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Alfredo Pascual: Leadership in the pursuit of excellence

Continuing education is a must. Digital transformation, for example, is no longer just for those who are progressive companies, but for all. 

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Illustration by Glenzkie Tolo

Alfredo “Fred” Pascual has always been a leader at heart.

A former president of the University of the Philippines, fellow trustee and former CEO of the Institute of Corporate Directors and now, governor of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), Pascual has done it all with passion and dedication.

In an interview on TribuneNOW’s Pairfect, a weekly digital show featuring leaders in their field, Pascual shared insights on what it takes to succeed and why he thinks the Filipino film character “Panday” is a good model for leadership.

AS president of the University of the Philippines, Alfredo Pascual was well ahead of his time. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF MAP.NET.PH

Excerpts:

Daily Tribune (DT): How did you get to where you are now?

Alfredo Pascual (AP): My high school dream was really to be a scientist. That’s why in college I took up Bachelor of Science in Chemistry as a government scholar. I did well and graduated cum laude in late 1969. At that time, no more than five percent of the graduating class would finish with Latin honors and summa cum laude was a rarity.

Before I formally graduated, I was asked by our department head in Chemistry to substitute for the teacher who had gone on maternity leave. I was able to teach for one semester and it was the time I was doing the finishing touches of my thesis. I graduated in 1970. I went to the National Institute of Science and Technology and applied. Again I was told, “Do you really want to work here? We can only make you an apprentice.”

I took up GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). I did okay and applied for an MBA program in UP. But, my first love was teaching so when I was released from my obligation to work in government, I took up MBA. And then later one of my professors said I needed to go to a more exciting field of management and that’s finance. Banking was starting in the country, Bancom was newly formed. I joined in and that started me off in my finance career. I was also teaching part-time at the Ateneo for about five years.

DT: You served as UP president from 2011 to 2017. Can you tell us a bit more about that? How was it being the first non-faculty member to hold that position? What are some of the milestones you continue to take pride in from when you were still the UP president?

Pascual has done it all with passion and dedication.

AP: If you are appointed UP president, you’re coming from the faculty, there will be old alliances, and old groups that you need to deal with. I did not have that so I didn’t have any baggage at all.

We had a great vision in making UP a great university in the 21st century. It needs exercising or taking on a leadership role in the development of global competitiveness.

My orientation has always been the national impact of the university and by being the non-faculty, becoming UP president is not something out of this world. Actually, in the US, there was already a growing preference for presidents with non-conventional backgrounds — meaning non-faculty background. I researched this to be able to convince the Board of Regents who will do the selection to consider me. I was the only non-faculty candidate out of a field of 11 candidates.

I had the support of the faculty regent, the student regent and the staff regent. I had the support of the different sectors of the university. I had worked with them on issues confronting the university and they saw how I operated, particularly when it came to the development of the UP Town Center.

DT: You’ve held the highest positions — director, CEO and president — in most of the organizations you’ve been involved in. What does it take to be a leader? What is your motivation? What’s your game plan when you’re asked or have been nominated to lead an organization?

AP: Whatever job I accept, I have to do it with full dedication. I’ll try to work hard and continue learning in the process. And that serves me well, the thinking of what’s popularly known as servant leadership.

If you notice, I started as a private banker, educator, and then international development banker, then academic leader to corporate advocate. I don’t really have one professional career, but I would say there is an umbrella that can encompass all these career spaces of my professional career. That’s the career of leadership and service.

When I finished my turn in UP, the chancellor created a Panday sculpture. Before I left the office, they gave me that sculpture. Mike Tan came out with a column about the “Panday conspiracy.” He said, Panday is indeed a good model for leadership. A Panday leader is someone who uses passion, patience, perseverance to bring out the best in people and move institutions forward, taking us into the connection of padayon and Panday. Like the expression, “Padayon UP.”

DT: How do you feel about getting elected to head MAP? What do you think could be your role as its president in these times?

AP:  It’s a challenging 2022 that seems to be there ahead. In many cases, I am prepared. We have developed a program already for 2022. MAP will follow. I have adopted a team which roots for change towards a better life and future for all. Our tagline is supported by a very specific platform for activities. We’ll push for vital policy reforms requiring executive and administrative actions that will help sustain economic recovery, attract more local and foreign investments and improve business in the country.

We will produce functional graduates, encourage more innovation in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math), promote mental values formation and secure public health. We will push for action at the enterprise level for the covenant for shared prosperity commitments, pertaining to employees, customers, supply chains, providers, communities, environment and shareholders through a system of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) reporting.

DT: What are your thoughts on training leaders and educating leaders again?

AP: The pandemic has disrupted the way we live. A lot of adjustments have to be done. Many youth need tutoring and upskilling. Technology is changing fast. Artificial intelligence is now a reality, affecting our lives when taking over some of the jobs done by humans. Continuing education is a must. Digital transformation, for example, is no longer just for those who are progressive companies, but for all.

DT: Do you think we should go into getting more external help or should we fortify our own internal resources?

AP: We need capital from outside. In fact, the reality is there’s a lot of capital floating around even locally; there’s too much liquidity. There’s money that’s waiting to be invested. And we need to create the opportunities for businesses to flourish and that will only happen if the government will pay attention to easing the way we will do business in the country. This is true for very small enterprises, micro, small to medium to large to the very large, especially for small enterprises. Before you settle, there’s a lot of paper requirements. If you’re a single entrepreneur, how can you attend to your business and at the same time worry about complying with so many regulations? Then, the big companies, they talk to various levels of government, various departments of government before they are able to be assured that they’re able to establish their business. All these constraints to investments to do business have to be addressed by the government. And that requires liberalization, well-thought, well-planned liberalization. Let’s open to investment, let’s open to encouraging exports. We should be part of the global supply chain.

ALFREDO Pascual: ‘There is no such thing as failure.’ / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ALFREDO PASCUAL

DT: You have achieved and done so much. Are there other things that you still wish to pursue?

AP: I’d like to tell you that my preparatory work has been done when I was president of UP. The objectives we tried to achieve are: One, transform UP into a research-intensive university, the other is to internationalize UP, to raise its global profile. The third is to strengthen its public service capability.

In research, we have already started getting faculty members and students to do innovative research and encouraging them to do multi-disciplinary research. Because now, innovation is very complex so you need people coming from different disciplines. Later to this is the revision of the general education program which reduced the number of units for general education, given the fact that in the K-12 program some of the usual General Education (GE) courses will be taken up in Senior High School. The idea is to use the time freed up from GE to strengthen major subjects particularly in Engineering and in the Sciences. That work has already been done.

THE Philippine Genome Center of the University of the Philippines. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF UP.EDU.PH

I created the laboratories for the focus of helping not just UP but the country. Like the Philippine Genome Center which is now the center of work on research on Covid-19. That was one of my first projects. Another one of the first projects I did was the P1 billion National Institute of Health Building which will provide a home for the various institutes doing work on health.

There’s a lot of work on this, including the PCR test for Covid that was started during my time. Now it is being fully utilized. And also, the modernization of the hospital equipment and facilities of PGH. We spent P3 billion for that. We also created the policy framework for intellectual property rights. The preparatory work has been done and that will serve not just UP but the whole country.

In terms of public service, one of the institutions I created is the UP Resilience Institute which is now the focal point of knowledge and innovation in the field of climate change, disaster risk reduction and management. And then I also started the TV UP which is intended to provide programs that will help advance the knowledge and training of people.

DT: When you think of something, would you say a big part of it is also because you’re thinking like a scientist that you know that these probabilities will be happening and that’s how you come up with programs?

AP: Trials and trials of many things. It’s not really forecasting, it’s really seeing how sudden things progress like how diseases, how viruses progress and their evolution. And science tells us how this climate change will turn out to be. Science will tell us by how much the sea level will rise in every one degree rise in global temperature. In fact, in forecasting the winners in our election, that’s the scientific method. And you think, how is that possible? You can come up with a reasonable forecast given a limited number of sample sizes. That’s all science.

DT: Your ultimate goal before retiring. Do you even want to?

AP: I try to write my memoir.

DT: Greatest life lesson you have learned so far.

AP: There’s no such thing as failure. Even in the fast-changing environment we live in, to continue learning, lifelong learning is now a must for us. It will keep us going, it will keep us mentally alert and that’s the way to manage aging. So lifelong learning, go for it, stay at it, and you’ll enjoy it.

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