The birth of the Philippine ‘techglomerate’

By Sabin M. Aboitiz, Aboitiz Group

THANK YOU for the honor and privilege of sharing an article on this special BusinessWorld 35th anniversary issue, focused on moving “Forward Faster.” This theme resonates deeply with all of us at the Aboitiz Group because it summarily describes what we’ve been doing for the past 100 years and what we intend to keep doing in the next hundred and beyond, which is to continuously accelerate our growth into the future through innovation.

We recently launched a large-and-deep-scale group-wide initiative based on a bold decision to literally move forward faster. We call it a Great Transformation in the way we think and act as a conglomerate in order to become a faster, better, and stronger version of it. This transition into a New Aboitiz is one of the most important moments in our storied history and urgent imperatives of our time. We call it the birth of the Philippine “techglomerate.”

Let’s first take a look at the world around us and appreciate its surreality, volatility, and unpredictability. We are at an inflection point in time that leaves us with no other recourse but to bite the bullet of the modern world and find strength and opportunity in it. As the world is transformed by a pandemic, a Fourth Industrial Revolution, a European war with profound repercussions, unprecedented inflation, and a rapidly eroding democratic ideal, I believe we have more than enough reasons to transform with it.   

We came to the rational conclusion that the only way to do this was to redefine what it means to be a conglomerate by defining what it means to be a techglomerate. As we move forward faster into the future, all industries will become tech industries, all companies will become tech companies, and all conglomerates will become techglomerates. At Aboitiz, we have chosen to not just recognize and accept this inevitable truth, but to accelerate it — to move towards it faster.

We knew this had to start with our people. Because as powerful as technology has become, it cannot and should not ever surpass the power of the people behind it. Humanity drives technology, and no matter how fast we move forward, it can never be the other way around. Thus began a campaign to open the mind to new and better ways of thinking, and a transformation to a culture that would be much more progressive, empathetic, independent, and entrepreneurial. We were shifting from a corporate culture to a startup culture.

We knew that once the mind was set free, people would become curious, experimental, and hungry for knowledge, as there was plenty of it out there and now instantly accessible. They would become more interested in understanding how things worked so they could find ways to make them work better. They would become naturally creative, innovative, collaborative, and unafraid to learn new skills and technologies that would make their lives easier and more productive at the same time. They would develop the attitude and behavior needed to build a techglomerate.

So a techglomerate from our perspective is not just about being tooled up to the max with the latest technology, but also about the mindset that goes with it — the cognitive flexibility, the digital dexterity, the emotional and social intelligence. It also means being clearly aware of the possibility that any of our strong, foundational, 100-year-old legacy businesses could be disrupted and dismantled at any moment by four college dropouts with a great idea and a garage. We are therefore incubating new tech startups to add to our future-ready business portfolio.

As a techglomerate, we also need to recognize the value of data and data literacy. Data is now the world’s most valuable commodity and by 2025, our Great Transformation’s first goal post, most employees will use data to optimize almost every aspect of their work. Our very own Aboitiz Data Innovation (ADI) in Singapore was created to explore and implement the vast possibilities of data science and artificial intelligence (DSAI) across all our business units to transform their performance capabilities.

The banking and financial services industry continues to explode online with fintech, crypto, blockchain, and digital banking; and now with ADI supporting it, UnionBank continues to lead this revolution locally with the creation of the country’s first digital bank, first metaversal bank branch, leading open finance platform, and most functional and customer-friendly online banking experience. DSAI has also been able to offset some of the strains affecting our Power and Food Groups due to the current energy and food crises.

Regional real estate is playing an increasing role in the growth of the economy and there is a unique opportunity to create well planned and forward-thinking developments that can compete globally. Our Land, Infrastructure, and Construction Groups are seizing this opportunity with developments like their LIMA Estate, as well as other critical infrastructure projects needed to support robust economic progress.

This brings me to my concluding point about our ultimate responsibility as a techglomerate, which is to bolster our brand promise of advancing business and communities. We and the rest of the private sector hope to work closely with the new administration in transforming our economy the way we are transforming our own businesses in preparation for the future — through digitization and innovative technology; modern, progressive thinking; and the proper infrastructure required to build a strong nation and economy that can be competitive on a global scale.

 

Sabin M. Aboitiz is the president and chief executive officer of the Aboitiz Group of Companies, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines with interests in energy, banking, food, real estate, infrastructure, construction, technologies, data science and artificial intelligence. He has been with the group for over three decades and has held various management positions in the company’s food, infrastructure, and then-transport strategic business units.