This is part of our series on the country's movers and shakers in business. Profile stories under"My Biggest Mistake and How I Solved It" portray individuals who have reached a certain level of success, not just by mere luck, but through failures or rejections that helped shape them.
Seven years of perfecting the art of selling and negotiating in the world’s snobbiest region were not enough to prepare Junie del Mundo to the tumble and mumble of running his own business back home.
To the former diplomat, running and growing Events Organizing Network (EON), a stakeholder relations firm he founded 11 years ago, required way more than an oozing self-confidence and charm.
Becoming his own boss meant going through different phases, some of them involved betting his own savings, relationships, and, in a way, his sanity for a vision he held on dearly for life.
His vision—a better Philippine society by being a communications bridge to corporate, philanthropic, and civil society clients—was developed as days and years went by. It was easier said than done.
Salesman to the world
While Del Mundo’s “Biggest Mistake and How I Solved It” story has some shades of a typical entrepreneur who started from scratch, it also has some twists.
Del Mundo felt he has already been-there-done-that after 13 years of being a career diplomat. For 7 years, he was posted at the Philippine Embassy in Paris with concurrent accreditation to Portugal and UNESCO.
Despite being the "salesman of the Philippines to the world"—a task that involved playing a key role in organizing visits of former presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos to Europe, and representing the Philippines in various multinational fora such as UNESCO, ASEAN, APEC, and Asia-Europe Business Forum—he longed to see what was at the other side of the fence.
It was 1998. He decided to come home for good. He took the plunge and started EON, a local firm that advocated “branding” the Philippines by encouraging stakeholders to collaborate in adopting a unified branding strategy for the country.
He had already achieved a lot, and now he wanted to be in control. "As you go higher, you tend to be more curious, you want to see more results. I wanted to see a different kind of excitement, so I gave it [the private sector] a try," he said.
All the odds were in his favor: a booming economy, a successful project in the Philippines, and willing business partners.
But he knew nothing about starting a business.
Del Mundo was educated in the Philippines, the United States and France. He was a Fulbright scholar and an Asia Foundation fellow. He speaks fluent French.
But these were not enough during EON’s mom-and-pop operations in the first 2 years. He handled all the sales and marketing tasks in their small office, seeking minimal help by hiring part-time workers and outsourcing some activities.
The company only had one bookkeeper who reports for work once a week, a secretary, a driver, and a technical staff.
"I actually didn't know what I was getting myself into. I know my capacity to deliver, but I had no support system. I didn't know the basics of having a good business. No business plan, marketing plan, financial plan. There was really nothing," he said.
While he must have been doing something right—clients asked him to take on more public relations services, on top of the usual events organizing—he had limited staff who can barely handle the growing needs of its clients.
"We lost a lot of opportunities. We were overloaded since there was no system in place, so we can't take in clients. We didn't have any HR (human resource) system so we can't retain good people. They just come and go," he said.
He had to hire more people, but he did not even know how to make contracts. The stress level has begun to take a toll on his health, making him realize the importance of a strong base for backroom operations.
"I almost killed myself servicing all these clients. I wasn't getting enough sleep since I worked almost 24/7. My blood pressure was skyrocketing. So I said this can't continue. We needed to solidify our base. We needed to equip ourselves with more qualified people who would stay for a longer period," he said.
"That actually was really the greatest challenge for me, something that I had to learn from scratch," he added.
Del Mundo needed a strong working team to form the base of his growing company. He sought the best people to help him in areas of finance, human resources, and marketing.
He hired corporate lawyers, financial consultants, and full-time human resources personnel. To help him with marketing, he personally trained some of his employees.
According to several public relations professionals who have once worked for EON, Del Mundo transformed them inside out. Ever the diplomat, Del Mundo personally trained staff who showed potential on how to project themselves in a business setting. To jumpstart the staff's ability to be more presentable to clients, he even bought their first set of business clothes.
These did not come cheap. For one, Del Mundo had to borrow money from family members so he can afford hiring senior-level officials for his company.
There even came a point when he asked shareholders not to touch their dividends in EON, leading to long and painful boardroom quarrels.
"I had to clear all decisions with shareholders. Since they put their money there, they have a say on how to run things," he said.
Del Mundo then offered to buy shares in EON to gain full control of its operations, raising his stake to an absolute majority or 66.66%. It took him a year to convince his shareholders to cooperate. He personally shouldered mounting legal fees.
"That took a toll on my personal fortune, finances, all of my savings. I paid for every single share of stock with my blood, sweat, and tears," he said.
Apart from taking a huge chunk from his finances, building that solid base resulted in losing old friends.
"It was painful. It was so difficult to rebuild friendships. Until now, I can't certain relationships back to those times when we didn't have these problems," he said.
All worth it
Del Mundo could have simply left EON the way it is. But even after all the hardships, he said doing what he thought was best for the company was all worth it.
"EON was getting bigger and better. And besides, more people have become more dependent on our company for their livelihood. I also have to consider their needs, their future, their families," he said.
It took at least 5 years for EON to finally got the solid base it needed. The company was able to accommodate more clients, and Del Mundo was able to focus on his chief executive functions. He now provides top level strategic direction in corporate affairs and government relations programs.
"We're very thankful that EON is so blessed. We have a solid team. Clients are flowing. Growth has been very stable," he said.
His stress level has also dwindled since he had more qualified staff to handle the nitty-gritty of his company's operations. Even better, he was able to go on holiday for a full 3 weeks.
"I learned that there has to be a work-life balance in what you do. That's why I take very good care of my employees. If you have sick people, productivity goes down," he said.
From being a part of a bureaucracy, Del Mundo can now proudly claim that his own EON, his masterpiece, is built on solid ground.
Junie del Mundo is the managing director of EON, which he established in 1998. The company is the Philippine affiliate of Edelman, one of the world's largest public relations networks. Some of EON's clients include CNN, Yahoo Philippines, UPS, Pfizer, HSBC, Citibank, Bosch, Shell, Asian Development Bank, Ayala Corp., and VISA.