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Cover Story

The Aboitiz Leadership and Culture Symbiosis

AE Team | Feb. 28, 2018

The Aboitiz Leaders Conference was held again recently, bringing together 190 of the Aboitiz Group’s top leaders for what AEV President & CEO Erramon Aboitiz described as an opportunity “to refresh ourselves about what is asked of us and how an Aboitiz leader is expected to lead.”

Anchored on this, discussions focused on the Aboitiz culture and the role of leaders in its protection, preservation, and promotion, ultimately, toward understanding what it means to create an environment where great ideas can happen by leading a culture that performs.


leadcon EIA opening remarks

The Aboitiz Way
Erramon Aboitiz, President & CEO, AEV

  • Aboitiz leaders help shape the Aboitiz culture through leadership and example
  • Leadership and culture are symbiotic; they exist together for mutual benefit
  • Aboitiz is a values-driven organization; the Aboitiz Way is deeply founded on the core values of Integrity, Teamwork, Innovation, and Responsibility
  • Leaders influence the Aboitiz culture that creates defining moments of truth where our values come to life through what we do moment by moment without being told
  • Successful leadership is not about outshining the person next to you but about being better from the inside out
  • Aboitiz leaders are to PROTECT, PRESERVE and PROMOTE our culture (3Ps)
  • CEB: Leaders are highly consistent when talking about culture, less consistent in showing it, and even far less when they operationalize it
  • CEB: Despite huge spending on culture programs, most companies cannot confidently say that they have the right culture that actually drives business performance
  • Culture starts to erode when people fail to interpret it into their day-to-day tasks at work, creating a kind of tension between what we say about culture and what gets manifested and practiced in our policies and procedures
  • Leading with our core values creates an Aboitiz workplace that drives business results to achieve our purpose of driving change for a better world
  • Leadership and culture DNA in an organization evolves in response to the call of the times; Knowing that our core values and principles remain unfazed and we continue to operate from there, we will be able to meet this phenomenon with equal if not better strength and resilience

We often declare that we are a values driven organization but are we aware if our message is really being well received by our team members? Do we take the time to check what their perceptions are about the way we do things around here or is it just our voice that gets heard? Do we check with others how we are showing up as leaders?


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Leading a Culture That Performs
Sabin Aboitiz, COO, Aboitiz Equity Ventures

  • In 2010, Pilmico executives took the Partners in Leadership workshop with a 100% compliance; the program employed the bottom-up approach
  • An important question was “Do we really believe in this program?” along with one-on-one conversations with leaders
  • It’s not the presentation in the boardroom but the conversation that happens outside that indicates how a program is being embraced by the leadership team
  • With our environment that is ever-changing, team members are demanding engagement, relevance, and self-development; what remains constant for the team are our Aboitiz Values 
  • Our Aboitiz Values are elements that shape the character and culture of the Aboitiz Group
  • It is important to constantly revisit HOW WE DEFINE our values to keep them relevant


Let’s not be confused by the various initiatives in our attempt to define our culture. Our Aboitiz Values are elements that shape the character and the culture of the Aboitiz Group. The true meaning of our Aboitiz Values is meant to be discovered. It’s when it is imbibed and lived by, that we find its genuine definition that is clear and realistic to us.




We all have the same values but the culture in each of the business is different. How do we align the culture and the behaviors in the different business units that we have?

EIA: We all have different businesses, we deal with different stakeholders, we have different ways of doing things, etc. — but we as a group should not be inconsistent with our values. Our hope is that through these values, we’re going to see commonality in how we act, how we speak, in what we believe in. And within that, we can be different, like brothers and sisters who come from the same family and share the same parents. They have something common among them yet they may each be different and that’s what we see and hope to see in our Group.

SMA: The definition of each value is what the unit will do on their own plus how they’re going to act — because the businesses require different actions — but they make sure they all fall within the same values. Culture is actually the same, you’re all acting guided by your values but the way you act on each value should be according to what the business unit requires you to do.




How open are we to experimentation where we devote time, energy, and money without having to justify the results we seek?

SMA: Very open. That’s where we’ll get new ideas and learn.


How aggressive are we in making sure that our culture is understood by our millennial team members and vice versa?

SMA: Nobody knows, it’s new. They do ask a lot of good questions. I don’t know if we didn’t think of it when we were there. How to handle millennials is probably the same way as before but I believe when they turn 30 or 35, they will all fall in the same thing.

EIA: They are the upcoming workforce, the upcoming team members in our organization and over the next few years will probably become the majority. But I would prefer not to classify and think specifically as millennials but the whole organization. Why are we talking about the millennials? Why aren’t we talking about everybody in our organization, from top to bottom? Is there going to be a differential if you are a millennial versus somebody who’s been there for many years? I say we should have the same attention to everybody and make sure that their aspirations are being met, their ambitions are being addressed, their desires and way of thinking are being considered — whether you’re a millennial, baby boomer, whatever it is. I would prefer that we not label people from a generation point of view but look at ourselves as one big organization.


Can you recall the last time when our values and culture were tested?

EIA: More recently, I’m sure you’re all aware that we made certain mistakes in our investments. Because of our values and protecting our name, we made the tough choice of paying off the loans to the banks. They were all project financed, but we decided to honor our word by paying every cent before the banks even thought about it, before they even knew about the issues that we had. These are examples that cost us several billion pesos yet we decided we’re not going to sit down and negotiate with banks and we’re going to pay every centavo. 


What do you see us as a leadership team doing differently from what we’re doing today that would move us forward to where we want to be?

EIA: As we go out to our different BUs, look at the tensions and inconsistencies we see that make it difficult for us to follow our values — look at policies/practices that make it difficult; it is our responsibility to say something needs change if they are inconsistent rather than expect the Excom or Group Mancom to be the one to look at these things. “Bottom-up” is the leaders acting on the inconsistencies, it has to come from each and every one of the leaders. I would like to see all of you try to see how we can.

SMA: We need to maximize the resources that we already have, working within and among BUs. The data, network, and knowledge that we have is our major advantage over our competitors.

EIA: When we’re talking to our stakeholders, we have to make it a point — without seeming to be bragging or on a high horse — for them to realize that when they deal with an Aboitiz company that there’s something special that we give that somebody else does not.


How do we get better at talking about values and culture? How do we get past the exclusively logical side of the discussion into the emotional?

EIA: Perhaps it’s operationalizing our values. So when we’re talking to our different stakeholders, that we do it in a way that differentiates us, where they can see the values of the organization, the uniqueness in us.

SMA: How we get better is by believing in it.





Watch highlights from the conference below:


Culture Showcase

Each SBU took turns in discussing their own take on the Aboitiz culture and how their team members interpret this in their own words and mindset.


AboitizLand by Patrick Reyes

Used the 4Dx approach composed of:

  1. Widely Importantly Goals (WIGS) – If we cannot achieve these topmost priorities are, everything else is inconsequential; many goals results in half-done goals
  2. Lead Measures
  3. Accountability Meetings
  4. Compelling Scoreboards


AboitizPower by Anton Perdices

  • 5 culture attributes of AboitizPower leaders: authentically lead; preach; live, breathe, act according to our culture
  • Words must translate into action that leads to a positive experience for our stakeholders


Aboitiz Equity Ventures by Txabi Aboitiz

  • AEV focuses on what the Aboitiz Culture has weathered over a hundred years


Aboitiz Construction by Albert Ignacio

  • The Kauban Spirit – being a friend, pal, teammate, a partner
  • Guided by the bugsay principles and the kauban spirit since company began in 1975


UnionBank and CitySavings by Eugene Acevedo

  • UnionBank is building a bank of enduring greatness
  • CitySavings stays true to the mission of serving people of moderate means




Learning has always been a driving force in my life. I want to continue to develop myself because I do not know everything but I believe that I can do anything.

–Camille Bamba, Farm Veterinary Services Manager, Pilmico Farms



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Creating a Culture That Performs
Guest Speaker: Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Executive Advisor, CEB

  • Moving from ‘what’ and ‘why’ to ‘how’ we can help employees relate culture to day-to-day life
  • Unilever used a Cultural Listening Process composed of Sourcing Data, Analyzing, and Interpreting and Action
  • Paypal’s Cultural Journalism used ‘culture champions’ who listened and recorded what employees have to say and present these to their leaders, helping them interact with results
  • Think of how to instill confidence in our team members for them to feel confident in sharing feedback, bring the information as real and without making any changes because the tendency is always to project the good and hide the bad.
  • The lower into the organization, the fewer employees are confident that they have the energy to navigate between tensions and translation barriers. As leaders, it is our responsibility to empower our employees to conquer these barriers.
  • Companies are making a lot of investments in culture. In spite of this, most companies don’t have the culture they need. What’s preventing this is  Knowledge Gap, Mindset Gap, and Behavior Gap?
  • For us to understand what work processes to change, we first need to understand the barriers. Barriers to employees’ culture alignment: (1) Processes are not structured for teamwork; and (2) the timeline is not right



Organizations who are failing in their culture transformation journey believe that culture is HR’s initiative or something that only senior leaders in the organization can resolve. In your case, you are the senior leader, you are the leadership, you are the management, and you have a huge role. You can impact in a big way —think about your processes, think about your organizational design, think about your projects. And you also have a huge role in helping employees to navigate through those tensions they experience and also to help them contextualize.

–Saikat Chatterjee, Senior Executive Adviser, CEB




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Leadership Council by Tristan Aboitiz

  • Mandate: Recommend and champion initiatives that will deepen the collective leadership competence and effectiveness of the Aboitiz Group
  • The newly established Aboitiz Leadership Council is a seven-member team that represents the leadership of each of the Aboitiz business units.
  • Leadership competence is the catalyst that brings to life purpose, brand, values, and culture in the organization. Leaders who have a deeper well of leadership competence tend to be more effective in driving positive change
  • A thorough understanding of what effective leadership is the first step towards doing something about it
  • Initiatives:
    • 2018 profiles
    • Pulse surveys
    • Coaches
    • others



Conference Recap by Txabi Aboitiz

  • A lot of learning and interaction
  • Aspirational culture = a better version of what we have today (Susan Valdez, AEV Chief Corporate Services Officer)
  • On having a common understanding of core values, is it possible when we all have our own way of explaining it? Would it be more attainable to get everyone to truly internalize our values and find a way in which they are collective?
  • 40% of appraisal is based on values, how do we use values to drive better culture
  • 3Ps – protect, preserve, and promote our culture
  • Aboitiz core values are our ‘true north’
  • We do not give too many choices for leaders under us; experiment more and find ways to give true and extensive feedback
  • How to get everybody involved and get them to understand our culture and what it means to them individually
  • As senior leaders, we really have the ability to operationalize our culture




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