Napoleon Saporsantos chats frequently with his younger employees, imparting wisdom, anecdotes and advice from his decades of experience with Philippine Geothermal Production Company (PGPC). He also encourages them to think big.
Saporsantos, President of PGPC, often tells the story of how he would pass by the Asset Manager’s office as an engineering trainee and tell himself, ‘One of these days, I’ll be holding office in here’.
“I only dreamed of being the head of assets and I ended up being the president of the company,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
Saporsantos has had a storied career with PGPC, which has developed the geothermal industry in the Philippines and helped the island archipelago to diversify its energy mix.
Now he is leading PGPC as it is poised to play an increasingly important role helping the country reach its net zero goals and reclaim its spot as the world’s second-biggest geothermal energy producer.
“We need to prepare for the future in terms of energy. It’s not just for PGPC; it’s for the economy. It’s for nation-building,” he says. “If we really want to join the rest of the world in that aspiration, we need to invest in the development of renewable energy.”
Geothermal is among the cleanest sources of energy on the planet. The United States Department of Energy describes it as “heat energy from the earth”. But it offers a bevy of benefits. It’s renewable, has a small footprint in comparison to other renewables such as wind and solar, and is “baseload”, which means it produces 24/7 regardless of climatic conditions.
“There’s no doubt that we need all sources of electricity, all sources of power in the future, but I’m just hoping that (the government) explores first geothermal energy,” Saporsantos says. “All the companies are in unison in saying net zero auto emissions. We just need to put our acts together. The country needs to, the nation needs to, the government needs to believe that we can explore more geothermal energy.”
Half a century of experience
Founded in 1971, PGPC’s predecessor pioneered the Philippines’ geothermal industry. Its track record, reputation for safety and achievement in helping the country during the energy crisis of 1993 – when it supplied more than 40 percent of the energy in the Luzon grid – have given it the social license to expand, Saporsantos says.
“The competitive advantage of PGPC is we have institutional knowledge in terms of geothermal development and operation,” he explains. “We’ve been in this industry for the past 50 years.”
PGPC and its predecessor have operated the Tiwi and Mak-Ban geothermal steam fields since 1979, but the company has ambitious expansion plans to develop five new projects, which will contribute to the Philippines’ goal of reaching 35 percent renewable energy by 2030.
It’s no easy task, and that is why PGPC forges close relationships with its suppliers, according to Saporsantos. Specialized equipment must be ordered from abroad more than a year in advance, he adds.
“It is very important that we partner with our suppliers, not just in terms of timing, but technical design,” Saporsantos says. “We’re growing together and we’re helping each other. This is not just for PGPC, but for the geothermal industry as a whole.”
A growing industry
Growth is a recurring theme in conversations with Saporsantos. He pitches young employees on the growth prospects for PGPC and the geothermal sector, which is still young, having started in Italy some 100 years ago.
“We’re just on the 50th year [in the Philippines] so we probably have 50 years or more,” Saporsantos says, adding that he tells employees, “If you would like to develop your career, this is something that you can rely on longer, longer, longer-term.”
It’s the career path that Saporsantos pursued himself. He started with PGPC as Cadet Engineer and worked his way through the ranks – even meeting his wife in the company.
Saporsantos also served as Advisor to the General Manager of Chevron’s Geothermal Operations in Indonesia between 2008 and 2011 then returned to the Philippines as Vice President for Asset Management – overseeing a technical team responsible for the Tiwi and Mak-Ban facilities. He was elevated to the President position in 2017.
As President, Saporsantos has showed solicitousness toward employees, describing it as an important part of his leadership style. “What I really enjoy about being the president is I can actually speak to anybody, and I enjoy going down to the field and talking to the people and talking directly with them,” he says.
Saporsantos spends at least an hour with every new hire, he says, “telling them all these experiences I have with the company and all the nuggets of wisdom I learned through the years spent working with the PGPC group”.
His conversations with employees – along with addresses such as university commencement speeches – focus on character as a quality to value above all others.
Character and behavior are equally as important as the competence that you’re bringing into the company. Competency and skills can be taught. But your character and behavior are something that should be inherent.
“Character and behavior are equally as important as the competence that you’re bringing into the company,” Saporsantos tells them. “Competency and skills can be taught. But your character and behavior are something that should be inherent.”
He also emphasizes safety – a core value for PGPC – by heading out into the field to speak with employees on this matter. “We measure leadership engagement on how we relate to our people in terms of safety,” he says. “The mantra is, ‘Every day, everybody goes to work and returns home safe to their family’.”
The future appears bright for young employees entering PGPC, whose work takes on increasing importance as the climate crisis worsens. Saporsantos tells them: “Take pride in being in this industry that contributes to saving the environment.”