When Ernest Cuyegkeng became President and CEO of electric wire and cable manufacturer Phelps Dodge Philippines (PDP), he had no idea what he was signing up for. “I was not very familiar with the business, so I didn’t know what opportunities there were,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
It was the late 1990s, when Asia was in the grip of a financial crisis that was triggered by the collapse of the Thai Baht. Added to the economic climate was the challenge posed by new technologies to PDP’s core business.
“At the time I came in, we had lost 40 percent of our sales because, as people moved towards wireless telephones, the demand for copper telephone wire completely disappeared,” he explains. At the same time, the company was shifting manufacturing facilities from Manila to Tarlac City and had taken out loans that needed to be repaid.
Assigned to the role from parent company, A. Soriano Corporation, or ANSCOR (where he is also Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer), Cuyegkeng describes his first task as “survival” – even if the world of wires was completely new territory for him.
“The Company survived because of the team effort by all stakeholders. ANSCOR waived its management fee, we reduced our manpower, the remaining employees agreed to no salary increases and we sold non-utilized machines to generate cash. Everybody chipped in to save PDP,” he says.
He’d promised the bank that, within six months, they’d break even again. “Which we did,” he says. “And we slowly began to recover.” From there, he ensured that positioning the customer at the center of all decisions became a priority, as well as increasing the turnaround speed in the factory.
Every day we improve on something and learn something new or spot a new opportunity. That’s how we approach our work.
An innovation mindset
Innovations and firsts have since followed as the company has reaffirmed its market-leading reputation in its field – such as pioneering the building wire harness in 2001, and the introduction of anti-theft cables to stamp out power pilferage in 2003. In the early 2000s, lead-free building wires were rolled out, as well as low-smoke halogen-free cables for the industrial and commercial sectors.
Another landmark launch was the 2008 release of an aluminum alloy building wire called Alumilite, followed by the release two years later of moisture- and heat-resistant and flame-retardant building wires.
“In 2014, we were the first to introduce metal-clad cables with either 8000 series copper or aluminum in the country, as well as the PD ENgage program, which aims to address the client’s engineering requirements and to streamline the process without sacrificing safety, performance and reliability,” he says.
In 2018, the company celebrated another proud moment: the production of its first batch of branch cables – prefabricated cable solutions – locally.
Unsurprisingly, Cuyegkeng explains that “continuous improvement” has become the motto of the company under his leadership. “We all learn together as we go along,” he explains.
“Even if the process is slow, every day we improve on something and learn something new or spot a new opportunity. That’s how we approach our work.”
Investing in talent
After leading the company for nearly 25 years, Cuyegkeng is now focusing on developing the next generation of company leaders.
“The existing team has been together so long and now works so well and productively that we need to make sure we can replace people as they start to move on,” he says.
We make sure that we become partners with each of our key client accounts.
As such, heavy investment in talent is a priority. “We spend a lot of money on developing people, on training, on funding MBAs,” he explains. In a competitive marketplace, Cuyegkeng believes this is one of the factors that sets the company apart.
As does a focus on quality and safety. “We’re very successful because we’re able to demonstrate the value of our products and how, at the end of the day, we save our clients money,” he explains. “And that’s how we win a lot of clients.”
And the company’s focus on putting the customer first means they keep coming back. “We make sure that we become partners with each of our key client accounts,” he says, adding that he has seen how the sales force transformed, taking on an account management-style structure.
Commenting on his current strategy for PDP, he says he is looking for “where we can grow to make our business bigger and beat our competitors to steal market share”.
I’m proud that safety and quality is our hallmark and that we’ve achieved operational excellence while developing our people and being collaborative with both our customers and suppliers.
Considering the current construction climate, which he describes as flattened, Cuyegkeng is particularly enthusiastic about the potential of infrastructure projects. Investments have already been made in the equipment required to service that market.
Looking back, Cuyegkeng can see just how much the company has achieved since the time ANSCOR gave him the opportunity to lead the PDP team, “We’ve done a lot of good things,” he says.
“I’m proud that safety and quality is our hallmark and that we’ve achieved operational excellence while developing our people and being collaborative with both our customers and suppliers.”
Shake it Up
PDP was founded in 1955 by ANSCOR and Phelps Dodge USA (acquired by Freeport McMoRan in a multi-billion dollar deal in 2007).
In 2008, General Cable took the majority stake in the company after buying ANSCOR shares. Seven years later, in 2015, ANSCOR brought back the shares to become the sole owner of PDP.