No MBA? No problem: Piki earns an MMY

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PROUD LOPEZES FPHC chair Federico “Piki” Lopez (second from left) is the newest Management Man of the Year, an award also given to his father, Oscar (third from left). With them are Gabby Lopez (extreme left) and Manuel Lopez

When Federico “Piki” Lopez was attending Harvard University in 1988, he had to pack up and go home to the Philippines and help his father Oscar Lopez rebuild what was then a near-bankrupt First Philippine Holdings Corp. (FPHC).

The young Lopez thought then that leaving campus was temporary and that he would come back after three or four years. But he never did return to finish and earn his Master of Business Administration degree.

This has been a lingering regret that he has harbored over the years, and is partly the reason why he has always felt, as he says, “like an outsider or outlier” in the Philippine business community.

Why did he not return to Harvard?

“This was likely because the situations I encountered at work convinced me that immersion in the world of real-life business was better for my development than interrupting it with another year of school,” Lopez says.

More than 30 years on and he still could not figure out whether he did right or he squandered an uncommon opportunity. And yet, Lopez says, a different set of three letters has relieved him of his longing for an MBA on his curriculum vitae—MMY.

Last Nov. 23, Lopez was named the Management Association of the Philippines’ (MAP) Management Man of the Year 2020. The year makes the award even more significant for him as this was 20 years after MAP conferred the same award to his father Oscar, whom he says is the greatest influence on him.

“After [this award], thanks to MAP, the three letters ‘MMY’ more than makes up for that and resolves this unfinished goal [of earning an MBA] in my mind once and for all,” Lopez says.

Even then, Lopez, chair and CEO of FPHC, admits that formal schooling never worked well for him in his youth. Having what he described as a learning difference—his mind straying far and wide during dull lectures—which bestowed upon him “unexceptional grades and academic struggles.”

Still, he compensated for such a dearth of academic honors with a profusion of competitive swimming medals and records broken. This affinity to water later developed into a love for the sea, which ushered him into advocacies for which he and FPHC is now known. The group’s avowed mission is “to forg(e) collaborative pathways for a decarbonized and regenerative future.”

Initially an avid spear fisher, Lopez traded the sport for underwater photography after a harmless close encounter with a 14-foot great hammerhead shark during a scuba diving sortie off the Verde Island Passage in Batangas.

On land, and now at the helm of FPHC, he said natural calamities such as Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in 2013 and subsequent disasters guided the group into a decision announced in 2016—they will never invest on coal projects, particularly in the power generation business.

The “no-to-coal” policy “was not easy to explain to shareholders and analysts who wondered whether it made sense to just shut the door, walk away from a profit opportunity, or compete in the power industry with one hand tied behind your back,” Lopez says. “Despite the doubters, let me say we never wavered and never once regretted the decision, most especially today.”

Edgar Chua, chair of MAP’s MMY 2020 judging committee, said that among reasons that Lopez earned the award was his passion for pushing for the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy through his various advocacies to proactively address the irreparable damage of climate change.

The long list also includes, Chua says, Lopez’s steering FPHC to being in the forefront of energy security and sustainability, and clean technologies for renewable energy and natural gas; and setting an example for Filipino managers through a track record of integrity, entrepreneurial excellence, professional competence and great leadership in his management career.In thanking the MAP for the honor, Lopez says the award helps make sense of the times when they felt like the faint voice in the wilderness and their view of the world might not have been mainstream.

“Thankfully, the winds are changing profoundly now,” he says. “But no matter where each of us are in this continuum of belief today, I feel with a mix of certainty and hope that we will all be helping each other along this same road very soon.” INQ


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