandfather’s legacy carried through,” he added.
Capt. Juan Bautista Lacson established the Iloilo Maritime Academy, what will be later known as the JBLFMU, when the second World War ended. The school was intended for the underprivileged boys who wish to go to sea. He also paved the way for making Iloilo known as the Seafarer’s Capital of the Philippines.
Such heritage was passed-on to his children until one of his daughters, MaryLou, took the helm of JBLFMU in the early 90s and molded it to what it is today — an innovator and trendsetter in the field of Philippine maritime education.
When Dr. Mary Lou Lacson-Arcelo passed on the baton of leadership to her son Ronald in 2009, JBLFMU already accounts for about 12 percent of the country’s total seafarers deployed overseas, or close to 50,000 in numbers.
The expectations from Sebastian were high and the challenge to retain the university’s national reputation was taxing.
For someone who has spent most of his young professional life working as an information technology (IT) specialist for an organization in Manila, the challenge was clear and simple — go back home to Iloilo and prove himself to be on the same level of leadership as his grandfather and mother.
“The first challenge was acceptance; to be accepted by the university community who, for 35 years, worked with my mother.” Sebastian recalled. “We have vastly different management styles so the hurdle was to prove myself and my way of working that would also be amenable and conducive for the growth of the institution,” he added.
Another test in his leadership skill was maintaining the school’s reputation of being the best.
“This is a challenge in itself. You have to constantly be abreast of everything. You have to always be at the forefront of change, of innovation. You have to be a vanguard. That is why we pride ourselves on staying true to our brand as The Maritime Vanguard because it perfectly encapsulates what we do as front-liners in maritime education. We are always looking to improve and initiate good change. Every day is always an opportunity to move on from past victories and to not be complacent. As they say, once you are on top, it’s harder to stay on top. ”
When the ripples of change-management cleared, the young CEO brought something new to the table — he incorporated his expertise in the latest technology to the icon that is already JBLFMU.
“Another challenge was to bring JBLFMU into the 21st century by incorporating modern information technology into the management system. I have always believed in the power of using tri-media content and I felt that it was necessary for the institution to rebrand the practice of maritime into a noble and preferred profession by having our own media production center that produces material about us and can be used as a broadcast platform of all things maritime,” he said.
In less than 10 years since he took the helm of the school, JBLMFU has reached greater heights and remained at the forefront of delivering quality education and training.
Sebastian’s innovative leadership advanced JBLFMU to new frontiers, making it known today as the “Vanguard of Maritime Education.”
In fact, it has pioneered in several areas such as being the first to forge partnership with the Norwegian Shipowners’ Associations Cadetship Program, installing a large-scale solar panel to reduce the school’s carbon footprint, buying a new training ship for its cadets, being the first Philippine school to become a member of the International Association of Maritime Universities (IAMU), keeping up with international quality standards, and establishing an eco-park and mangrove marine sanctuary in Guimaras.
An advocate for pollution-free Philippines
As much as running the family business takes the most of his schedule, Sebastian finds time to promote his personal advocacy for a pollution and traffic-free country. Outside his striking demeanor as a CEO with the daunting appearance of an aristocratic pedigree, Sebastian, known to his friends as Ron, sweats it out as an avid biker.
“I have always believed that one way to decongest the country’s problems w ith traffic and pollution is to make our roads safer for cyclists. I am a big supporter of Share the Road Movement. As such, I have always looked at spearheading activities and endeavors that trumpet the benefits of biking over motorized transport.
“Two of my favorite projects have been the Iloilo Bike Festival and Guimaras: Bike Paradise of the Philippines. The former I proposed to the Iloilo City Government and is now in its third year. The latter is a community extension program of JBLFMU that is implemented by the whole island province of Guimaras and has been ongoing since 2014,” he said.
Sebastian received the Bayanihan sa Daan Award for both projects, a recognition given to individuals whose contribution to road-sharing efforts have impacted the community on a large scale.
Sebastian is also currently the district director of the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary District Western Visayas, the uniformed-civilian volunteer arm of the PCG, with the rank of Commodore.