What Manny Panglinan wants to teach kids about success 2
“Extraordinary Manny,” the 22-pager children’s book about tycoon and sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan, keeps its lesson simple and old school: If you don’t think you’re special enough, work harder. 
Culture

What your kids need to learn about success, according to Manny Pangilinan

A new children’s book traces the First Pacific CEO’s journey from ordinary to extraordinary
ANCX Staff | Oct 03 2022

Success is a tricky concept to teach kids these days. Especially when social media has practically normalized the “famous for being famous” route and people getting installed in positions of power despite their shady history is all the rage. But “Extraordinary Manny,” a 22-pager children’s book that tells the success story of tycoon and sports patron Manny V. Pangilinan, keeps its lesson simple and old school: If you don’t think you’re special enough, work harder. 

The guy who wrote the book, Pangilinan’s executive assistant Gian Lao, also keeps things entertaining. The poet, essayist (he’s done quite a few fantastic pieces for ANCX), and speechwriter (he used to write some of PNoy’s speeches) sprinkles his prose with just enough unique, personal details—young Manny’s 25 centavo baon, his penchant for chocolate drinks, a classmate named Eddie Chow who always aces the Math quizzes—that even grownups would find “Extraordinary Manny” amusing. A mark of a good children’s read. 

Extraordinary Manny
“According to the big book, extraordinary meant going beyond what is usual.” 

The book (illustrated by Mark Lawrence Andres) traces the First Pacific CEO’s journey from a boy with ordinary gifts and ordinary means, the son of a messenger and a homemaker, to becoming one of the most admired business leaders in Asia—all thanks to that one realization that’s stayed with him from when he was a child: He needed to be extra. He needed to go beyond the usual. A takeaway that saw him thru his studies at Ateneo, completing his MBA at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and an early career of lending his knowledge to different companies who needed help in growing their businesses. 

Lao says it was important for MVP that the book imparts the lesson that success is possible even without being born to privilege. “We had to tell that story,” says the writer. “The path of entrepreneurship still disproportionately rewards those with money and influence, but it’s important to show kids that while one’s circumstances can make things more difficult, success is possible.”

We shot Lao some questions on this, his maiden foray into children’s literature, and he shares with us the challenges of connecting to a young audience, what’s it like working for one of the most powerful men in Philippine business, and if MVP is as into chocolate drinks as much as the book says he is.

 

Have you written for children before? What was it like writing this one? 

I’d never written for children before. The project was conceptualized by PLDT-Smart Foundation, and I happened to be doing research for MVP’s memoirs. It was terrifying since there was a real possibility the project would be altogether scrapped if the first draft sucked. I ended up writing it while trying to sound the way I do when I tell stories to my nephews and nieces—trying to grab their attention and never let go. 

Of course, the revision process was long and taxing on the imagination. It’s hard enough to imagine a normal reader, but imagining a young reader takes a lot more effort. Even just to simulate their sense of wonder, you have to regain so much innocence, which is just flat out difficult. Of course, even going through this process doesn’t guarantee a story successfully told. Imagining the reader is just one part of it—the other is telling the story as it is, and hoping that it makes an impression on the reader. 

Extraordinary Manny
He wasn’t tall enough like the other kids who played basketball. His snacks were ordinary crackers while his classmates had ice cream, etc. Illustration by Mark Lawrence Andres.

Was there a brainstorming session for the book? Was MVP part of it? What were his directives/suggestions?

MVP had a couple of rounds of revisions—mostly factual. I think the only thing that felt like a directive was seeing how much he valued not being born a scion—and still making it in the world of business. We had to tell that story. The path of entrepreneurship still disproportionately rewards those with money and influence, but it’s important to show kids that while one’s circumstances can make things more difficult, success is possible. 

 

Did you have to interview MVP for the book? Because unlike the usual children’s books, there are very specific details here about the subject’s life (his friend Eddie Chow, the sari-sari store ‘cakes’).

I used some of the existing (and ongoing) research for his memoirs. It also helps to use specific items (Coca-Cola, iced chocolate, strawberry taho) to offer phenomena for young readers to latch onto. I remembered learning to read novels, and an older cousin telling me I had to imagine the events unfolding. Such items make the scenarios easier to imagine. 

 

Was MVP really close to to his sister? And did he really like chocolate drinks as a kid? What brand?

He remains very close to his younger sister. And he still really likes chocolate drinks—although he has to watch his consumption! Not sure about what brand he liked, but these days it’s Iced Chocolate from Starbucks, no whip. 

PLDT-Smart Foundation President Esther O. Santos, MVP, and author Gian Lao
PLDT-Smart Foundation President Esther O. Santos, MVP, and author Gian Lao

Why was there a need for a book? 

The hope is for it to give children a wider sense of possibilities. The protagonist is an ordinary kid, with ordinary parents, and an ordinary sister who really likes sweets. We wanted to show that ordinary kid’s journey to becoming a businessman. It’s one good way to live—and hopefully it can show the beginning of a path to young readers. 

 

How long have you worked with MVP and what’s he like as a boss?

I wrote speeches for him for about three years before joining his office as an assistant in April 2021. He’s brilliant and unbelievably hardworking—he works longer hours than all his executives and assistants. And if the work is challenging, it’s only because he holds us to his own high standards. He comes in every single day of the week and clears his big stack of papers. There are few things more humbling than seeing a successful man grind through a long day. It’s a sight to see.