If you had worked in the same business for almost 40 years and helped build it from the ground up, it would be fair to assume you understood it intimately. This is certainly the case for Terp Asia Construction Corporation Chairman of the Board and Project Director Adolfo ‘Dot’ Escalona.
Escalona became Terp Asia’s first major shareholder after the company was founded on Valentine’s Day, 1988.
For Escalona, one thing that has always been firmly ingrained in the ethos of the Philippines-based construction company is the importance of putting people first. He stresses that mutual respect and fair dealings with employees, suppliers and their customers is always a top priority.
Established at a time when the government was actively driving the country’s economic boom in key areas such as construction, the company quickly developed projects across the government and the private sector.
Since that time, it has built the Philippines – literally. Its projects span malls, institutional buildings, industrial facilities, condominiums and low-cost government housing projects.
Quality Meets Care
The recently quadruple-rated company aspires to become the leading construction firm in the Philippines. This overarching vision goes hand in hand with its mission, which is to deliver work of exceptional quality within practical time frames and costs.
Escalona tells The CEO Magazine that Terp Asia’s dedication to creating an inclusive work environment promotes positive relationships among clients, site project management teams, employees and management alike. Its ultimate goal is not only to excel in construction but also to enhance the quality of life for all those it impacts.
There is no shortage of examples of this philosophy being played out in practice. Escalona explains that one of its more unusual practices when mentoring promising employees is to encourage that they set themselves up as their own outfits to then subcontract work to them.
“We put a lot of value on our employees. If we see that an employee has potential, we help them set up a company, then we give them contract work for us. As well as helping our employees, it also makes us competitive in the industry because it gives us a competent and loyal workforce,” he says.
“The people putting in the long hours should be rewarded.”
“I think we’re the only company, or one of only a few, that does this, and a lot of people do not approve. But the people putting in the long hours should be rewarded.”
In terms of suppliers, Escalona reveals that Terp Asia doesn’t shop around and compare costs. Rather, it takes a long-term relationship approach, with some key suppliers having worked with the company for more than 30 years.
“Sometimes maintaining a valued supplier relationship means negotiating a reduced rate, and sometimes this means we don’t make a profit on a project,” he explains.
That said, the company’s guiding principles of fairness and mutual respect are a two-way street.
In the construction sector, there can be a tendency to view the construction team as implementers rather than genuine partners, according to Escalona. He explains that the prevailing hierarchy often places developers and owners at the top, followed by owner representatives, project management teams and designers.
At the bottom of the hierarchy, the construction company generally bears the weight of overcoming challenges and complexities, while he feels success tends to be attributed higher up the chain. For Escalona, the minimum requirement for a business partner is for them to conduct themselves with grace and courtesy.
“If there is no mutual respect on a project, this will influence whether we work with them again,” he says.
Sustaining New Development
Having been in the contracting industry since Terp Asia’s inception, Escalona is leading the company toward developing its own projects. He notes it has already started looking for properties with the potential for development.
“In this country, housing is a big problem and hopefully by next year, we could start rolling out our own developments,” he reveals.
To realize this ambition, talks are underway with a broad range of executives and directors within the industry. They have revealed there is a strong focus on harnessing technology and innovation, which will help accelerate the industry’s transition to sustainable construction.
While it will be an area of ongoing development, Terp Asia has already begun embracing this tech.
“In a few of our projects, we’ve started using solar source of energy for our temporary facilities. We’re also now studying the possibility of using solar energy for our tower cranes, because they consume a lot of fossil fuel,” Escalona says.
“By next year, we could start rolling out our own developments.”
“We’re looking to put up our own office building in the next two years, and we’ve determined that should be a green building.”
Embracing advancements in operational technology is also a priority, with Escalona highlighting the shift as crucial to Terp Asia’s ongoing development.
“We are working in an underdeveloped country in terms of infrastructure – the country is around 25–30 years behind in that respect,” he reflects.
“While the current management is of a generation that has the experience and skill to work within these current parameters, adopting the new technologies and the new ideas – that’s where the challenge is for me now.
“Eight years ago, all our plants were manual. Now there has been a drastic reduction in paperwork and increase in automation. If your company is not adapted to that, then you’re not even able to bid on some of the projects. It’s critical we adopt to the technology that’s needed to do business today.”