Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Wisdom of Youth

I received an email from a 20-something reader with whom I have been in constant touch for the past several months. His reaction to my series of misfortunes has been so inspiring--completely unexpected from a 20-something male--that I am compelled to post it here (with his permission of course). He will remain anonymous but please let me say that he graduated from the Ateneo and is a budding writer. I have always looked forward to his correspondence which are filled with nuggets of insight that belie his youth. I am sure that very soon, he will burst forth into the literary scene and takes everybody's breath away. And hopefully, by then, I will have the honor of formally introducing him to everyone. Here is what he wrote:

Good day. I don't really know if this famous saying still holds true, coming all the way back from the biblical times; but St. Peter once said that 'the greater the darkness, the greater the light'. I've had a fair share of major screw-ups in life lately, too. Ranging from an advanced stage of dengue fever to conflicts of interest in the nuclear and extended family...Maybe it's not a bad thing to have bad events in our lives. No. Scratch that. Maybe it's really bad to let bad things happen. I don't know. Hay. Anyway, I just find this funny, but reading your blog makes me feel light. Your funny reactions and comments to serious events just make me laugh my head off. But still nothing beats the laughing power of Spongebob Squarepants. Anyway, (one big ANYWAY. haha) I hope you get to rise up from all that lingering trouble, which, I guess, you are able to without hardship.

Maraming Salamat, po at Mabuhay Ka!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Far From Over

My streak of bad luck is far from over. Yesterday, while doing the grocery shopping at Shopwise at 9 am, My wallet and cell phone were pickpocketed. I saw the man clearly and knew he was hovering along the same aisle but my mind was admittedly somewhere else--my fault! I am normally very vigilant with my belongings and have not had any of my valuables stolen or lifted in the last thirty years--not here (i was in Divisoria just the previous day), and not abroad--where bands of gypsies abound. In my wallet were cards that will take an eternity to replace and P11,000 that I hope would be put to good use, i.e. feed the thief's family.

The staff of Shopwise were paralyzed the moment I informed them that I had been pickpocketed. The simply stared at me in disbelief! The man, thirty-something, in shorts and a polo shirt, was maneuvering a cart in my aisle and bumped me. That alone should have rang alarm bells but like I said, I was in stupid land, daydreaming. Anyway, after he had scurried off, I instinctively reached inside my satchel, groped for my wallet and found it missing. I scampered after the man, while asking for assistance from the staff loitering around. No one responded, I couldn't catch up so the man got away.

I asked if they had a head of security who could assist me. They didn't. I asked if they could contact the guard quick so he could seal the doors and trap the man in. They said he would have already gotten away because they had no radios to warn the guard. I was livid at this point but I counted to ten. These people sell meat and produce and dry goods, they are not the FBI. And so...

There are big lessons to be learned here: never daydream!!!

What gets me most is the thought of having to line up for hours at the LTO to have my driver's license replaced and at U.P to have my U.P ID replaced. After lunch yesterday, after I had gotten partial function of my brain and motor skills back, I replaced my cell phone and SIM card. So yes, I have retained my cell number but have lost over 700 entries in my personal phone directory of friends from decades ago and all across the globe--this is the biggest loss. I will not be able to reconstruct that even if I kill myself trying.

I am appealing to friends who may be reading this to please text me your number (I have retained my old number) so I can have your number again and resume life as we knew it. I am glad yesterday is over.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Grad School Chic

Maverick turns 25 in two days, on December 11 exactly. She won't be home with us then, but she will arriving on December 16 to spend the holidays with family. Here are some photos she sent of her and her classmates monkeying around for a breather, I guess, before hell week descends on them, and all requirements need to be turned in, and the semester comes to a close. As always, humor never fails to save the day. She looks well. I am happy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

An Eating Tournament

Every year at Christmas time we are invited by the Munoz Family of Angeles Pampanga for lunch to celebrate their matriarch's birthday. Today, she turned 97. And every year, the spread is always two dining rooms-full of native Filipino food, enough to feed Ethiopia with left overs to spare. I am told that the preparations and cooking begin two days before and involve battalions of cooks and prep assistants who do nothing but chop and dice until the cows come home.

The food is always the best to be had as far as I am concerned. Isn't it legendary--this Kapampangan cuisine? Why? Because during the second world war, when the Japanese and American invasions happened, the rich Manilenos who employed the best chefs trained by the Spaniards retreated to nearby Pampanga to go in hiding. So Manila court food was literally transplanted to Pampanga. Thus, this rich culinary traditions grew in that place and was handed down through generations of Kapampangan women who are practically born in the kitchen.

The Munoz house itself, a 54-year-old structure built by my children's Grandpa, the late Remigio, sits on a hectare of land. the place is a throw back to olden times when there were hand pumps in the backyard, when huge dirty kitchens were built behind the main house, when orchards where built for a family's private supply of food. Roaming the property is like a walk down memory lane, when as children in the province we knew and wanted nothing better than that bucolic lifestyle and uncomplicated surroundings.

There must have been over 200 guests who hardly made a dent in the food. There were lots to spare. Everything was delicious but the star of the spread was the binalu--a type of sinigang that is cooked inside bamboo cuttings (called Balu) and slow stewed over live coals in the backyard. They use kamias and sampaloc to sour up the broth and it is the best ever soup you will try in this country; I swear.

Notice how many sauces are served with the dishes? Kampampangans will die if they don't have one millions condiments to eat with their food that's why they have pretty jaded palates. So they pile on even more sauce--too rich for my taste, actually. I kind of prefer the organic taste of food, not wanting it layered with many different tastes brought on by sauces. But it's good to have rich, palate-electrocuting stuff once in a while.

Sisig: my absolute favorite




Rellenong Talong

Inihaw na Hito

Steamed vegetables

Tapang Kalabaw

Mango Buro and Mango Salad


Pancit Palabok with Chicharon Galore

Pure taba ng talangka


Binalu rice cooked inside bamboo cuttings

Binalu broth stewing inside bamboo poles over live coals

The Height of Narcissism

I attended a formal event last week for which I had to shun the jeans and white t-shirt for a few hours and really put on the glitz, big time. There were only two more weeks before the occasion when I realized that I had nothing to wear so I turned to Mr. Inno Sotto, who in my opinion, is one of the, if not the, greatest fashion fairy godmothers in the country. When I told him I had only two weeks of lead time, (all designers ask for at least a month with at least three fittings) he didn't even bat an eyelash. He said, "Doable."

Oy!, I thought to myself, if he can come up with a decent dress, then he rules! But of course, being the procrastinator that I am, there were only 12 days left when I came to see him. He said, "You have to do two fittings. One this week and another next week."

I had that first fitting with just the lining of the dress. They needed to take it in in several places because I had lost even more weight since they last measured me, the previous week. Lo and behold I had to rush to L.A. to be by Maverick's side after that and I arrived ONE day before the event with absolutely no more time for repairs in case the dress didn't fit right. I was very anxious when I finally had the dress in my hands. But, being the genius that he truly is, Voila! it fit like a glove and with not a single stitch out of place. Some said, "Sure, he has done for you before, he knows your body type, that's no mean feat." But still, I say, "Genius is as genius does."

Mean words have been hurled his way since his late beloved partner, Richard Tan's, death. They claimed his art has suffered. Clients had an exodus to other designers. But you know how the infamous crab mentality (like crabs climbing on top of each other, those below take others down on their mission to reach the top) of the pinoys work: you're already down on the pavement and people will delight in kicking you even more.

I had no date for the evening. I was thinking Daniel Craig in Bond's legendary tuxedo on my arm would have been the perfect accessory. No, maybe Roger Federer. No, maybe Alex Rodriguez--Madonna will eat me alive! No, maybe Robert Pattison--cougar alert! Zues would have been the perfect choice. But since Zeus was holding court in Olympia I turned and did better thing. I took Belli with me.

We ended up having the time of our lives, chit-chatting the whole night, and giggling away! She is by far the best date I've ever had!

I was debating on whether to post these photos. But given that I have no photo of just the dress (it's still at the cleaners) and I don't know how to put a heart graphic on my face as some bloggers do to conceal their identity, I'm going face commando here. Anyway I know that all you readers are my relatives (thanks for following the blog. I love you all). I'm posting them risking ire and judgement but I do so with an official declaration that it is the height of narcissism! But may I please argue that it may be warranted this one time since, in the words of Julia Roberts in the Erin Brokovich movie, "It took a village to raise that cleavage."

In fact , when I looked in the mirror after putting on the dress, I was quite pleased with results of the effort Inno put in. I started getting smug, I admit--feeling self-important, posing a la Binibining Pilipinas for Pippi who was taking the pictures. But when Belli blurted, "Mom! What are you doing posing like that? You're a mom!" I stopped in my tracks and reflected briefly on what she had said.

Really...there's nothing like an innocent child's words to bring one back down to earth and keep him grounded.

All I can say is Inno Sotto rules, always have, always will! Thank you so very much, Inno!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Knight in Shining Armor: Millennium Style

On a recent shoe-shopping trip with a girl friend, as we sat barefoot on a quilted ottoman contemplating dozens of pairs of shoes in dizzying colors strewn about the floor, an image of Prince Charming slipping the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot popped into my mind.

“You think knights in shining armor and princes charming still exist today?” I asked her. She snapped her head to face me and with a raised eyebrow said, “You on something? Stupid question, so here’s your stupid answer: there’s Osama Bin Laden, there’s the Bali bombers, there’s George Bush, there’s O.J. Simpson…sure, yeah, they exist.” She then proceeded to pay for her one-pair purchase while I walked out empty handed. Shocked? Well, we were both under the weather that day so the shoes stayed in the store.

Because I thoroughly enjoyed my friend’s reaction, I ventured to ask other people the same question, not necessarily in search of answers, but for the entertainment value that their facial expressions and sarcasm may dish out.

But first, I had to set parameters with which to define the term “knight in shining armor” in the event that I am asked to be more specific. Here’s what I came up with: according to knight in shining armor means, a person, usually a man, who comes to the aid of another, usually a woman, in a gallant and courteous manner.
The present-day use of this phrase is, of course, figurative and refers back to the notion of gallant knights saving fair maidens in distress. The reality behind that imagery is dubious and no doubt owes much to the work of those Victorian novelists and painters who were captivated by the chivalrous ideal of an imagined court of Camelot. Nevertheless, knights did wear armor, and that worn by royalty and the high nobility was highly polished and did in fact gleam and shine.

Today, it may simply mean, according to someone who helps you when you are in a difficult situation.

And so I asked a thirty-something cousin if she believed in present-day knights in shining armor by first defining its modern meaning, which, simply put, is a helpful man and she said, “Whatever. You can define and simplify it all you want, there are no knights in shining armor, duh! It’s all about female empowerment, as in, do it for yourself and by yourself.” That was pretty cutting, so I moved on.

I bumped into an old French teacher, who is now in her late sixties and asked her the same thing. She said, “Yes, he lives in my mind. The real knight I have at home snores, won’t help me with carrying grocery bags unless I threaten to eat the sinigang na bangus belly before he gets to it, and once handed me the screw driver when I asked him to help mend my broken eyeglass frame. But oh, in my mind, he looks like the young Robert Redford in Out of Africa and he would slay lions for me. The one at home wouldn’t even scrunch out a cockroach to stop me from screaming; he just hands me a rolled up newspaper.

I was unfazed. I knew someone out there would be a positivist like me, so I forged on. At the beach with some friends two weekends ago, I met somebody’s 23-year old niece—a pretty girl who had just landed her first job. Over margaritas, I asked her the same question. “Sure there are,” she answered, “good looking men atop cantering white stallions with swords drawn. The problem is, they just keep galloping past me or if at all they stop, they do so just long enough to cause heartache and then move on to their next conquest.” Oh no, I thought to myself, so young yet already so jaded.

Done with females, I badgered a 46-year old male friend to share his thoughts on the matter. “What? Knight in what? That’s the problem with you women, you romanticize everything. We will help you when we can, if we have the time, and we don’t need no armor to do it. What else? Ha? Slay dragons? Mosquitos pwede pa.” No luck here either.

Desperate at this point, I went to my all time go-to guy: my brother. “You think there are modern-day knights in shining armor?” I asked. He hunched his shoulders, shook his head and said, “Ano nanamang kalokohan yan?” He gets exasperated because of the many social experiments I conduct for this column and with him always as guinea pig. “Nothing, I’m just asking.” Of course I was lying. He took a few moments to consider the question then said, “Yeah, me. I’m that by default because you’re always in trouble. I’m always having to rescue you.” “And you feel bad about it?” I snapped at him like a spoiled brat. “No, but please try to space the incidents out so I get some reprieve, okay?” he teased.

After we spoke I contemplated what he had said. He was right, like he always is. I do run to him for anything and everything and each time he was there for me. The last time this happened was when he was all the way in South Africa. He asked me over the phone, “Do you need me there?” I didn’t answer because I didn’t want to impose. Nevertheless he said, “I’ll catch the next flight out. I can be there in 36 hours.” And he was. Plus, he never fails to say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. Everything will be alright.”

Just before I sat down to write this piece, I mentioned to my 12-year-old daughter over dinner that there might not be knights in shining armor anymore in this post-modern world. She disagreed, “That’s not true Mom. Remember that man in the Seattle airport shuttle who helped you?” That is one story that merits a retelling a hundred times over.

A year ago, I was in an airport shuttle in Seattle. The bus was half full and the atmosphere was serene. Directly behind me was a young man, 20-ish, his ears plugged into an iPod, his hands, thumbing his PSP. I reclined my seat back to get comfortable as we rolled along and started reading a book when I felt a pounding behind me. I turned around and saw him kicking my seat. I said nicely, “Excuse me, please try not to do that, thanks.” This only provoked him to kick harder. Then in a raised voice he said, “Put your seat back up! Put it up; I need leg room!” The entire busload of passengers looked at him, which only made him shout louder, “Put up the seat!”

“No thanks,” I answered. “I like it the way it is.” He then let out a barrage of expletives, complaining how cramped he was. So I explained in a normal tone that it was my seat and I had the right to do with it as I pleased, that half the passengers on the bus had their seats reclined, and that no one else was complaining. After I had turned back around and resumed my position, he raised both feet onto my headrest, hitting the top of my head in the process.

“Could you not do that?” I said, now trembling with anger.

He answered, “No, they’ll stay there until you put up your seat.”

“Had you asked nicely in the first place, you would be enjoying more leg room by now, but no thanks. The seat stays reclined.”

At this point, I was livid and ready for anything. Then, from out of the blue, somewhere off to my right, a huge man (over six feet and over 200 pounds), mid-30s, whom I oddly did not notice before, screamed at him in defense of me. “Leave the lady alone!” The manboy attempted to argue with him but the gentle giant said, “It’s her seat; if you have a problem move somewhere else. But leave her alone. You got that?” The manboy didn’t as much as breathe after the forceful dressing-down he got.

But then the deed doesn’t have to be all that dramatic for a man to be considered a knight. Random acts of kindness—so rare these days—are enough to merit a knight’s title: a helping hand; a sincere inquiry about how one’s day went; a please or a thank you; a big, warm hug; or in my case these very words—eleven of them: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. Everything will be alright.” He might not be able to fulfill all of that or even half of that but the gesture itself and those soothing words always manage to assuage fear and anxiety and appease a troubled heart. It’s works like magic.

There are modern-day knights in shining armor. Believe me; there are.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Harvard Business School: Educating Leaders

The idea kept floating around in my mind. “We educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” This is the mission statement of the Harvard Business School (HBS), a century old educational institution founded as part of Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA.

I entered the Tower Club in Makati, the venue for the Centennial Dialogue of the Harvard Business School Club of the Philippines. The club, composed of HBS alumni based in the country, marked the school’s centennial with cocktails and a dialogue featuring HBS Professor Howard Stevenson, via live video conferencing, and Mr. Manuel Tordesillas, co-founder and President of ATR KimEng Financial Corporation and HBS alumnus batch 1982. The night’s discussion was aptly called “From Hindsight to Foresight: Lessons from 100 years of Market Volatility.”

“They are only the best and the brightest,” a fellow writer said after I had told him of my assignment to write about HBS alumni. “What’s there to write about them? The whole world knows that only exceptional men and women get into HBS. These are demi gods!”

“There’s nothing else for you to say,” another colleague had blurted out. And so, I felt stymied as I took on the task but take it, I did anyway, albeit reluctantly, because I wanted to feel what it was like to move in the same arena as them.

I walked around the room, observing gentlemen in smart suits—HBS alumni all—huddled in small groups and engaged in banter. I scouted around for an opportunity to eavesdrop, to catch a line, a gesture, an unguarded moment—anything—that would differentiate these men from the rest of us mortals who have not gone through the “Harvard experience.”

Well, for starters, they knew how to hold wine glasses (by the stem and nowhere else). No one chewed with his mouth open; none of them burped after hefty swallows; no one wore visibly scuffed shoes; and no one had a stained tie (the lighting was good so, yes, I did see very well). There were no shout-outs to waiters and no manic flailing of the arms to catch their attention; they were quite content to wait to be served.

Manuel Tordesillas: Before the evening’s program started, I was introduced by the HBS Club’s incoming President, Sheila Ramos of Batch ’93, to a couple of alumni, who were gracious enough to grant me short but insightful interviews.

Mr. Manuel Tordesillas of Batch ’82, 56 years old, is a co-founder and President of ATR KimEng Financial Corporation, a publicly-listed company which is one of the country’s leading diversified financial services group engaged in investment banking, corporate finance, securities brokerage, money brokerage, life insurance, mutual funds, asset management and property investments. He has over 30 years of investment banking experience in the Philippines and throughout Asia.

He seemed reluctant at first, when Ms. Ramos asked for the interview on my behalf. Still, he obliged, broke into a tentative grin, greeted me with a firm handshake, and led me to a quiet corner where we could converse undisturbed. I immediately told him that the interview was for a lifestyle feature, not for the business section, and that it was meant to be an informal and intimate recollection of his “Harvard experience.” He seemed to relax upon hearing this and once I threw him the first question, he never stopped talking. He was a journalist’s dream: eloquent and articulate without being overbearing and boorish. His eyes lit up each time he pulled out a specific incident from his HBS memory bank. Clearly, he looks upon those years as a student with much fondness and a hint of sentimentality, I dare say, especially when he spoke of how his family—young wife and children—supported him throughout those trying two years. “They were my life line of support.”

“It was a humbling experience,” Mr. Tordesillas admitted. “You see, we (first year enrollees) were excelling in our own fields before getting there but then we later found out that we were average because we were among the best. We realized none of us had all the answers so we had to learn to work together.” I asked him if completing the MBA program was, indeed, as tough as others make it to be. “Sure,” he said. “You must be driven; you must have the attitude that you will overcome anything, that you can do it because if you don’t, you will fail.”

He became even more animated in the succeeding minutes and to my last question which was, “Do you believe that a Filipino student from one of our local universities could make it into HBS?” he answered a resounding, “Of course! I came from LaSalle!”

Jerry Angping: It was fortunate that I had landed an interview with Mr. Jerry Angping, 53, of batch ’82, and outgoing President of HBS Club. He is Chairman of Geograce Resources Philippines, Inc., a real estate and cement distribution company. He is a dynamo, a firecracker, if you will. His effervescent personality had me on edge the entire time, anticipating his every line. Clever, would be an understatement of his take on life. Entertaining, would be a fair description of his delivery of anecdotes. Fun and enlightening would sum up the entire exchange with him.

“I was 24 when I entered HBS,” he started off. “I had the vigor of youth then, the yearning for excitement, and the hunger for education. I wanted to learn and at the same time have fun. The first year was all education; the second year was all fun and that’s because in the first year everyone takes the required courses. I was lucky; the first year was very, very tough. They have this rule where you hit the screen if you don’t perform well so you get kicked out after the first year. You have these gigantic egos competing against each other in the first year. In the second year, us mere mortals are resigned to our fate and those who cannot get the honors just go for the fun. If you get to the second year that means you’re alright.”

I then asked him if he had heard of the “Harvard Four Minute Rule,” some sort of urban legend obviously proliferated by Harvard rejects. It refers to the allegation that it takes, on average, four minutes, from the point of having been introduced to somebody (who happens to have graduated from Harvard) for that person to casually mention that he/she graduated from Harvard.

He chuckled and said, “That’s very interesting…very interesting. I guess it depends. It’s a very useful credential to drop but if used ostentatiously, can turn people off.” He chuckled a bit more and added, “When I came back from Harvard I went to teach in U.P. and the first thing I told my students was, ‘There’s MBA from Harvard but there’s DBA from Divisoria’ and I honestly, up to today, I think that the Divisoria Business Administration degree is more important that the MBA from Harvard. The Divisoria one is all about street smarts, how to deal with people, how to treat friends and foes alike, how to treat peers and how to manage laterally, and linearly, and vertically and that’s very important. Sometimes, if you are too bookish it’s not good. It’s never as important as what you learn when dealing directly with people in the real world.”

When we both stood up to bid each other goodbye, he said to me, “Nice red shoes.” I instinctively looked at my pumps and there they were: shiny and bright red, as red as my cheeks had probably gotten because of the nice gesture from that gentleman from Harvard. I shall not forget him.

Sheila Ramos: Still relishing the effects of that very engaging interview with Mr. Angping, I moved on to incoming HBS Club President, Ms. Sheila Ramos, 40, of batch ’93. The first thing I asked her was what her official job title was. When she said, “Transitioning,” she immediately captured my interest and then held it until the very end of the interview because of how forthcoming she was, how deliberate of speech, how clear-minded on what she wanted to do, and how definite her future plans were.

“I had been with Tokyo Tokyo (the family’s chain of fast food restaurants) for the longest time and now at 40, I figured I need to regroup and spend time with my family, helping each member find their passion in the way I did—a passion for work or play which carried me through my two years at HBS. It’s really for the kids. Although I don’t want to talk about them, it’s the age; they’re growing up too fast. I’m going on sabbatical for five years for them and then at 45, I’ll still be young enough to go back and do what I have to.”

I asked what was the most important thing she had learned in her two years at HBS. “It’s not what you learn but how you learn it,” she answered, clear-eyed and enthusiastic.

Ramos then spoke at length about the case study method, which is a powerful interactive learning process that brings the complex and dynamic realities of business analysis and decision making into the classroom. The Case Method is the cornerstone of the school’s renowned general management approach, which provides the student with skills, insights, and self-confidence required to meet the demands of real business situations.

“The first six months at HBS were tough for me. In fact on the very first day, I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna die.’ Class can be terrifying. I was 23 and quite lonely, plus I had come from a school, which was very traditional in teaching methods. It was rote learning, where one wasn’t allowed to think out of the box and to ask questions. At HBS that was mostly what we had to do—ask questions. We had to figure out answers by asking questions and analyzing given business situations. All HBS alumni go through around 500 case studies before they graduate.”

I then asked her to talk about her HBS classmates for a quick profile on what the people who make it there are like. “They were equally passionate outside school as they were inside. We had Olympic swimmers, singers, dancers, techies. At the end of the day, they are passionate people. That’s what makes them different.”

Quintin Doromal: Next, I sat down to speak with Mr. Quintin “King” Doromal of batch ’52, who, at 81, is the oldest member of the HBS Club. He is Executive Director of Bantayog ng Bayani, a foundation for those who were killed and incarcerated during Martial Law. It was a welcome change of pace as Mr. Doromal reminisced leisurely about his days at Harvard.

“Are you finding pleasure in retirement?” I asked him. He looked genuinely surprised. He then piped up, “Why, you’re retired? But you look young.” With wit as sharp as a knife I knew I was in for an exciting ride with Mr. Doromal. He continued, “My tuition then was only, $210 a year, can you imagine that? What is it now, $40,000? $50,000? Now we can both agree that I am the luckiest man in this room!”

I then asked him if he had always wanted to come back to the Philippines upon graduation and he answered, “Of course! I belong to a nationalistic generation. I had always known I was coming home right after school. My goal had always been to come back and do something for this country.”

Miguel Aguiluz: Next up was Mr. Amable Miguel Aguiluz IX, or Miguel for short, of batch 2005, who was kind enough to have given me a few moments of his time. He is CEO of the ACA Group of Companies and was enrolled under the HBS OMP program, which caters to business owners. He is known for winning the school’s business strategy competition, besting 149 other participants. The winning project, now operational in the country, is called “Ink for Less,” a printer ink refilling station.

I asked him, “Was there one definitive experience while at school that changed you?” “Well, there were many. The experiences I shared with my classmates for one, and what I had learned from them. Also the professors there are the best in the world, and of course, the lessons I learned, specifically in corporate strategy, which I have retained up to now, have improved my management style and my company.”

To lighten the mood a little, I ventured to ask Mr. Aguiluz if he had heard of the “Harvard Four Minute Rule.” He said no, so I explained to him the myth that it takes four minutes for someone to mention that he is a Harvard graduate. He let out a hearty chuckle upon hearing it and said, “That could be true but I always wait until I am asked.”

Manny Ayala: In the middle of the evening’s program, I espied an old friend, former media personality, Manuel “Manny” Ayala, 45, of batch ’92. Manny is currently Managing Director of IRG Limited, a specialist investment bank based in Hong Kong that focuses on the Telecoms, Media and Technology sectors in the Asia Pacific. Apart from advising clients in the region on Mergers & Acquisitions projects, he also spends quite a bit of time running and coaching companies that IRG has invested in. He currently oversees an animation outsourcing company that services the video game and film industries”

He was in conversation with incoming President, Ms. Sheila Ramos, so I went ahead and took the liberty of asking him for a printable quote about the Harvard experience. I knew I was going to get either the most controversial or the funniest one from him because whenever he sheds the serious image and lapses into his loveable clown mode, he never fails to bring the house down.

He then answered almost instantly with his trademark impish smirk, “HBS without the H is simply, BS. How’s that for a quote?” So I looked to Ms. Ramos for approval and she said with a big smile, “Sure, you can print that but please don’t fail to mention that the source is the muse of the Harvard Business School Club, Mr. Manny Ayala. “Done,” I said.

“Seriously though,” Manny added, back now in his usual business-like persona, “I thought HBS was one of the most intense, eye-opening intellectual experiences I’ve ever had...kind of like boot camp for capitalists. Having all those brilliant, type A personalities as classmates, you were constantly forced to raise your game and push your thinking to higher and higher levels of rigor.”

Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola: Right before leaving I spotted Mr. Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III, 57, of batch ’77, President of Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) among the crowd and kindly asked him for a quote as well. He replied, “Give me five minutes,” and then turned pensive. It hadn’t even been two minutes when he turned back to me and said, “Here it is: I thought I was gifted but when I got there, it turned out I was ordinary.” We both contemplated that for a moment and it didn’t sit well because anybody but anybody in Manila’s business circle knows that Mr. Montinola is anything but ordinary.

So he came up with a better one in the next breath: “I didn’t speak much in class but I learned, through three cases a day, about business analysis by osmosis.”

Fred Ayala: In the process of writing this piece I remembered the one Harvard Business School alumnus that I have always admired since the first time I met him 27 years ago, Mr. Alfredo “Fred” Ayala, 47, of batch ’87, because of his old world charm and manners, his intelligence that never fails to enchant those who come across him, and the absence of arrogance that many in his stature easily fall prey to. He is currently CEO of Livelt Solutions, Inc., Ayala Corporation’s holding company for its investments in the BPO sector. He was gracious enough to humor me and here is what he said: “Harvard was a great catalyst for discovering what I really wanted to do, by exposing me to classmates, professors, and career opportunities that were much more diverse and inspirational than I had anticipated.”

Gathered in the Tower Club that evening were indeed leaders who make a difference in the world, true to their alma mater’s mission statement. But more than that, up close and personal, they are passionate men and women. They are cerebral warriors who battled their way into HBS, bastion of the world’s elite intelligentsia, where only one out of nine applicants ever gain access, and then labored for two years to finish what they had set out to do. They are highly intelligent, driven, inspired, and exceptional, but at once tempered by a keen sense of humor that seems to say to those they encounter, “C’mon, don’t take me too seriously, don’t be intimidated, I’m a regular guy.”

After spending several hours with these people I figured that the “Harvard Four Minute Rule” should be radically altered so that it refers to the average amount of time wherein one realizes that he is in the presence of a Harvard graduate.