Fernando Zobel de Ayala

30 Jun 2006 by intern11

Fernando Zobel de Ayala, 46, newly appointed president and chief operating officer of Ayala Corporation – the Philippines’ oldest and among its most diversified conglomerates – belongs to the seventh generation of Zobels, which traces its roots to Spain but found vast fortune in Asia.

In April, his father, affectionately known as “Don Jaime” – Ayala’s most visible icon for decades – retired as chairman and passed on the leadership of the 172-year-old company to Fernando and his older brother Jaime Augusto, who took over the chairman’s seat.

FZA and JAZA, as their colleagues call them, have big plans for Ayala Corp, which has interests in banking, real estate, infrastructure development, telecommunications, water distribution and semiconductor manufacturing. Tina Arceo-Dumlao recently caught up with the Harvard and Insead (of France) graduate and father of four and listened to his thoughts on where he wants to take the organisation in this millennium and the importance of being true to the family name.

Which place holds the fondest memories for you?

That would have to be our farm in Calatagan, Batangas. Our family has had so many happy memories there. Whenever we have a free weekend, we go there. Several family members have their houses there so it’s a great place for us – our kids, cousins and friends – to gather there.

What won’t you travel without?

My iPod.

And how often do you travel, for business and for leisure?

Once a month for business and a couple of times a year for pleasure.

What’s your idea of a fun weekend?

A motorbike trip or dinner with friends, an out of town weekend trip with my wife and kids. My wife and I enjoy visiting art galleries and antique dealers.

What activity do you do when you’re on a business trip that’s not related to business at all?

If I have time, I go to the national museum of the country. (editor's note: The Ayalas have always long been art patrons and the new Ayala Museum in Manila’s financial hub, Makati City, is a testimony of this commitment.) 

Which places haven’t you been to and you yearn to visit?

Many. Within Asia, Cambodia, Bhutan and Nepal. I would also like to visit countries in Eastern Europe. My father gave us the opportunity to travel to interesting places from a very early age.

On the business side, where do you want to steer Ayala Corp as president and COO?

We have been in a whole variety of businesses over the years so I’d rather not try to say what specific businesses we will move into in the future. This will depend on the business environment and the opportunities that we see.

I do however believe that one of the most important contributors to our success has been our ability to attract and retain the best managers and our ability to bring in the most appropriate partners for the businesses that we invest in. I will certainly do everything I can to make sure that this continues.

What were the most valuable lessons learned from your father that now help you in your new job?

There were many, but perhaps the most important was the value of trust in an institution or brand. He always reminded us that it takes a long time to build trust and it takes very little to lose it.

My father is not a person who tells you what to do; he gives you his opinion. And in moments of making difficult choices, his advice has always been: “Do what you think is right.” And the decision then flows from there and the pieces fall into place.

How did it feel to be constantly scrutinised by people who were sizing you up and wondering if you got the job because you were right for it or because you were part of the family?

There was always pressure. Interestingly, my father rarely talked about business while we were in school. It was not something (our entering the company) that was assumed at any point. It was only towards the end of our education he shared with us his fear that if we started our careers abroad, it might be difficult for us to return. He asked us then to come back and try it out, and if we liked it, we could stay, and if we didn’t, he would understand.

One more thing, please share a personal tip to make a business trip less stressful.

Take evening flights and fly on Cathay Pacific! You’ll get to your destination relaxed and happy.

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