OPINION: Enrique Zobel as corporate emblem

Buddy Gomez -- Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jun 12 2020 09:48 PM

(Third of a Series)

The value of a good image and perceptions of prudence and propriety have never been lost to the Zobels, the Ayalas and the Roxases. It was, and is, an attitude that pervades the family and the Ayala business organizations. It is a reputation so cherished and nurtured.

Let me interrupt myself this early by pointing out how, with respectful deft and dignity, the present leadership of the Ayala conglomerate, the brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala, responded to, handling and parrying President Duterte’s harangue and badgering in his populist vituperations against what he perceives to be and mindlessly labels as malevolent ‘oligarchs.’ I must say, confidently sober in stark comparison and definitely admirable.

Not that the family ever adhered to a “public be damned” stance,” so characteristic of pre-depression Big Business USA attitude. They were indeed caring and concerned corporate citizens, but very private and conservative. The family, as a social unit and as individuals, was overly shy of publicity as to observe near sepulchral silence about their lives. They very consciously avoided publicity, specially the society pages. The only items I remember were occasional photos in the sports pages of the Manila Daily Bulletin. Enrique Zobel or his Dad, Col. Jacobo (Jake) Zobel, in connection with events at the Manila Polo Club. Horse lovers, after all, they were.

Change came when Col. Joseph R. McMicking (JRM) passed on the leadership baton to Enrique Zobel or EZ. The family partnership was being prepared and reorganized as a public corporation. There was a need to retrofit, and EZ became its visible personification. The advent of corporate social responsibility and the practice of professional public relations and communications was at hand. Overt, finally, but subdued and calibrated. Never was it ‘publicity for the sake of publicity’ nor vanity exposure.

Here is what was at the core of the new outlook, serving as fulcrum for Ayala’s thrust into the “image” sphere: activating Filipinas Foundation, Inc. (renamed Ayala Foundation) into a policy study think-tank backed by occasional policy-relevant speech-making by the new leader, Enrique Zobel. This time, with the attendant publicity requirements. Here, once more, the visionary mind of Joe McMicking was at work.

“CSR” is now a popular 21st century Philippine corporate PR practice, a professional management tool much talked about and in use these days. “Corporate Social Responsibility” means, as best as I can put it, a company holding itself socially accountable to the public, to itself and to its stockholders. For all I know, there may have been earlier exemplary instances of “CSRs” being practiced in the Philippines under the auspices of public relations. But I am not aware of any consciously designed and organized program in the magnitude and impact of Ayala’s utilization of a unit, such as a Filipinas Foundation, with a talking head such as an Enrique Zobel. Ayala and EZ were the intended beneficiaries. If I am correct in my assumption, a study of the ‘package’ will serve as a teachable exhibit in the corporate practice of effective public relations and image-building.

Ayala may be granted the reasonable claim, (which I must point out, they have not done so), that through Joseph R. McMicking and Enrique Zobel, they played a signal and singular role in the introduction of the formal and institutionalized framework for “CSR” in the Philippines. In hindsight, it is I making the claim.

Historically, the concept of tax deductibility or tax creditable expense for public relations purposes in the country had its beginnings during the presidency of Diosdado Macapagal in the early 1960s. It was implemented through an amendment of the law that created the National Science Development Board (NSDB).
I remember J.R. McMicking (JRM), during one of his reminiscing moments--with me in rapt attention as an audience of one-- saying that during a trip to the US, he had for a seatmate an
acquaintance, Dr. Paulino Garcia, who was then serving as Secretary of Health and chairman of the NSDB. To while away portions of the long stretch, there was much time for conversation and catching up. JRM suggested to Secretary Garcia the possibility and benefits of encouraging certain able business entities to undertake socially relevant activities outside of their regular business concerns, by way of tax incentives such as what was already in wide practice in the US. I believe JRM cited the antecedents of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations. Dr. Garcia, impressed with the suggestion, acquiesced and promised action.

The language that was used in the ensuing legislation, I believe, was “scientific research and development.” It was broad enough as to encourage deductible donations as tax expense for potential benefactors’ favored advocacies and apostolates, under the umbrella of “scientific research and development.”

That chance air-borne McMicking-Garcia conversation marked the entry of the so-called “tax-free” foundations, an innovative transfer of wealth. The spouses Joseph R. McMicking and Mercedes Zobel McMicking were first in line. Today, it is the Ayala Foundation and the Filipinas Heritage Library.

Its earlier incarnation, Filipinas Foundation, Inc. was the very first entity to be so organized under the National Science Development Board. After its initial project on “Cattle Nutrition,” the Foundation’s thrust looked towards policy studies as critiques on the status quo. These were the following projects: Land Reform, Vocational Education, Muslim Affairs, Islamic Banking in the Philippines, Urban Development, the Filipino in America, Recording the 1971 Constitutional Convention. Each of these projects assembled a team of multi-disciplinary talents, which by itself was Ayala’s reaching out to academia, an anchor public for a corporation of the size and prominence of Ayala.

Each of such undertakings was preceded by Enrique Zobel speaking out his mind on a given related subject matter. Filipinas Foundation would not be quite far behind, announcing the launch of a project relevant to the subject matter of the speech. It was a pattern, a trajectory towards credibility and image.

One specific speech and project comes to mind. “An Anatomy of Philippine Muslim Affairs” resulted in an unexpected reward of recognition and honor. Don Enrique was conferred an honorary sultanship by Maranao elders. In colorful ceremonies convened for the occasion, EZ was celebrated as “Sultan a Diamla,” which translates to the “Compassionate One.” It was held at the campus of the Mindanao State University in Marawi City.

Ayala, until the stewardship of Enrique Zobel, had never consciously, much less intentionally, practiced the professional craft of corporate public relations as an overt management tool. Stirrings about the need for it as an indispensable adjunct of Ayala’s leap into a public citizenhood, however, had to win the day.
            
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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