The new breed of entrepreneurs

The new breed of entrepreneurs (March 28, 2006)

by Ben Teehankee

Managing For Society, The Manila Times

While working on a project with the Research Committee of the League of Corporate Foundations (LCF), I’ve come to meet a number of entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s who, by all indications, show what the future of Philippine business will, and should, look like.

On the surface, they look like all the other entrepreneurs we read about in the entrepreneurship columns and magazines. Their businesses include retailing, consulting, resorts, restaurants, fast food, printing and even watches. They’re all dynamic and ready to meet the rigors of the tough Philippine business climate.

So how are they different? It’s their belief that taking care of their people is a natural, and obligatory, part of doing good business. They’re not even sure what to call what they do, whether it’s business ethics or corporate social responsibility, but they know it’s the decent way to do business. Interestingly, each of them does it in such a unique way you’re just sure it comes from the heart and not from a PR manual. I’d like to talk about just three of these, what I’d like to call, humanistic entrepreneurs. To respect their privacy I will not use their real names and disguise some identifiable business details.

Raymond Tan runs a chain of more than 20 stalls and small shops retailing electronic gadgets, ranging from the inexpensive to the pricey specialized types. He obviously likes his business and what he sells. He knows everything there is to know about electronics. His development vision for his people is unique, however. He hires them, trains them in the business, identifies those with management potential and appoints them as store managers. His ultimate goal is to prepare those with the skill and inclination to own their own store franchises in the future. He aims to produce entrepreneurs.

Roger Bautista runs a restaurant. He uses a traditional recipe that requires an ingredient most abundant in the rural areas. Upon investigation, he found out that the rural folk who supplied the ingredient were mostly poor and had no systematic methods of cultivation. He has since helped them improve their methods such that they are now able to achieve sustainable income from selling the ingredient to Roger.

Albert Reyes heads a consulting and training outfit. He implements a profit sharing scheme for his people. His goal is to be able to share as much as 50% of the profits eventually. Through regular conversations, he has learned that some of his employees are so challenged domestically that even obtaining clean drinking water for the home has become difficult. He is now planning a program to provide water filters for his employees.

After my daily exposure to the prevailing business wisdom that sacrificing people is necessary to survive in business, it’s reassuring to know that some of the younger business leaders are not willing to compromise their commitment to people for a convenient profit. They reject the false dilemma which implies a forced choice between providing a reasonably secure job or contractual job by insisting on providing decent work conditions within the law while being transparent to their workers on the challenges faced by the business.

Concern, commitment and communication. These are the three things that employees need from their employers. With unemployment as high as 11%, it’s so easy to take advantage of people through unfair labor practices. The way business treats employees during this trying period will define our national character and determine whether we will move forward as one nation or languish as a divided one. During the Depression, American businessmen did not exploit workers even when unemployment exceeded 20%. Instead, government, business and labor worked together to revitalize the economy while giving social protection to the worker. The US emerged a stronger and more stable country as a result. Can we achieve a similar destiny amidst the widespread exploitation of workers in this country? The new breed of humanistic entrepreneurs gives me every reason to hope.