While some leaders gravitate towards stable, established companies with histories of unbroken success when looking for their next role, Manuel Lorenzo Tuason was drawn to
his current President and CEO position by the significant challenges the assignment entailed.
“The challenge to turn around what was then an ailing business was a compelling reason for my move,” he says. “Nothing can be more inspiring and exciting than to create value as I see plans coming into fruition. Further, the challenge to effectively harness everyone’s abilities and realise a full transformation wherein every employee of the company is proud to be part of a ‘winning team’ was more than enough reason to accept the offer.”
CIS Bayad Center Inc (CBCI), the business that he transformed, offers its customers the chance to send and receive money, and to pay bills. The business model places a premium on convenience, with a range of central locations across the Philippines and stores that stay open until late. It is linked with a wide array of biller companies, creating the option for consumers to use it as a one-stop shop for paying several different bills in one visit.
Overcoming the obstacles
This kind of transfer and paymentservice is especially important in the Philippines, where reports suggest fewer than 20 per cent of people have a bank account. As a relatively new market entrant in the financial world, CBCI had an early obstacle to overcome: proving to consumers that it could be trusted with their hard-earned money and financial information.
“Being the pioneer of outsourced payment collection, earning the confidence of the paying public required a holistic, ‘total systems’ approach. There was no room for error. It demanded complete integrity and reliability from our people, systems, processes, partners and suppliers,” says Manuel.
“We are not bent on just selling a product or service, but are mindful of, and sensitive to, our customers’ needs. That gives us the ability to satisfy the needs of the paying public.” Manuel says newer market entrants have tried to reproduce CBCI’s business model, but the long-term relationships and high trust levels the company has built up means it remains the market leader in the payments space.
Giving customers confidence: the family atmosphere
The caring approach to customers continues in the workplace, which Manuel describes as having a family-like atmosphere. “Filipinos by nature are very friendly and close-knit. This is carried over into the workplace, where the atmosphere is friendly and caring.” The company also embraces bringing young people into the organisation, believing they bring energy, fresh ideas and a growth mentality that often proves infectious.
Manuel says a mistake other industry players have made is to lose focus on the basics. “Nowadays, business leaders are enamoured by technology and how it can disrupt their existing businesses,” he says.
“My take on this is that technology is an enabler that can facilitate change in doing things, but what we truly need to understand is still people’s behaviour. Business is about people. Behaviour can disrupt a business. Taking into account sociocultural and economic conditions can make or break a business.”
Technology is an enabler that can facilitate change … but what we truly need to understand is still people’s behaviour.
A genuine interest in leadership
Manuel has long had an interest in, and an aptitude for, leadership. From an early age, he took on senior roles in school study groups and team sports. “I knew there was a leader in me that I needed to free up and hone further,” he recalls. He sits on the board of several subsidiaries of CBCI, and says the collective wisdom and differing approaches to management he sees in these roles have given him a range of ideas that are applicable to his main position.
While he has a wealth of management experience and took on leadership positions at a young age, Manuel is determined to avoid complacency but continue building up his expertise. “Even at this point in my career, I consider myself a work-in-progress. I continue to learn from others and build up my leadership abilities. I believe the moment I stop learning is the moment I stop leading.”
Always keeping inspired
Leaders he looks up to include Manuel Lopez and Manuel V Pangilinan, the past and the current chairman of Manila Electric Company, CBCI’s parent company. “They are both well-respected in the business community and are considered corporate titans in the country as they lead their respective groups of companies.”
These two leaders have achieved a lofty public reputation and Manuel says they have earned every bit of this acclaim. “To my mind, they are professional leaders who embody the stereotype of having ‘substance and form’; possessing intelligence, business acumen and a deep understanding of the business. They are both gifted with an entrepreneurial mindset, while showing sincerity in caring for others.”
The most successful business leaders, Manuel believes, actively impact on the lives of those they lead, both at work and further afield. “For me, what has proven to be the most effective approach is to be an inspirational leader – a role model for the rest of the organisation. As one well-known management guru has said, ‘Leadership is not about titles, positions or flowcharts.’ It is about one life influencing another.”
Both his namesakes are role models for Manuel in his resolve to keep learning, evolving and growing as a leader as he directs the company. The group has experienced a stunning 10-fold growth over the past decade and is determined to keep any new rivals at bay.
“We continuously reinvent ourselves,” he explains. “We strive to come up with fresh ideas and to push the boundaries, creating relevant new products and service offerings. In the process, we make ourselves a moving target for competitors, and a force to be reckoned with for emerging disrupters.”