Speaking with the alumni of The Wharton School University of Pennsylvania, business magnate Manny V. Pangilinan talks about steering through the COVID-19 pandemic and the values of an effective leader during a crisis.
MANILA, Philippines – The need for an effective leadership has never become more paramount, given the uncertainty brought about by COVID-19. Last June 25, MVP Group of Companies Chairman and CEO Manny V. Pangilinan (MVP) spoke before the distinguished members of the Penn-Wharton Club of the Philippines to share his insights on leadership in the time of crisis. Hosted by broadcast journalist Cathy Yang, the online-exclusive event brought together over 100 young Filipino professionals and industry leaders from around the world – including those based in the U.S. and Hong Kong.
A first in a series of events organized by Julie Carceller, Vice President and Chief-of-Staff of the PLDT-Smart Chief Revenue Office, and fellow club member Lindy Castillo-Theodoropoulos, the Penn-Wharton Leadership Talk aims to provide members – composed mainly of entrepreneurs from different fields and young to mid-range professionals – with helpful insights and life-lessons on business. On why the club spearheaded this effort, Penn-Wharton Club of the Philippines President Duane Santos said, “No one is spared from the COVID crisis. While we are all navigating uncertainty, it will be of great help to hear inspiring words from people who have weathered storms in the past – and have risen above it – like MVP who also happens to be an alumnus of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.”
Here are some of Pangilinan’s lessons on crisis leadership and how he reflects them in the MVP Group of Companies.
Be adaptable to change
Pangilinan described a crisis as both a “black swan,” something that is unforeseen but makes a huge impact on people and businesses, and a “grey rhino,” something which is highly probable but left ignored. The dangers of a global health pandemic have always been present long before COVID-19 happened, and yet the world remained vulnerable and unprepared. Pangilinan said this is not a cause for panic and despair, but rather a reality that needs to be faced head on. “COVID-19 has painfully reminded us that businesses operate in a Darwinian landscape – it will not be the biggest or smartest who will survive, but those who best adapt to change will come out victorious in this crisis,” he said.
He admitted that profitability had to take a back seat for now, with the MVP Group’s first step focusing on the business’ most important components: the health and financial well-being of its employees, maintaining connectivity and service to customers, and assisting the government in caring for those who are most affected by this crisis.
Lead with a “people-first” mindset
Tackling the long-term effects of COVID, Pangilinan also said companies should start future-proofing their organization while leading with a “people-first” mindset. For instance, the MVP Group Chairman said PLDT has undergone a business forecast to match the demands of the industry to their employee skillset in the years to come. This way, the telco – and the MVP Group as a whole – can ensure job security for employees who are also coping with the crisis. “We not only have to pivot our business model to future-proof it as much as we can, but at the same time, to address the skill base and number of people we need moving forward. In the case of PLDT, we did a five-year forecast during the crisis and one of the assumptions was our headcount will increase,” he explained.
Effective communication is key
Another key learning in crisis management is authenticity. Pangilinan said to be an effective leader in times of crises, one must be clear and transparent about the reality of the situation. “It’s important to be able to communicate constantly with people. I think it’s helpful to be articulate, if not eloquent. It just keeps the fabric tightly woven within your company, within the group. It is always good for them to see that their leader is on top of the situation,” he added.
Pangilinan also emphasized the need to be calm amid the storm. “When there’s a crisis, you cannot panic. You cannot be seen as being doubtful or fearful of the situation. Any crack at the top will be seen as a chasm from below,” he said.
Keep the value system clear – and stick to it
Pangilinan described our current situation through the concept of liminality, which he lifted from a recent homily by Father Danny Huang, SJ, a former Provincial of the Philippine Jesuit province: “That strange and unsettling time and state… that space between no longer and not yet.” Pangilinan said leading bravely and being comfortable with discomfort will help us get through. He added the “what” and the “how” may not be recognizable in this time of crisis, but the “who” and “why” of an organization must remain rock solid, above all.
The MVP Group chairman said there is no playbook for a crisis, especially for the one we are in now. “Having a clear value system to guide our decisions and actions is more crucial than ever. We see the power of this approach from leaders who are showing up with their values in ways that clarify, comfort and inspire,” he said.
He concluded his speech in jest, “I’m reminded of what was once said: ‘If you want to make God laugh, just tell him about your plans.’”