Coming from an average income family, hard work was not new to me. We were not well off but we were not hard up either. My upbringing through public school gave me tough life lessons that I still bring to the work place up to now. It was a good first part of my life.
On my senior years I eagerly joined the country’s number one fast food chain on its infancy. Going to work every day just brings excitement and fun and believe it or not, I do look forward to the next work-day after a day off. The pay did not matter although it did give me some satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. I can’t remember the days I called in sick and very seldom did I become tardy. I guess my managers liked me and was an instant favorite when extra hours are needed. Work was fun, I had to ask my managers to transfer me to other stations. Cleaning the restrooms, brushing floors, cleaning the glass panels, bussing tables serving food, flipping burgers, frying chicken joys, scooping ice creams, yes I’ve done them all.
This attitude and work habit made work easy and enjoyable. On one occasion I helped do some artwork for the office. The manager liked it and was happy that I was doing it on my day off. She asked me to help out in marketing – kiddie parties, marketing programs, sales-building stuff. What an opportunity.
That started my fast-growth. That was when I looked at the future differently. So I set my eyes on doing more – to be a manager at 20 (I was 19 then). And that happened as planned. Hence forth, I gave myself deadlines on the next managerial level. I got them all a year ahead. Success was nice.
Along the way, life lessons pile up. From being a good soldier, I became in charge of a team of soldiers myself. It was a big step and I struggled to take on the new role of a leader. It turns out I had good foundation in my early years as a manager. But like any normal rookie manager, there I did my share of mistakes. When you’re a young manager who used to be a service crew, you tend to do a lot crew work yourself and you get yourself tied up with crew work and forget about managing. Old habits die hard. Another common flaw is to be familiar with your staff who used to be your co-workers. Co-equal employees who now have to take orders from you. It was an early test of one’s fairness and credibility.
I learned early on that leaders need to define his leadership style and adapt to certain unique conditions. And that the uniqueness of conditions will only present itself at a point when you need to react instantaneously. So by the time you have figured out what style of leadership is needed, the condition may have alredy changed.
Years went by and after many hurdles and fortunately advancement in career, the lesson learned still present similar patterns and characteristics. There is not one style that will fit all conditions. In other words, leadership style and application must evolve if it is to be effective.
After a colorful 10-year stint at Jollibee Foods Corporation, I joined a foreign pizza brand as Franchise Operations Manager. I figured that joining a smaller company will give me a chance of being a ‘head of the rat’ instead of a ‘tail of the cat’.
The company Domino’s Pizza Philippines belong to a conglomerate who is primarily in the logistics, ship management and cargo forwarding business. It is in this very diverse company that will turn out to be the biggest and most significant ‘business school’ that I ever attended. My career grew under my mentor – the COO of the company.
Little did I now that I joined Domino’s Pizza Phillippines at a time that it was going south. As Franchise Operations Manager, I had the opportunity to join board meetings and important company events. It turns out that I was being ‘watched’ by the COO – Atty Arthur P. Tugade or APT as he is fondly called. On one fateful week when the future of my company was being decided on my top management, I was called by the APT in his office. It was bonus time and our company being in the red for along time was not eligible for any incentive. He offered his hand upon meeting me and was surprised to feel a few folded bills being handed to me. He asked me to continue to get involved in the company and to ‘hang in there’. His remark was both re-assuring and scary.
Outside of his office, I later knew that he just handed me P 2,000 that’s supposed to represent my ‘bonus’. At that time, that amount represented less than 5% of what other managers might have received. But to me, it was worth much more. The ‘bonus’ meant an assurance that this boss will take care of me if I only hung on.
And hang on I did. Staying on in the company proved to be an intelligent decision, that gave me even more opportunities and boosted my career. After several months, my mentor named me General Manager of the company. On hindsight, the P 2,000-bonus really bought me a career that is now worth so much more than its monetary value.
Discipline, hard work, perseverance and good spirit, are some of the values I learned from the man who mentored me during our company’s troubled times. These are the same sets values that resonate from me and manifests in the leadership style I have learned to develop over the years.
My mentor was always the consummate people person, able to treat any type of employee of client with genuine concern and respect. He can be the stern negotiator in front of a client one day and the jovial and even frolicking manager drinking with company truck drivers the next day. In both cases, one will see him with the same set of values that he espouses - day in, day out.
I am now a COO myself and have been blessed to enjoy a good life. Of all the leaders I have been under, it was my mentor who has presented a good balance of appropriate leadership style and a firm and consistent display adherence to values.
I am confident that the same values will take me to future career advancements. But I am also sure that I need to learn to continuously evolve my leadership style and learn how to adapt to the changing conditions.
It has been more than 12 years since that fateful meeting with my COO and mentor. The impact still remains. Now I look forward to retiring early from the rigors of employment and lead a quiet life. I know I will enjoy retirement because along the way to success, I had been a fair and honest leader who have made the same impact as my COO made on me. And I can imagine that someday, a few other successful leaders will write the same story about me.
Germin G. Espino
Asian Institute of Management
Makati City, Philippines
August 18, 2010