Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Picking a Team Leader

Nami's amazing manager, Joseph Nerios

Nami is one of the businesses I run. It's a 12-room boutique resort in Diniwid Beach, Boracay. We are super happy that we've been recognized in a lot of international publications like Wallpaper, the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and many others. Our restaurant in on its third year of being on the Philippine Tatler's Best Restaurants list. Woohoo!

Photo taken from Nami, where every room has this view

One of my favorite business books is called Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras. This book details the habits of the number one company in different market segments. One of the premises that this book espouses it that visionary companies always promote from within. In the over five-hundred combined years that twelve visionary companies suveyed have been operating, only three times was a CEO hired from outside. Every other time someone a CEO was needed one was promoted from within the organization and this system has resulted in exponential growth.

As a believer in this theory, our current manager at Nami is Joseph Nerios. He is truly amazing! At thirty years old he has been with the company for five years. He was initially hired as a butler. Joseph came from humble beginnings in Ilo-ilo. Like many of his peers he finished a two-year HRM diploma at St. Therese in Ilo-ilo. After that, he studied six more months in Stewardship at the Ilo-ilo State College of Fisheries, which was aligned with his initial plan to work on a cruise ship. While studying he was a working student working as a busboy in an Ilo-ilo hotel called Sarabia Manor, in the process of taking this this job he pretty much derailed his plans of entering the maritime world. His service at Sarabia was so outstanding that a regular customer (who happened to own White House resort in Boracay) saw him and asked him to join their team as a waiter/bartender in 2002.

From busboy to waiter to butler to Resort Manager is an unlikely path, given that a resort that charges as much as we do would normally hire a foreigner (or at the very least a Manila-trained HRM graduate) to do the job. What we have found though is that Joseph never pulls ranks and inspires others to follow him by simply working the hardest. He is of the “lead by example” mold which works perfectly in an industry such as ours. Instead of bossing people around, he just works hard and hopes that the others will be too embarassed not to follow. Watching him every month I can say that this system really works.

Joseph's current dream is to finish a small house he is building in the province. His first dream was to have all his siblings finish school, something he has already achieved. I am so proud of Joseph, More than being happy for him and what he has accomplished, I am happier for me and the Nami team because our enterprise is growing as a direct result of his many talents. What he lacks in formal training he makes up for with street smarts and tenacity.

I think everyone should promote from within because it brings out the best in those who want to build a career within the organization. It makes people dream big because they know that they can move up if they are really worth promoting.

Thanks Joseph! You rock!  

Our happy butlers

View of Nami from the beach

Jomar, who never stops smiling

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Non-traditional School for Alternative Learners Like Me

Photo from

Anyone who knew me from high school or college will attest to the fact that I was always at the bottom ten percent of my class. In high school I was required to do summer class for math three out of four years. In college I think I graduated with around twenty-four units of failure. One teacher in college actually told me straight that I should just quit because early since I would never graduate in Civil Engineering. What they couldn't see though was how much heart I had. I absolutely hate being told what I can or cannot accomplish. Even I was shocked though when I not only graduated but passed by Board Exams. I think that was the most difficult thing I have ever done. Despite my lackluster grades I always was a hard-working kid. I remember that ever single time I had a big test I wouldn't sleep at all studying all night many times a year.

What is weird though was when I got into Stanford for my Masters (and come to think of it even when I was in International School for grade school) I always did well in class. In I.S. I was even in the GATE (Gifted and Talented Education Program) for the overachiever children. In Grade School I was Student Council Vice-President of my batch so I couldn't have been that "slow" otherwise my peers wouldn't have voted for me. At Stanford I got only A's and B's working only half as hard as I did at Ateneo and La Salle.

Bottomline, the Philippine education system and I never really got along. I felt that many of my teachers entered this profession purposely to make me feel worse about myself, which consequently made them feel better about their own lives. Sure, there were a few excellent teachers. In high school I remember my English teacher Norman Agatep. In college I was extremely impressed by our Dean, Dr. Romeo Estanero. But by and large they were (at least by my standard) boring and more interested in having people fit in a box than having them find their own voice.

While in school I felt so small, so utterly insignificant. I thank God I had a Mom who always was my champion, otherwise I would have believed all those put-downs and I would have LSE (low self esteem). My Mom would always have me focus on what I was good at which was public speaking and debate. She encouraged me to compete and win competitions both here and abroad and it was in this world that I excelled.

More than the personalities of the teachers though my bigger problem was with the system itself. Till today I think that memorizing is a totally useless skill, especially as you can find unlimited amounts of information online. I memorized around fifty formulas to take my Civil Engineering Board Exams but if I took the identical exam abroad the formulas are given along with the test paper. I believe that what is more important is application and learning to love learning. Stimulating a mind starts from stimulating one's heart, getting students excited to come to school and grow the possibilites that their lives have in store for them.

Being the type of person who cannot just sit by the sidelines and allow myself to be marginalized I decided that I would “fight back” by building the school of my dreams. That was really how The One School started. Here students are given the chance to speak and find their inner greatness. I think that young people have an infinite capacity to accomplish anything, but only if they have discovered that spark within them. We teach Entrepreneurship, Fashion, Intermedia and Filmmaking, but really these are just tools to an end. What we do is help students to help themselves.

Some people think that non-traditional or alternative education is a euphemism for diploma mill but honestly that can't be farther from the truth. In my last class I failed 25% of the students, yet the person I got closest too was actually one of the ones who failed. I believe that students should be pushed, a lot needs to be expected of them, mediocre should not be tolerated, and all of this can still be done in a method that is firm but fair.

My students are my inspirations because they are extraordinary. I think that because everyone on my team expects this from them they have no choice but to live up to this positive image. People will always become what you expect from them so if you keep saying your kids are lousy don't be surprised if they turn out that way.

The One School = College Personalized

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Search for One's Life Passion

Almost any successful person will tell you that you will reach success if you find your passion and create a life around that. While I agree with this sometimes I look at myself and ask, “Lex, you are doing so many random things, what really is your passion?”

Photo from

Among the stuff I am into or have been into are infomercials, talent management, restaurants, hotels, school, motorcycles, and even fish selling when I was still in high school. How can all of these be one passion. The answer to that is simple - My passion is people. I love understanding other human beings. In my free time I read books about psychology and human behavior.

On a side note I actually applied to U.P. Diliman this year to take a Phd in Social Psychology but they didn't accept me. This is actually the second time that school rejected me since in college I wanted to study Engineering there but since they took me into another course I ended up in La Salle. I'm guessing that they didn't accept me this time because despite the fact that my grades in Stanford were good my college grades were so terrible. Or maybe they looked at my resume and couldn't figure out how Social Psychology would fit into the mix. Oh well, I have vowed to apply every year to the same program until they find me so “kulit” and let me in. At some point I'm sure they will say, “Who is this pest. He seems to really wants to study here. Maybe we should just let him in.” Haha! I like getting my way by being more stubborn then anyone around me. I'll never take no for an answer because I believe that my desire to get something is always bigger than another person's desire to stop me. Which leads me to my favorite quote of the moment – "The question isn't who is going to let me, it's who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

Photo from

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Finding a Mentor: In the beginning...

My first mentor - Engr. Alex J. Ledesma
My first blog entry is dedicated to the person who really started me off in this world of business. Naturally my first mentor was my dad, who I fondly call Papa. I think that father-son relationships are often the hardest because men (or maybe Filipino men in particular) don't always know how to appropriately show emotion. Growing up I was always angry at my father and rebelled by trying hard to be everything that he was not. I thought of him as a disciplinarian while I saw myself as a dreamer. He was always focused on making money while I fancied myself an altruist. My Papa was so deep into the world of business while in my youth I lived through books. Now at 36 I find that many of the things which I am are exactly what my father was, and for the first time in a long time I am embracing this. I believe that attitude is everything. My dad never changed. I was the one who changed what I chose to make my dad's actions mean.

            If I were to summarize the positive traits of my Papa that I aspire to emulate they are:

  1. Frugality
My Papa is so simple. He probably only spends less then 50% of his income. I am also like this and I love it. Before I buy anything, regardless of its physical value, I think about it a hundred times. Because of this I treasure and maximize everything I own.

  1. Hard working
Admittedly I am not as hard working as my dad although I like to think that I work smart. I surround myself with people smarter then me and I empower them to make decisions. In many ways I am more like the conductor than the star.

  1. Ability to talk to different kinds of people
Everywhere my Papa goes he talks to people, asking them how much they are selling whatever they are selling, where they are from, and many other random questions of that nature. I've also picked up this habit and now I get great service everywhere because all the servers have become my friends. Plus, if you believe that everyone is a genius at something then the world and everyone in it becomes incredibly fascinating.

            Cheers to an even better relationship between Lex and Alex Ledesma!

Engr. Alex with (technically) Engr. Lex at Whistlestop Jupiter