Interview of JV Wong with GLENN YU (President and CEO of SEAOIL Philippines, Inc.) A Special Father’s Day Issue released last June, 2016 in the People Manager Magazine of PMAP (People Management Association of the Philippines) Thank you People Manager Magazine Editor-in-Chief Boris Joaquin and Sir Glenn Yu for allowing us to share this interview in our FB page. Thank you Richard Mamuyac for your help during the interview.
One role I love to do for the past five years is to interview thought leaders from different backgrounds, expertise and industries. I have to say that this interview with Glenn Yu is one of the most memorable, touching and life-changing interviews for me.
Glenn’s genuine manner of telling his stories and his evident simplicity when engaging with us are so endearing that we did not realize our interview had gone beyond 30 minutes. Both Richard Mamuyac, our managing editor of the magazine, and I agreed that more than just gathering information about the interviewee, we felt we were destined to meet him and be positively ignited by Glenn’s persona and principles.
What’s my take away from this interview? One can never go wrong with humility in action, deep well of gratitude, love for continuous learning, and putting our families first.
Let’s get to know the secrets of success through the life stories of Glenn.
JV: How do you get your inspiration in leading your SEAOIL team?
GY: I get my inspiration from a clear understanding of the PURPOSE OF WORK, and being ALIGNED to that purpose. One would think, “How can I make this business sustainable?” You are really answering the wrong question. While that is important, I think that you need to answer the primary question first of “Why am I here working? What is my purpose in working?” For me, these questions are more important for us to reflect on. I remember the quote of Barrack Obama when he was still a senator, prior to becoming the president of the United States of America. He said, “Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself, and it will leave you unfulfilled.” (Barack Obama speech, July 12, 2006) Basically, what he is trying to say is that the profit motive is too shallow of an ambition to get into business. That’s where I am coming from in terms of purpose, and for Sea Oil, IT’S ALL ABOUT FUELING FOR A BETTER FUTURE, which is our vision statement. This is important because when you experience difficulty and hardship in the business, you really need to dig deep and do a lot of soul searching to find out why you are working 60 hours a week, especially when the business is just starting and then you are trying to make payroll, especially when you are in a middle of a storm, or when you are in the most difficult circumstances. You really need to go back to “Why am I doing this?” For us, it is important that we recognize that. Fueling a better future is related to stewardship – recognizing that we did not inherit the Earth from our parents, but we borrowed it from our children. We need to have a mindset of stewardship and recognizing also that it is not about us, but it is about knowing that we are part of a grand plan by a divine design. Having this kind of appreciation is important. With that mindset in the SEAOIL journey, SEAOIL is the leading and largest independent oil company in the Philippines today. When I say “independent”, we are not affiliated to any oil major. In terms of revenue for 2015, we have PhP35.5B, making us one of the Top 50 companies in the country today. We have 600 direct employees, and with 400 sites nationwide. We began doing retail in the year 1997, which led us to some memorable milestones:
JV: What are principles you hold on to, which you love to share with your people?
GY: When I speak about my personal principles, one of my earliest memories was about my mom, Josefina, and what she passed on to me which I also pass on to my children: “You can lose all of your material possession, but if you have education – that is what people cannot take away from you.” The memory I have with my mom is when I was in grade 1. At that time, binabaha na ang Manila. One morning, nagising ako na yung tinitirhan namin, binaha na! (That time, nakatira kami sa Pasay, FB Harrisson, sa Violeta Court). Nagising ako na binaha na, tapos nawala na yung gamit ko sa school. Alalang alala ko pa no’n na ang saya-saya ko dahil nasa isip ko, “Ok, pwedeng hindi na ako pumasok!” Eh, tapos na yung bagyo kaya balik-pasukan na. Siyempre, sinabi ko sa nanay ko, “Ma, paano po ako papasok, naka tsinelas lang po ako, at lahat ng mga gamit ko tinangay na po ng baha.” Sabi ng nanay ko sa akin, “Alam mo anak, kailangan mong tandaan ito. Napakimportante nitong sasabihin ko sa iyo. Pwedeng mawala lahat ng kagamitan natin pero ang hindi pwedeng mawala sayo ay ang pinag aralan mo.” Kaya naalala ko, nung grade 1, pumasok kaming magkakapatid na nakatsinelas at wala akong gamit. Pag pasok ko ng classroom, kinausap ko yung teacher ko at sinabi ko ang nagyari. Nakita ko na may listahan siya ng libro, tapos pumunta siya ng bookstore at binili niya ako ng bagong set ng mga text books. Yon ang mga isa sa pinaka importanteng life lessons sa aking buhay.
Ngayon sa mga kids ko, yun na rin ang sinasabi ko – that is probably the only thing that people cannot take away from you -- the ability to know and apply all of those things you learned through your education. One of the most valuable things you can get in life is really your education.
I share this principle with my people. In fact, we have this Tuesday Lunch and Learn sessions where we invite thought leaders and leaders in the business field to share their leadership journeys. We watch videos as well, while we have lunch. This is attended by our MANCOM group which is composed of about 50 leaders. Then, whatever they learn from here, they cascade this to their people through snack and learn, and respective L&Ls (Learn and Learn). Whatever the method is, we all learn in this company.
The right word to use here is CULTURE -- learning is ingrained in our culture – we want to be a learning organization. Our strategic theme in the past years is BETTER BEFORE BIGGER. Better proceeds bigger. If we are not getting better as individuals and as organizations, then we cannot get bigger. That’s reflective in many ways and activities that we do in Sea Oil. All these principles are strongly inspired by the impact of my memory from grade 1 with my mom.
JV: Can you share some of your company’s Learning and Development (L&D) initiatives? GY: We have a program called T20, which recognizes employees who are our Top 20% performers. Part of their recognition is to provide them continuing education – such as finishing a master’s degree or pursuing higher learning.
Our SEAOIL Foundation also has the SHARK program for service crew. This is a four-year college scholarship program to deserving station personnel and crewmembers. Some of our crew members have to take on the job and not be able to finish school, and so the SHARK program provides them the chance to continue education which they are employed. JV: How do you surpass in general and become victorious over challenges? GY: We started the business in 1997 during the midst of the Asian financial crisis so in a way, we have no choice: It’s either we innovate or we do not go into business altogether.
We have to go back in answering the question: “How do we fuel a better future?” Our answer to that is really INNOVATION -- trying to change the rules of the game and how the game is played. While we play by the rules – that is integrity and we are signatory to the integrity initiative – we also look at how we can how we can change the way the game is played -- BASKETBALL ANALOGY. I like basketball.
JV: What is something you love about basketball that you kind of apply in business?
GY: When we started out, it was a David vs. Goliath story. We started being the industry of the lions and we were the new kid on the block 20 years ago. It’s like wanting to play basketball in a professional league and the basketball players are over 6 feet while your players are 5’11. Given this situation, we really had to think, “How do we play the game? How do we change the game?” So, extending that basketball analogy – we are not going to play triangle offense, we are not going to play by traditional way of running the offense or defense for example and how do we take advantage of the 24 second shot plot.
The way we do it in the oil industry is the same. We are not just an oil player because we are confining ourselves to oil – but we are a FUEL PROVIDER. When we expanded that definition – that we are not just in the business of oil but we are in the business of fuel – we are able to look at biofuels as our alternative. Today, we are the pioneer in biodiesel, in ethanol, in fact we had been recognized as the biofuel major. From there, we looked at how we can push the envelope in terms of franchising. When we started in 1997 and when my team had a planning session – our dream is to be the Jollibee of the oil industry.
That’s how that dream came to be – with the idea of franchising. We did not have the resources at that time. When we talked about going for the giants – we did not have the capital to invest. How do we compete in an industry that we need so much capital? I needed to go back to the basketball analogy – you need that bench where you can rely on, and so we thought about franchising, partnering at every level, at every location and working with them, while being sincerely focused on nurturing relationships with our business partners.
JV: Was there a specific turning point in your life that you realized you have just grown, ready to compete with the giants?
GY: It’s hard to find a pivotal point when it actually happened. I would rather call this as a journey and a long process of learning. It’s like uphill all the way. Even though we are the largest intended fuel company in the Philippines, for us, our mindset is still PROGRESS and all about pushing upwards – ALWAYS GOING UP. It always requires hardwork and effort. Sometimes people think that when you surpassed the big hump, the hardwork is done. For me, it just means that you are being faced with a different set of problems and issues. We need to retain that mindset and not be complacent with success. JV: What’s so enjoyable about being PRESIDENT AND CEO of SEAOIL?
GY: My role is so much fun in many levels -- The opportunity to shape an industry, the challenge to excel as a Filipino company against multinationals, the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people within the organization along with our franchisees, developing friendships and seeing how our lives are changed in the process especially for people who have worked with us since the beginning.
We have people that started part of our service crew, who are now in managerial positions. With your question, “What’s so enjoyable in my role?” there are so many levels – the least of which is the material outcome. Material rewards are outcomes.
JV: What are some common leadership styles you implore when guiding your SEAOIL family and your family?
GY: Let me begin with my values because we are talking about my family and kids. I have 6 kids and the way I remember my values is the way that each one of them make me remember the values that I have.
ON LOVING: My eldest daughter HANNAH, who will turn 15 years old this July, taught me unconditional love. When she was born – that's when I learned how to love unconditionally, besides the kind of love I have with my wife. I remember the first night when we brought her home. We could not sleep. Iyak siya ng iyak at hindi namin siya alam patulugin. Despite that – wala man lang kaming pinch ng sama ng loob sa anak naming kahit hindi siya tumigil umiyak. When you have your first child – that's how you really learn how to love someone unconditionally.
ON LIVING: Next is my second daughter Rachel who is 12 years old. She taught me how to live -- LIVING because she is a person in the family who knows how to chill. Ako, I am very driven – I want to have my to do list all the time – but she is the one who takes it easy. When I need to be reminded that living is different from working, then I think of Rachel. Life is so much more, and I need to enjoy life. She is the one that gives me that kind of perspective and help me realize that.
ON HAVING FAITH: My third daughter passed away 52 minutes when she was born, March 22, 2009. Her name is Valerie Faith and today, she would have been 7 years old. We found out that she was a girl on Valentine’s Day and so we gave her the name Valerie Faith, with the root word of her name being VALOR. We even have a video of us having dinner, after coming out from our doctor’s visit and telling her, “When you are born, we want you to have a strong faith in the Lord.” Several weeks later, she passed away and enjoined the Lord. Until now, why she died is still a mystery to us. We realized that it was the Lord wanting to teach us to have faith. It’s so hard to find words to describe the sadness, to have someone die in your arms. It’s so hard to describe. She died in my arms. She is a reminder for me to listen and be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. When Valerie Faith died, we thought we were not going have kids anymore since we did not know what was wrong. Especially when you are from a Filipino-Chinese family – a son is so important to pass on the family lines.
ON LEARNING: My fourth child is our six-year old son, Jacob. He was born in 2010, and just when we have given up on having a son, the Lord gave us a son. Through our son, we are learning to trust in the Lord.
ON LEADING: DAVID is our fifth child. He’s the boisterous person. Maingay siya. Well, marami na kaming kids – so kung hindi ka maingay, pwedeng hindi ka mapapansin. David is the most strong-willed among the children. At such a young age of 4, he’s very persistent and he knows how to ask leading questions.
(Jackie, Glenn’s wife narrated a story to point out how David is good in asking leading questions: “My son wants chocolates, and so in school I used it as a reward for him to recite a school prayer. Then, when it was summer time and there was no school, David asked me: “Mom do you want me to recite to you the prayer?”)
ON BEING JOYFUL: Our youngest is BEATRICE who is 1 ½ years old. She is an unexpected JOY for us. We thought the Lord has blessed us abundantly – He gave us two sons and gave us one more – another daughter. So, we named her Beatrice Sara – means BLESSED JOY.
JV: How do you balance everything? GY: That's why we have such a passion on “family first”, and have PAMILYA MUNA PILIPINAS as our advocacy. We forget this in terms of our passion to do excellent work. In terms of priority – GOD, MY WIFE, MY KIDS, MY WORK, MY FRIENDS – when sometimes nababaligtad natin. I learned how to manage my priorities the hard way. This comes from the understanding that the family really comes first. JV: Thank you sir Glenn for opening your window of wisdom with us. I am reminded that the way we live our lives should be as pleasing stewards of his talents and gifts. You are truly a great example of what God’s stewardship is all about.