For many businesses across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a nail in the coffin – a situation that highlighted their shortcomings and ultimately led to their demise. But for others the pandemic was turned into a learning opportunity and an excuse to rethink strategies, tighten procedures and grow their brand into a better version of itself.
The latter is precisely how SM Investments Corporation (SMIC) approached this tenuous period of time. And with Frederic DyBuncio at the helm, the Philippines-based company has emerged even stronger.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Frederic tells The CEO Magazine. “It was a crisis but everybody was really hands-on. To make sure that we took care of our people, we took care of the community, we took care of the business. I must say, the pandemic really challenged us, in terms of the way we needed to adjust.
“But, the plus side was that it gave us a chance to think about how we should evolve. When business is good, you tend to focus always on growing, growing, growing, without really putting a lot of attention on improving efficiency operationally.
The pandemic gave us that pause – to really look back and look inward and ask, what can we do better? How can we improve things?
“The pandemic gave us that pause – to really look back and look inward and ask, what can we do better? How can we improve things?”
In addition, it paved the way for SMIC to develop digital capabilities. While pre-pandemic they’d already been discussing moving in the direction of digitisation, Frederic explains it “accelerated the transformation process”.
In particular, they started exploring ways they could stay in touch with customers even during lockdowns. “We started a call-to-deliver concept where customers could call or message us through Viber,” he says. “Technology is one of our biggest spends as a group, and we’ve now evolved towards having our own ecommerce platform.”
SMIC operates across banking, retail and property, investing in high-quality ventures within the Philippine economy. They have become leaders in each field, and today are one of the country’s most successful food and non-food retailers, one of the biggest integrated property developers in South-East Asia and has the largest footprint in the Philippines banking sector.
Frederic’s journey with the company began in 2011, following a career in banking in cities including New York, Seoul, Bangkok and Hong Kong, before relocating back to the Philippines and becoming CEO and President of SMIC.
Now, looking to the next chapter, Frederic is keen to develop further. “Even though we are one of the larger conglomerates in the Philippines, and even though our three core businesses are considered some of the largest ones in the respective sectors, we believe there’s still significant growth opportunities in the Philippines,” he explains.
“Modern retail is still very under penetrated. And I think only around 25 per cent of our population actually have bank accounts. And the same goes with property. Even though you see so many new high-rise projects and developments happening, there’s still a huge backlog of housing requirements nationwide.”
Frederic enthuses that as a consumer-driven company, they always have to keep their finger on the pulse and be ready to embrace new avenues. So, in that case, what’s next on the horizon? “We believe that logistics will continue to be a key driver for the economy,” he says. “And as the economy continues to grow, with the growth being more towards the provincial areas, logistics will become even more important.”
If we don’t take care of our community, it’ll also eventually affect our business. The community and the environment are key for our growth.
Sustainability is a continued priority for SMIC. “If we don’t take care of our community, it’ll also eventually affect our business. The community and the environment are key for our growth. And for us, growth is very important – if you don’t grow, you stagnate, right?
“So, to be able to continue to grow at the pace we’re growing – and we’re hoping to continue to do that for generations to come – we need to make sure that we operate in a sustainable way,” he shares. “Which is why sustainability is something which we take very, very seriously as a group. We have many efforts that we’re doing both to help the environment and also the communities where we operate.”
From offering aid to those affected by natural disasters to supporting businesses crippled by the pandemic, SMIC looks beyond its own needs to bolster those in the community.
“The Bayanihan spirit really, really comes out in times of crisis,” Frederic says. “And that’s where I think an organisation like ours, can be so important – as we truly embody that spirit and embrace providing assistance whenever necessary.”
Archipelago Capital Partners