Monday, December 29, 2003

New Year's Resolutions for Entrepreneurs

Business Times p.B2
Monday, December 29, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
New Year’s resolutions for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs and their organizations can benefit from committing to New Year’s resolutions. Here are some suggestions inspired by the book If I really Wanted to Simplify My Life I Would (Lighthouse Books, 2000). This column will come in two installments: today and January 9, which coincides with the start of the Management page’s transfer to Fridays.

Recharge. Spending this week in Bagalangit, Mabini, Batangas, is my most relaxing Christmas ever. That’s because I bought my Christmas gifts for clients, friends and relatives at every opportunity I had all throughout the year. Come December, I only needed to buy a few additional pieces and sent them out early in the month. By the week of Christmas, my hands were free.

I also kept out of parties where my absence would not be noticeable. That gave me time to recharge, enjoy Christmas with my family and get ready for next year’s business.

Encourage your employees to do the same. No need to work them to exhaustion. You and they are more productive when rested and relaxed. When you can appreciate the beauty of the rising and setting sun, you can appreciate life and business better.

Revisit your strategy. Are you happy where and how your business is going? A strategy, no matter how strategic, is not written in stone. You may reword, revise, refit, even change it altogether. Create your own identity. But give it chance to bloom first. If after doing everything, nothing happens, then it is time to go back to the drawing board and review your strategic plans. Don’t change your strategic intent at a whim, though.

Implement your strategy. Stop just trying to keep up with competition. Plan your implementation and act on your strategy. Do keep up with the needs of your clients. Involve your employees in planning, particularly those who will eventually do the job. Set up realistic goals. Determine performance measures and milestones.

Reward your top performers. Set up a system for recognizing and rewarding your top performers. Reward them generously. You’ll get it back with their loyalty and higher productivity.

In the same breath, say goodbye to your slackers. You can’t afford deadwoods and those who simply mark time. Business is not usual. Give them early retirement. Maintain their self-esteem and friendship.

Clean and clear up. Keep a live and up-to-the-minute inventory of your materials, supplies, equipment, etc. An old computer will only slow your business down and will cost you a lot in maintenance and lost man-hours due to machine downtime.

A friend of mine discovered to her horror that she had expensive goods that must have been sat in her warehouse for at least five years. There are no more buyers for such equipment parts because her client had changed machineries some time ago.

The saying “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” is true in personal life and in business. Do general housekeeping regularly and get rid of unnecessary materials, supplies or equipment you might have. Keeping them will not save you anything because they only take up expensive office space.

Set yourself free with the truth. Speak the truth and nothing but. Maintain only one truthful book of accounts. Remember Enron. Remember the Law of Karma.

Truth establishes the integrity of your business as well as your personal integrity. It makes for lasting business relationships with your clients, creditors and employees.

Get regular organizational check-ups. Have regular meetings with your staff to assess not only your bottom line but also how well your organization is functioning in terms of your strategy, businesses systems and processes, leadership style, structure, teamwork and the general culture of your organization.

If you have more than fifty employees, hire professionals to do a climate survey for you. It will be worth your investment. You may also want to do a customer satisfaction survey. Likewise, it will be wise to keep a running dialog with your own suppliers.

Choose employees who do not need much supervision. Attract employees who are more intelligent than you, more organized than you, more innovative than you, etc.

Hire them, give them a good job orientation, pay them the higher-than-industry average or your nearest competition’s compensation, give them the requisite tools and supplies, train and develop them, talk to them not only about business but also about everything else, get to know more about them especially where they tickle, give them challenging tasks, reward them for good performance.

Presto, your business is in good hands and you can play golf as much as you want.

Put things back where they belong. There is this admonition posted at the WWF Staff House in Batangas: Don’t take anything and don’t leave anything behind you.

That’s a good rule to adapt in business, too. If they are not consumable, put things back where you got them. Confusion in the work area arises when things are misplaced and cannot be located when needed. Plan your workplace, every single part of it including people, furniture, files, fixtures, equipment, tools, supplies and others. Plan space and ambiance for productive interactions with clients and among employees.

Keep photocopies of important documents and keep the original in a safe place. Most companies you deal with--government regulatory bodies, customers, creditors, even suppliers--would invariably ask for your business papers. Be prepared with extra hard copies or electronic copies of your SEC or DTI registration, city or municipal mayor’s permit, income tax return, community tax receipt, and others.

Do the same for your personal driver’s license, credit cards, SSS & BIR IDs, and passport. In case you lose them, it is easier to get a replacement if you have the duplicate copy.

Trust God. Nothing is done without His permission. Helen Armstrong wrote, “Coincidence is the pseudonym God uses when He doesn’t want to sign His name.”

Let’s celebrate and enjoy the New Year festivities safely in the love of our family and friends.

(Moje Ramos-Aquino believes in honoring and keeping Christmas in her heart for everybody all days of her life. Her email address is

Monday, December 22, 2003

Winners cultivate core competencies

Business Times p.B5
Monday, December 22, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Winners cultivate core competencies

THIS past two weeks have been very hectic for me—last minute shopping, wrapping gifts, rounds of early parties, setting up our Christmas tree and other decorations, keeping doctor appointments, tying up loose ends that were kept hanging the whole year, beating deadlines, entertaining a guest from South Africa and relatives from Bicol, meetings with clients, and a thousand others. Hingal!

Organizations, I presume, are a hundredfold more busy.

McGraw-Hill executives Estela Khan, Jenny Javier and Myla Gonzales say they are running after their sales target, which seems to outrun them at every bend. Even the bakeshop and sari-sari (retail) stores in our Sta. Mesa neighborhood are very active.

Yet, some business organizations seem to be less popular than others.

In rows and rows of stores inside the malls and tiangges, people seem to flock to certain shops while they shun others. These shops carry the same products as the others. They are also dressed for Christmas. They even offer special discounts and promos. Yet… Bakit kaya?

Organizations whether business, social, religious or others, have good, albeit strategic, intent. Everybody is excited and everyone is go, go, go.

Best time to settle down and identify what will set them apart from other organizations. These distinctive competencies are what “Mastering Strategy” (McGraw-Hill, 2003) authors Jeffrey Rigsby and Guy Greco refer to as creating competitive advantage, enhancing customer value and expanding market position.

Mulco Manyama from South Africa was here to meet with the Asian Institute of Management for possible partnership to bring AIM to Africa.

I posed several questions for him: Why do you have to go into business when you already have a steady executive job compared to the risks of owning a business? Why AIM? Why come here all the way from South Africa for a one-hour meeting when you can do it over the telephone? Why invest so much for business operations?

His only reply was: “We are in business to win.”

What makes some businesses win and others lose?

Christmas brings with it a season of songs. I am happy to listen to two impeccable musical groups. One is the internationally acclaimed Loboc Children’s Choir from Bohol and the other is the newly formed John Y Cash & the Jukebox Band of Metro Manila.

The Loboc Children’s Choir (LCC) bested 12 adult choirs from USA and Europe and came home with two gold medals at the recently concluded Europe and its Songs 6th International Folksong Choir Festival, which was held this year in Barcelona, Spain, from September 17 to 21, 2003.

The international jury awarded the LCC the Europe and its Songs 2003 Cup for having achieved the overall highest mark in all categories, surpassing the marks of twelve other international choirs.

This year, the LCC is composed of 26 kids ages 10 to 13 from the Loboc Central Elementary School. The choir is under the musical direction of Madam Alma Fernando Taldo and is accompanied on the piano by Madam Baby Lina Jala.

The Jukebox is composed of Cash Manalang (broker, soloist and basist), John Lesaca (accomplished musician, musical director and soloist), Roddy Peñalosa (chairman of the Professional Regulatory Board for Electrical Engineers, soloist and drummer), Tony Sabalza (professional singer, soloist and percussionist), Carlo Gaa (drummer), Lauro Alcala (drummer), Roy Marinduque (voice and lead guitarist) and Leo Ibarra (keyboard player)

Both musical groups claim that their only reason for being is to achieve excellence in the music they love. They are driven by their product—music.

To hone their music to excellence and make them winners, they cultivate their core competences. As musical groups, it is a given that they have to have good musical voice.

As a requirement, the competing choirs sang one country folksong and one European folksong. Loboc parish priest Fr. Desiderio Magdoza said that one of their distinct advantage over the other choirs is that they sang La Pastoreta, a Catalan folksong, knowing that the competition will be watched mostly by Catalan-speaking audience because the venue of the competition was in Barcelona Spain. The other choirs sang folksongs from various parts of Europe, not Spain.

Attention to customer uniqueness and needs is one of their unique capability. No wonder the LCC is a winner.

Customer intimacy is what the Jukebox also want to develop as their core competence. That is why Roddy, Tony, John and Cash kept on prodding their audience for their requested songs. Cash says, “Thank you for your requests. We need them. They give us ideas.”

They don’t just communicate with their audience, they engage them in a dialogue all night. The Co-Intelligence Institute declares that not all communication is dialogue.

Dialogue is shared exploration towards greater understanding, connection, or possibility.

The Jukebox band members actually converse with their audience and dissolves the boundaries between performer and audience. It is like you are part of their group and they are singing with you.

Likewise, Roddy says that one of their distinct advantage over other bands is their detailed rendition of the songs, i.e. voicing in accordance almost to the original music including background voices, solo and musical background. They render the true sounds of whatever retro songs they are singing—Beatles, Chicago, Ides of March, Association, Lettermen, Beach Boys and other popular songs of the 60s and 70s.

The Loboc Children’s Choir performs the following repertoire of songs: Ampeu Se-lo by James Swu; Ugoy sa Duyan by Lucio San Pedro; La Pastoreta a Catalan folksong arranged by Ed Manguiat; Leron Leron Sinta, a Tagalog Folk song; and Ave Maria by Gustav Holst, among others.

Like the Loboc Children’s Choir, John Y Cash and the Jukebox are very selective of the songs they sing. These songs are easy on the ears and the psyche. They are melodious. Makes you feel like dancing and celebrating, too.

Catch the children of Loboc in Loboc Central Elementary School, Bohol, when they are not touring. They are worth the trip.

See you at Bykes Café, Pasong Tamo, Makati, on December 30 for a night of excellent music, lively company and good food.

Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones from all of us—my sons Ronjie and Adrian, brothers Jess and Jimmy and Nanay Ning. My next song…

Moje Ramos-Aquino honors and keeps Christmas in her heart all days of her life. Her email address is

Monday, December 15, 2003

Best leaders are good servants

Business Times pB.5
Monday, December 15, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Best leaders are good servants: Most are found in soup kitchens

IN Barangay Commonwealth on Saturday, 250 elementary pupils and preschoolers, their teachers and administrators played hosts to their visiting benefactors from Japan. These are Messrs. Masahiko Fujii and Yoshio Nakajima from the Rotary Club of Tokyo-Koto.

The children and teachers expressed their wholehearted gratitude to the visiting Rotarians by way of a medley of Filipino and Japanese songs and dances. Fujii-san and Nakajima-san responded with a $30,000-donation to the Light House Center for Children Foundation Inc., (actually the fourth donation totaling US$120,000) and gifts of cash and goodies for each student.

Light House is one of the many service and fund-raising organizations under the Rotary Soup Kitchen, Food Bank and Training Center Inc. This is a project of the Rotary Club of Quezon City North under the indefatigable leadership of Charter president Judge Lore Veneracion.

The Soup Kitchen is a service concept-driven organization. It’s sole purpose is to serve the community, especially the young ones. As such, they have various services that cater to children’s needs such education, counseling, food, water and shelter.

Their major headquarters and facilities are in the NGC Housing Project, Barangay Commonwealth. They also extend their services to the children of Payatas District.

To grow their commitment and remain financially viable, they focus on three areas of excellence: servant-leadership, quality of service and fund sourcing and management.

The Soup Kitchen started from the heart of Judge Lore nurtured with big doses of financial help from his various friends and the members of RCQC-North. Judge Lore, some Rotarians and the Soup Kitchen employees are volunteers, albeit servant-leaders all.

As Robert Greenleaf, the man who coined the phrase, described servant-leadership: “Servant-Leadership is a practical philo-sophy which supports people who choose to serve first, and then lead as a way of expanding service to individuals and institutions. Servant-leaders may or may not hold formal leadership positions. Servant-leadership encourages collaboration, trust, foresight, listening, and the ethical use of power and empowerment.

“The best test of a servant leader, and difficult to administer, is: do those served grow as persons; do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or, at least, will they not be further deprived?”

Judge Lore and his team seem to heed the advise of Muriel Siebert, founder of Muriel Siebert and Co. Inc., “when good things happen, you owe.”

Serving the poor among us does not mean giving them leftovers or rendering sloppy service. The Soup Kitchen provides quality service and products. Among the educational assistance they offer are elementary and high school instruction, short-term courses such as basic computing, computer technician course, programming and web design and college scholarship program. They have state-of-the-art computers, thousands of textbooks and reference books and other amenities.

These services are not for free. They are subsidized, i.e. offered at about one-twentieth of the commercial price. The Soup Kitchen is a helping organization; it’s not a dole-out outfit. They want to give the poor the dignity to rise above their situation. For meritorious cases, they waive their meager fee.

They have a daily feeding for free for 645 very young kids from various barangays in Payatas. The Light House, when fully constructed, will serve as classrooms and half-way house for street children. They also serve the kids’ moms by way of a revolving fund to assist them acquire sewing machine in a lease-to-own basis plus free sewing and mothering lessons.

I’ve heard Judge Lore say many times over the years: “We need money for salaries and wages, building construction and repairs, facilities upkeep, utilities and many, many other expenses; but I don’t worry. I just look up and ask Him to take charge and send me the money in His own way and His own time. He always delivers on time through our various donors and patrons. We are blessed.”

Not to burden Him a lot, the Soup Kitchen also do income-generating ventures like water refilling stations, bakery (their cheese bread and monay are terrific), mami house, canteen service and waste management venture that produces organic fertilizer.

All their major donors are from Japan, USA and Australia, mostly Rotarians. These are the network of friends of Judge Lore. Some, like Messrs. Fujii and Nakajima, heard about the good judge when the story of his refusal to impose the death penalty landed in the front page of major dailies all over the world. He lost the chance of promotion because of pro-death politicians; but he gained a big number of admirers all over the world for his firm pro-life stand.

The lost of our judiciary is the gain of the poor. Noel Tichy, professor at the University of Michigan Business School, said, “the most effective leaders are in touch with their personal stories.” And these stories earn for Judge Lore and the Soup Kitchen the trust and money of kind-hearted donors.

You, too, may get involved and contribute in your own way to make the Soup Kitchen a growing success. You may donate your time, effort and/or money, whichever you have in abundance and will lovingly give. You may buy their products. Their telephone number is 930-4262 and 430-7666.

(Moje Ramos-Aquino endeavors to honor and keep Christmas in her heart all days of her life. Her email address is

Monday, December 8, 2003

Divisoria cuts across the market divide

Business Times p.B5
Monday, December 8, 2003

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Divisoria cuts across the market divide

I’VE been to Divisoria thrice to shop for some Christmas gifts. And really, the prices of goods sold there are amazingly low and affordable. Plus, the variety is wide-ranging.

There is no place in Metro Manila that offers such diverse and low-priced products. When you are in Divi, you don’t think of the peso as equal to $55.40. It is a place where you could literally stretch your hard-earned money.

They normally quote two prices, one for retail and another for wholesale. If you get three or more, you get the wholesale price. But with some lambing, you could get one piece for the price of wholesale.

My experience is that the best time to go there, especially nowadays, is in the morning. Some shops open as early as 7 o’clock. If you go there by noon or in the afternoon, you could hardly walk around because the place swarms with people, goods, and vehicles.

While in other places, businessmen are taking advantage of the season and the generosity of people, Divisoria prices remain as low as can be all year round. No wonder people enjoy going there notwithstanding the hassle. Go there in walking clothes and shoes minus your trinkets.

The shop owners at Divisoria are real entrepreneurs. They have the hearts of their customers in their minds. They know the latest trends in toys, clothes, footwear, decors, foods, gift items, etcetera, etcetera. I enjoy checking out the goods they sell and how they go about their business.

As Elaine Dundon, author of Seeds of Innovation says: “The most innovative organizations are focused on high impact projects that strengthen their competitive advantage.”

They say yes to projects that support their unique strategic direction and say no to “low impact” projects that waste valuable resources that could otherwise be applied to more important projects. Strategically speaking, they know that it is better to focus their resources on the completion of 5 high impact initiatives rather than on 15 medium or low impact projects.

As Sun Tzu once advised, “You need to narrow your focus in order to be strong.”

Elaine asks: “In this connection, has your team determined which projects to fund and, importantly, which to discontinue?”

“Has your team determined which products and services should receive maximum support and which to eliminate; which customer groups to support and which to ignore; and which regions to support and which to ignore?,” she added. “Or, is your team trying to do too much and, in doing so, diluting the effect(s) of its efforts?”

The Divi entrepreneurs do not pretend to offer high-end products nor do they deliberately attract the moneyed class. But it is not surprising to find people there from all economic strata standing shoulder-to-shoulder engage in the wonderful game of haggling unmindful of each other’s economic, social, political and other status.

Most shops in Divi are production capacity/capability-driven. Anything that they could sell in their stall, averaging 3 meter by 5 meter, they sell. The idea is to offer as many products or variations of the same products and keep on replenishing their display to attract customers.

My friend is arguing that these Divi entrepreneurs are driven by market or user type. But looking at their product offerings at, say Divisoria Mall, they answer to a variety of needs of a variety of customers, not just one category of customers.

You don’t hear the word suki anymore. They don’t seem to want to cultivate customer loyalty as an area of excellence. Neither do customers want to go back to the same store again, with a hundred other stores offering the same products at the same or, maybe lower prices.

They maximize their profits by filling their stalls with all sorts of goodies and selling them as quickly as they could.

Tara na sa Divisoria.

Moje enjoys Christmas and endeavors to keep it everyday of the year. You may email her at

Monday, December 1, 2003

Prioritize Critical Skills

Monday, December 1, 2003
Business Times p.B5

By Moje Ramos-Aquino
Prioritize critical skills

MICHEL Robert writes that one strategic decision that management must wrestle with, once the driving force has been identified, is to clearly identify those two or three skills that are critical and to give those areas preferential resources.

In good times, he says in his book Strategy Pure & Simple, these areas receive additional resources; in bad times they are the last areas you cut.

Robert gave as an example technology-driven company 3M. When Alan Jacobsen took over as chief executive, he set about to improve 3M's profitability and asked all his division heads to cut expenses by as much as 35 percent. But he spared R&D expenditures.

"In fact, he increased R&D from 4.5 percent of sales to 6.6 percent," Robert wrote. "The reason given was that research is a required area of excellence for a technology-driven company."

"Ever since then, 3M has been on a roll, spitting out 300 to 400 new products each year, and its stock has more than doubled in the last five years," Robert added.

My own example is a very young and robust organization at the Clark Special Economic Zone (CSEZ): DevCo Philippines Inc. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Wallem Group, which is headquartered at Taikoo Place, Hong Kong. To all shipping companies in the world, Wallem is known for its agency network covering all major ports in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and, soon, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Wallem Group's information services department is one of maritime industry's leading technology groups. In 1999, Wallem's executive board decided to relocate this ISD's development effort to a local that was more cost effective and more scalable in terms of development throughput. DevCo was incorporated in the Philippines in October 2000.

DevCo is a technology-driven organization toward application development and support, presently as they relate to the maritime industry. As such two of their areas of excellence are technical skills and project management skills.

DevCo's technical skills on software development are predominantly Microsoft-based with specialization on Internet and PKI technologies. They chose to locate in the Philippines, particularly in CSEZ, because of its proximity to four of the Philippines major universities, vast pool of skilled technology professionals and the English proficiency of Filipinos. They consider the Philippines as having an extremely deep pool of skilled technical resources. With the correct leadtime, almost any technical requirement could be satisfied.

DevCo's team is made up of young, enthusiastic and dynamic professions who are amongst the best available in the Philippines. A seasoned management team complements this young team. All 46 technical and support staff are trained formally and on-the-job on leadership and project management skills with coaching from the senior managers.

To ensure that projects are managed efficiently and effectively, DevCo is in the process of formulating SEI-CMM compliant software Policy centered key process areas of project management: requirements management, software project planning, software project tracking and oversight, software quality assurance, software subcontract management and software configuration management.

They are focused on their two areas of excellence in order to push themselves to higher levels of proficiency. They intend to double their operations in their current facility soon while maximizing their resources and taking their technology into new applications and new clients.

One other technology-driven company which is fueled by research, one of its core competences, is the current number one search engine in the Internet today. To quote Jonathan Rosenberg, vice president of Google "Everyone spends a fraction of their day on R&D."

Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp and assists organizations in their Strategic Thinking and Planning Initiatives. Her email address is