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Bridges connect people and cultures: Allan Alfon

For many, that first, full-time professional role is simply the initial stepping stone of many, the beginning of a long and varied career. But for some, inspiration strikes early, and they end up returning to a field that continues to stimulate them. That’s how things have turned out for Allan G Alfon, President and General Manager of the Cebu Cordova Link Expressway Corporation.

Having trained in engineering, with a passion for building bridges, he now oversees the construction of an overwater bridge linking the cities of Cebu and Cordova. When it’s finished, it’ll be one of the longest in the Philippines and, most importantly, a powerful legacy for Allan.

The CEO Magazine: What initially interested you about the position?

Allan: Ever since I was small, I’ve always been amazed by bridges. Bridges connect people and cultures. That’s how I see it. I also see this as a legacy to my family, because this is vital infrastructure for Cebu that I can contribute to. I’m a pure Cebuano, born and raised.

“This part of the country will continue to be an investor’s paradise.”

How do you believe the project will help transform the region?

With this bold move by our organisation and the governments of Cebu and Cordova, this part of the country will continue to be an investor’s paradise – especially Cordova, which is a third-class municipality. This project has encouraged prospective investors to seriously consider investing in Cordova and various state projects across the residential, commercial, institutional, tourism and industrial sectors.

With this type of construction project, what are the main challenges?

A project of this magnitude requires balancing relationships within a big multidisciplinary team. For example, within this team, different subsections might have different approaches towards our common goal of opening the bridge by August 2021. Then there are the different personalities and nationalities of the contract force. While a lot of these guys are Filipinos, we also have Brits, Spaniards and a few Australians.

What’s the make-up of the groups collaborating in the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway?

My team is the project owner, composed of engineers like myself, finance guys and highway engineers.
We have admin people, lawyers and communications.

Then you have the contractors – the Cebu Link Joint Venture, composed of some of the world’s major global construction companies: Acciona, which is Spanish, and its local construction partners DMCI
and First Balfour.

The third group is our owner’s engineer and consultants COWI, along with DCCD. The fourth team is our independent consultants. While these four major principals share the common goal of completing the project, they all have their different approaches.

How do you make sure these diverse groups work together cohesively and effectively?

We have weekly coordination meetings. Since this is an EPC [engineering procurement and construction] contract, it’s imperative for the project’s success that we hold design and construction meetings every week. That way, everything gets addressed – what’s happening with the design process, what’s going on during construction and so on.

What made you move from engineering to business leadership?

I finished my course as a civil engineer in the Philippines and, fortunately, my first work experience was bridge construction in the northern part of Cebu. That was a component of a 60-kilometre road project, which has four or five bridges now. Following that, I was exposed to business development as part of my engineering background.

After the heavy construction part of the early stage of my career, I went into the oil industry, fast-food industry and later back to the real estate construction industry. In all these areas, my main responsibility was growing our business – increasing our network of service stations for the downstream oil industry, fast-food outlets for Jollibee Foods and initiating more residential projects under my previous employers.

With that, I could harness my experience in engineering towards project management and business expansion.

After the completion of the bridge, what’s the next project you’re hoping for?

Even now, before the completion of the bridge, my team is looking at various potential expansion projects for MPT Vizmin Corporation. There are certain projects for which the government is already doing initial feasibility studies.

We’re looking for projects like these, so we should be able to submit for expressions of interest as soon as we can. The main thing we’re hoping for is involvement with public–private partnership projects.

Speaking of public–private partnerships, what’s your strategy for maintaining healthy working relationships with public bodies, like the governments of Cebu and Cordova?

In this case, our grantors for the Cebu-Cordova Link Expressway project are two local government units. This is the first major project of Metro Pacific Tollways Corporation where our partners – our grantors – are local governments.

What we do is, of course, maintain open communication, and we engage them throughout the planning of our project. As a matter of fact, we have a project steering group composed of select members from my team and appointed members from Cebu and Cordova.

This group meets, at minimum, once a month, to discuss the construction process, what to do next and how we’ll operate the bridge, before eventual turnover to the grantors. We engage them early on.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

I start and end with prayers. Then I’ll have meetings, coordinating and cooperating with our
colleagues, partners and stakeholders, working out how to and learn from and improve on the day before.

Which qualities are necessary for succeeding in a project such as yours?

I have to be trusted. I have to prove to those I work closely with my probity, honesty and fairness in dealing with them so that I can get their cooperation. I also need to show them that I’m bold enough to undertake this project, to lead the team. At the same time, I listen to them and analyse what they say.

And be fair to everyone. Whenever I do something, I always maintain this outward mindset. I look at the potential impact of what I’m doing and how it might affect my colleagues. Never being selfish. Be outward-looking and conscious of your actions and how they impact your team.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

It’s nice to work with people who are so engaged and passionate, so you can get their cooperation as you need it. I’m lucky enough to be able to form a team that shares this common goal, being part of this legacy, through which our team will deliver this vital infrastructure.

It’s an iconic project which we believe will contribute to the economic prosperity of Cebu, and can be an iconic tourist attraction. This is an infrastructure project that Cebuanos can claim as our own. That’s what gives us the motivation, the inspiration and the dedication to deliver this project on time and with quality.

“This is an infrastructure project that Cebuanos can claim as our own.”

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a leader?

I’m a more of a listener than a talker. I make it a point to listen more and analyse, but make consistent decisions. Leaders should show their team and bosses that they’re operationally efficient and effective. The bottom line only comes in once you’re efficient.

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