Setting pace for postpandemic recovery

Setting pace for postpandemic recovery

By Amy R. Remo

Published On Philippine Daily Inquirer on July 24, 2021.

It has certainly been a rough ride, to say the least, for this new breed of young visionary leaders, who needed to navigate the uncertainties and difficulties caused by this devastating pandemic.

Not only have they been thrust into the spotlight, expected to continue the stellar legacy of the generation of leaders before them, but these new pillars of the real estate industry have also been thrown into what could be one of the greatest crises seen in recent history.

Inquirer Property interviewed three of the country’s most dynamic young leaders—one from Luzon, one from Visayas and one from Mindanao—each out to make a distinct mark in an industry now challenged and upended by the pandemic.

Here, we sought to look into how they are leading their companies in their respective areas, each having diverse markets, varying property landscapes, and different responses to the pandemic. And while they may have their own unique strategies and solutions, their ultimate goals are the same—that is, to steer their respective companies towards survival and growth, and continue building safe, sustainable spaces, from residences, offices, hotels, commercial complexes to industrial parks and full-scale integrated townships like Damosa Land.

Impressively enough, these young leaders seem to be winning over the still raging pandemic, adapting to this so-called new normal or now normal as others call it. While this curveball has thrown them off at one point and while the world is not entirely out of the woods yet, they are getting back on track, charting a postpandemic growth path for their companies one solution at a time.

Here are their stories.

R.I.S.E. key to challenging times

More than ever, empathy is needed in these challenging times.

This is why Kevin L. Tan, chief strategy officer of property giant Megaworld Corp., puts a huge emphasis on becoming a leader who leads with empathy.

“During these times, our experiences helped me learn how to be extra caring of the people who are part of our organization. Without them, we will really have a hard time making it through. They are our most precious and most important resource,” Tan said in an interview with Inquirer.

“This pandemic highlighted the importance of empathic leadership to address the variety of challenges we encounter every day. We devised something we called the R.I.S.E. strategy that emphasizes the values of Resilience, Innovation, Strategy, and Empathy,” Tan explained. “Empathic leadership has never been more important in organizations than today. We serve to fulfill a higher purpose, and that is to ensure the health, safety, well-being, and general welfare of our employees during this time.”

Tan, however, didn’t need the pandemic to learn about empathy. It has been apparent since day one. When the pandemic first hit early last year, the first order of the day was to protect their employees, the front-liners and everyone who serves their customers and communities.

“People live and function within our townships, so we had to make sure that they are protected at all times. We had to think of our own people, first and foremost. Their safety and welfare have always been our top priority, which was why we immediately devised a way to get them vaccinated. (Around 95 percent) of our employees are already vaccinated. That’s a step towards the right direction as we ensure that people in our communities are always safe and protected,” he explained.

Further commendable is the fact that despite all these unprecedented difficulties, Tan continued to steer the company towards growth and innovation as though it were business as usual. He explained that innovation has long been ingrained in their company DNA and that they are set “on becoming the most innovative real estate company in the Philippines.”

Currently, Megaworld’s impressive portfolio comprise 725 completed residential buildings; 1.4 million sqm of gross leasable office spaces, making the company the biggest office developer and landlord in the country; over 500,000 sqm of retail spaces across 19 Megaworld Lifestyle Malls; and 12 operating hotels with more than 3,500 hotel keys. These are on top of projects that are ongoing and in the pipeline.

What’s even more impressive is that in the midst of the pandemic, Megaworld launched in June the country’s largest offer of real estate investment trust shares via MREIT Inc., which is targeted to be among the biggest in Southeast Asia.

MREIT, seen to raise P27.3 billion from its listing, has in its portfolio 10 properties covering 224,430 sqm of leasable space in three of Megaworld’s most valuable townships: cyberpark pioneer Eastwood City in Quezon City, McKinley Hill in Taguig City and Iloilo Business Park.

“MREIT allows us to showcase our expertise and our know-how. It’s a vehicle that we want to grow and one that can help create tremendous value for our organization. It will help us grow and expand further so that we can continue fulfilling our goal to create more jobs for Filipinos and more economic opportunities across a variety of sectors,” said Tan, who also serves as president of MREIT.

Tan is bullish of their prospects, noting that while demand is suppressed, there’s still liquidity in the capital market. Resources are there but aren’t being used in the meantime.

“People will still need homes. Businesses still need offices. Growth will be accelerating once again the moment everything settles down. This is just an artificial suppression, and demand will still fuel growth in the next few years. In fact, we foresee real estate growth kicking off once again beginning next year,” Tan said.

People’s welfare first and foremost

“People first.”

This was how Jose Franco B. Soberano described homegrown developer Cebu Landmasters Inc. (CLI)—a customer-first, community-centric company, whose first instinct at the onset of the pandemic was to look after its employees, homeowners, business partners and communities.

“There was both an urgency and generosity throughout our organization in sharing resources to get through this most unforeseen crisis—not only by helping those internal to our organization, but supporting various organizations and local government units in over 15 cities and over 30 barangays where we operate,” said the EVP and COO of CLI.

He cited as an example the support they have given to more than 5,000 third party construction workers, which included additional cash and meal allowances while they worked during the enhanced community quarantine period. After ensuring the wellness of their team and clients, they then asked theirselves as a company as to how they can support the industry and those who depend on it, said Soberano.

“The answer was simple. We had to sustain operations and keep the business running at the best possible level,” he said in an interview with the Inquirer.

Hence, despite the challenges of the pandemic, the team behind CLI did not hesitate to push through with their project launches, activities and completions while ensuring the safety and well-being of everyone who’s on board.

“We were one of the few developers that turned over completed projects over the pandemic. We turned over projects in Cebu, CDO, Davao and Dumaguete at the height of the pandemic,” Soberano said. “The home has truly been one of the best PPEs for every family, so there was a heightened demand for homes. As the leading developer in Vismin, we had to be resourceful through digitization and 24/7 communication, and this paved the way for us to even sell more residential units in 2020 than in the previous year. We also had to be generous, offering very flexible terms and packages to make homeownership attainable for more families.”

Recently, CLI even broke ground for a five-story tenement condo, where more than 100 informal settler families living along danger areas will be relocated.

“These are the kind of projects we need (more affordable housing, or HDB housing). We need to provide better shelter for our countrymen so that they may further excel in their workplace and become stronger members of the community,” Soberano stressed.

For this year, CLI will launch its 100th project—a leap from the 10 projects it had in 2010. At present, CLI is present in over 15 key cities in Visayas and Mindanao, capturing the highest market share in this part of the country. It has more than P50 billion worth of assets, and as of end March this year, it has already developed over 25,000 units with a combined project value of over P70 billion. An amazing 90 percent of CLI’s old and newly launched inventory is sold out.

From being a residential developer, CLI has diversified to become a multifaceted developer with a portfolio that includes vertical and horizontal reisdences, offices, commercial-retail, hotels, resorts, mixed-use developments, and townships.

“We are committed to resuming our growth trajectory this 2021. We are launching over P19 billion worth of residential projects this year encompassing 15 projects with more than 8,000 new units. On top of this, we are launching new mixed-use projects in Cebu, Davao and CDO. We are nearing the start of our 100-hectare Minglanilla Technohub in Cebu,” he added.

Given such bright and highly promising growth prospects despite the pandemic, Soberano hopes he will be able to continue and grow this legacy which his parents had started.

“They have built the company on strong foundations. They have built the company with the right principles and values combined with a high real estate acumen, and a great awareness that what we do can improve a lot of lives,” he added.

New concepts, changing mindsets to counter uncertainties

Ricardo F. Lagdameo is no stranger to a crisis, having had his share of challenging situations in the past.

But this devastating pandemic, which was the first crisis he faced as president of Damosa Land Inc., has been a test of his patience, creativity, and ingenuity.

“I felt, at times, during the last year, that you just had to step back and see where the tides will turn before making that critical decision. In a situation like this, it’s hard to force your way through the problem because nobody has ever experienced this,” Lagdameo shared.

Thankfully, Lagdameo was able to bank on his past experiences to help steer the company through the uncertainties of this pandemic.

One important aspect for them, he said, was reassuring his young team that the company would be ok. After settling everything they needed for a work-from-home setup—which Lagdameo stressed was not their preferred method of working—Damosa Land hastened its digital transformation to provide services remotely. The company also sought to assist the community with CSR programs focused on livelihood and recovery, such as its ‘farm-to-community’ programs. All these were in in addition to spearheading vaccination efforts in aid of recovery.

It was, however, doubly difficult for Lagdameo who was forced to spend the first few months in Manila while travel was still difficult—away from his team in Davao.

“Having to deal with team members and projects from so far, not being able to walk through projects, and not seeing people up close proved to be difficult, since we work in an industry where relationships are everything. I would normally like to think of myself as a creative problem solver but this pandemic surely put that to the test,” he explained.

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