A financial man goes beyond the numbers to find fulfillment
In college, Protacio “Cocoy” Tacandong came across motivational guru Zig Ziglar’s quote: “It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude.” This pretty much sums up his general outlook to always adopt a positive attitude.
As chief operating officer of Reyes, Tacandong and Co. (RT&Co.)–a professional services firm with authorities on due diligence, tax advisory and audit that he co-founded in 2010–Tacandong’s job is to search for intelligent people, partners and team members.
He says: “I find time to interview future staff, especially top-notchers and honors graduates. I ask questions about their attitude, their personality. Top-notchers do not stay long if they don’t find it rewarding. They hate doing lots of overtime.
“Most join us for OJT [on-the-job training]/experience. Potential future partners get training, are sent to the Asian Institute of Management or abroad to work for three months. Partners are involved with deciding on issues without referring to affiliates for approval. I’m a conductor of a symphony [orchestra] with different instruments and I blend beautiful music. I manage different human relations, talents and skills and put them into production.”
When the company embarked on digital transformation in September, it engaged a new Partner in Digital Transformation Services: Caesar Parlade, former Chief Operating Officer of ANZ Global Services and Operations (Manila), a super-regional bank in Asia Pacific.
Tacandong comments on this latest enhancement: “Beyond automating operations and unlocking process efficiencies of integrated computer systems, digitalization, digital transformation allows organizations to innovate, not just products and services, but even operating models. This has significant implications for our clients, particularly in industries that are in the midst of disruption.
“Digitalization could spell the difference between thriving in the digital age and becoming obsolete.
“It also creates opportunities for clients who are trailing behind industry leaders. Digital transformation, as we continue to see from early this decade, can be a winner-take-all game. This is a remarkable time for our clients in the middle tier to assert how they can leapfrog everybody else in their respective markets. It may be the most important step that our clients can take to ensure, not just continued economic viability, but also the singular opportunity of becoming the new industry leaders of the digital age.”
Good, not mediocre
Tacandong at first dreamed of the priesthood, growing up in Talisayan, the oldest seaside town in Misamis Oriental, northern Mindanao. He was the 12th of 13 children of Blas Tacandong, a town councilor and vice mayor, and Rosario Tan, a sari-sari store (provision shop) owner. His “Mama Charing” passed on when Tacandong was eight. He has no memory of his grandfather, Kian Tan, from Amoy, China.
Copra helped send Tacandong to school. He knew how to dehusk coconut, cook its meat and make copra under a firewood-fed fire. The family bought and sold copra, and owned parcels of coconut land. He walked to the Talisayan Central Elementary School four kilometers away and went home to eat lunch during the one and a half-hour break. To attend the Mount Carmel High School, he walked or cycled five kilometers. He graduated valedictorian in both levels.
Tacandong followed in the footsteps of older brother Primo, an Atlas Mining accountant, who died in 1999. With a Bachelor of Science in Commerce degree from Cebu’s University of San Carlos, he passed the CPA board exams in December 1972.
With 47 years of accounting experience, Tacandong turned 68 on November 1. At 21, he started auditing as an SGV junior staff in January 1972. For the first time, he left his family, rode a plane and reported in August 1972 to SGV, still believed to be the country’s biggest accounting firm.
He recalls: “I was average at SGV Makati. I nearly got checkmated. I was not fluent in Tagalog. I was looked down on. I earned P325, spent P100 for board in flood-prone Washington Street in Makati.
“It was a good experience that tested my determination and ability. When I moved to Davao 1977, it was an opportunity to show the Manila people that I was good, not mediocre. People who made my life difficult made me succeed. My Davao seniors made me resilient and work harder. My difficulties in Manila, however, should not be experienced by assistants. So, I made it a point to teach people how to work and do it well,” Tacandong told Boardroom Watch.
He recounts some instances when believing in others yielded handsome harvest.
“From Bukidnon, Julito O. Tabalba, a graduate of Liceo de Cagayan de Oro, joined SGV Davao. I was a semi-senior staff, and he was my audit assistant. No in-charge was willing to take him. I did my best to mentor him to have the right attitude toward life and be a good staff auditor. After two years, he transferred to the Makati office. He took the MBA program at De la Salle University, becoming Most Outstanding Student. He was sent to Japan to handle SGV’s Japan Investors Desk for nine years. He now has his own accounting practice.
“During a visit to a client in Tagum, Davao, the Hijo Plantation, I always saw Antonio Benaning mopping the floor and cleaning the washrooms. I always greeted him and asked how he was doing. Whenever we did overtime, he was always with us to assist and retrieve accounting records and files. I always encouraged him to do his best.
“When I became SGV Davao partner-in-charge, he was already a CPA and a JV Ayala Group of Companies account manager. When we organized RT&Co in 2010, Benaning, currently Controller of Eden Mountain Resorts Inc., was among the SGV clients who moved to RT&Co-Davao. I believe he appreciated and valued the friendship and relationship we had in our younger days.”
On Tacandong’s table is a three-inch owl figurine given by SGV founder Washington Sycip, an owl collector. This releases some SGV memories, which Tacandong willingly shares.
“Sycip once visited the branch and asked me questions in a two-hour interview on all and anything about Baguio. One thing I missed: Knowing my neighbors in the 12-story National Life building on Session Road. From the SGV office on the top floor, Sycip went down floor to floor to seek out the officers.
“Sycip once spent the New Year with Jobo Fernandez [former Central Bank governor] and industrialist Carlos Palanca, his big-shot kabarkada [gangmates]. They were negotiating with foreign businessmen and writing a contract. They needed a typewriter and office supplies at 11 p.m. on a Saturday.
“Jobo: “You have a Baguio office. Why don’t you call?
“Sycip: “At this hour of the night?
“We were in the office doing overtime,” Tacandong recalls. “We were happy we were there to bring the office supplies to the office of Mr. Palanca in his house near the Baguio Country Club. It was a chance to meet Jobo. Sycip apparently told the story in an SGV partners meeting because when I was invited to Far East Bank and Trust Company to speak on the banana industry, somebody approached me, saying: ‘You’re the one Jobo was talking about.’ ’’
He continues: “People avoided Sycip. He was very strict, and always asked questions. When you couldn’t answer, you were in trouble. Whenever I came to Manila, I always visited his office and talked to him.”
Fighting a giant
In 1978, Tacandong was the youngest recipient of the Sycip Award for exemplary performance in the Davao branch, a relocation he accepted at a financial sacrifice. An SGV scholar (1981) at AIM, which was co-founded by Sycip, he earned a Master’s Degree in Management. An on-the-job assignment (1984-1986) sent him to Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Chicago in the US. Exemplary leadership as SGV’s chief finance and administrative officer and as head of SGV branches from 1999 until 2009 earned Tacandong the coveted Chairman’s Values Award from Ernst & Young.
In 2009, Tacandong departed SGV after 37 years, along with 13 partners.
“We left SGV when [global accounting giant] Ernst Young wanted to consolidate the Asia Pacific operations, abolish the country manager partner in the Philippines and report directly to Singapore or Hong Kong. Outvoted by younger partners, we resigned.
“Fighting a giant was difficult. We could not compete. We were required not to work for one year. The amount due us was given partially. It took years to collect. After three, four years, we settled.”
Clients like the Ayala, Dizon, Alberto Soriano and Floirendo companies moved in with RT&Co. because Tacandong gave them better relationship and service, he believes. With his good contacts with banks as SGV chief finance administration officer, his all-Filipino firm received clean loans to raise the initial capital.
“Do not forget your gold when you have diamonds because you need gold to set your diamonds,” Tacandong declares. “Don’t forget old clients, small clients when you have new clients. We owe a lot to old clients who took the risk with us. Relationships are very important.”
Tacandong has helped Mindanao’s economic development as officer of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Mindanao Business Council and Philippine Business for Social Progress. He was involved in the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) initiative.
Growth at eight
From a 200-square-meter office space for 20 employees in the Phinma Building at Rockwell Center in 2010, RT&Co. today occupies a 3,000-square-meter space, accommodating 700 partners on three floors of the 35-story Citi Towers, crowned by Chef Jessie Sincioco’s Top of the Citi, and two floors of the Citi Center..
On RT&Co.’s eighth year last October 18, Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade, a lawyer, delivered a short message when its newest office was launched in Clark, Pampanga. Its branches in Makati, Davao, Cebu and Iloilo serve over 2,000 clients, including one-third of the Philippines’ Top 100 companies.
Tacandong’s spouse of 42 years, Fe Baradi, is a registered dietitian, a seventh board exams placer and a San Carlos University graduate. Daughters Auda Cynthia, married to Vincent Valdellon, and Farrah Mae, are Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) graduates of Silliman University. Son Anthony Bryan finished the same course at Ateneo de Davao University and acquired an MBA from the University of Western Australia.
Tacandong set up PTTalents Development Foundation, which grants scholarships. A homebody, he attends the First Friday Mass at the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart in San Antonio Village, Makati. He visits Davao once a month to see granddaughters Lauren Isabelle, seven, and Sofia Angela, four and a half.
“Beyond promotions and cash bonuses, excelling in one’s job builds strength in character and gives a person fulfilment and wisdom,” says Tacandong.
The man, who is an exemplary model, was speaking of his own beliefs.
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Bits about “Cocoy”
“Cocoy” is Tacandong’s nickname. Due to principle, he, Manny Reyes and other partners walked away from SGV in 2009 and set up what is today RT&Co.
• A lucky red circle is the Reyes Tacandong & Co. logo with a white abacus and 14 white beads showing the values of Excellence, Passion, Business Smart, Integrity, Credibility, Professionalism, Respect, Leadership, Nurturing, Discipline, Stewardship, Teamwork, Reliability and Commitment.
• The 14 beads also symbolize the partners, including Protacio T. Tacandong, who with eight others, co-founded RT&Co., a year after they left SGV.
• As Chief Operating Officer of this “all-Filipino firm anchored on firm principles and wise solutions,” Tacandong says he collects “quotes to share, encourage others and lift spirits in challenging moments.”
• His 150-page collection, Quotes from the Heart, Inspiration for the Mind and Food for the Soul, includes the SGV Creed penned by founder Washington Sycip, “who has instilled the values of integrity, perseverance and hard work,” according to Tacandong.
PHOTOS BY AMANDA A.S. GANA