July 12, 2019
“Every contract signed with our clients is the promise
of delivering a project to enable a community to grow or a local
economy to fuel its development or a nation to modernize its
infrastructure one project at a time.”
A construction veteran shares the joy of engineering a legacy
“Plant a tree; have a child; write a book.”
That’s the famous quote that tells us what every man — or woman — should do in their lifetime on earth. But Albert A. Ignacio Jr. would like to add one more exhortation: Build a bridge, an expressway or a power plant.
Ignacio, president and chief operating officer of Aboitiz Construction Inc. and a 37-year veteran of the construction and engineering industry, says: “Every time, we go up to Baguio and pass certain infrastructure, my kids say: ‘Oh, my dad was part of the team that built this.’ Right then and there, you know you have a legacy.
“People will remember what you’ve done. Even my grandchildren will say our lolo (grandfather) was part of that.”
And to think, Ignacio, who bears the name of his civil engineer-father, was adamant about not following his footsteps. “I wanted law, but my mother discouraged me and did not want me to go to the University of the Philippines Diliman (Quezon City). That’s how I ended up at the University of San Carlos Cebu City (USC) where the only scholarship available was in engineering.” Making the best of the situation, Ignacio plunged into the course despite an aversion to math — “I hated it,” he recalls. “I barely passed my math subjects in the first two years.”
Ignacio Sr. remained hopeful that his boy would learn to love the family trade, encouraging him to look forward to affixing the title “Engineer” to his name. As time passed, the younger Ignacio’s resistance melted and he decided to “just make good with what I started and finish my studies.” It also might have helped that his campus sweetheart at the time was an architecture student and they bonded over shared academic interests.
His first job, after graduating from USC in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, was teaching engineering at his alma mater. He lectured on the very subjects that previously proved difficult for him. He says: “I was surprised to discover that I learned faster because, perhaps, I was challenged to be teaching students. I started doing design and was part of the team that improved some of the school facilities pro bono.”
“As I worked my way up through the ranks, I always paid
attention to the guys who’d been in the construction industry for
decades. They knew their stuff because they worked hard, observing
and learning along the way.”
Round the block
Realizing he needed to develop an edge over the droves of engineering graduates that were flooding the market, in 1985, he applied and landed a three-year graduate research fellowship in construction engineering at the Kyoto University School of Civil Engineering in Japan, sponsored by the prestigious Monbusho program offered by the Japanese government. He told no one, not even his parents, of this bold decision until he was at the airport and about to take off. After so many years, he still smiles at that surreal departure and the thought of what ran through his astounded mother’s mind.
Returning in 1988, the confident professional, now proficient in Nihongo (Japanese), embarked on a journey that has taken him through the different facets of construction management in companies such as Jebsen and Jessen Group of Companies of Singapore (design/project engineer), Laguna Property Holdings of Ayala Land (project manager), Jaka Property Development (senior project manager) Jaka Investments (assistant vice president) and First Balfour (senior vice president-operations).
Aboitiz’s arrival in Ignacio’s life was both timely and propitious. He told “Aboitiz Eyes,” the in-house bulletin of the conglomerate in 2017: “I had heard a lot about Aboitiz even when the company was still engaged in shipping.
“When I was still working with my previous employer, they had been preparing me for a higher position. But when the opportunity came to manage a company (Aboitiz Construction Inc. or ACI) under the Aboitiz Group, I thought that it may be a more challenging and difficult role. In that sense, I could call it my last hurrah: This would be my retirement company.”
In 2000, ACI was known as the Aboitiz Construction Group, the product of the merger of Gorones Development Corp. and Metaphil International Inc. It was only when Ignacio assumed leadership in 2017 that they decided to rename it Aboitiz Construction Inc. for local operations and Aboitiz Construction International Inc. for their export operations. Says Ignacio: “With our rebrand, ACI is much more aligned with the Abotiz Group’s brand promise of advancing business and communities. Specifically for ACI, we deliver this brand promise by delighting our clients with disciplined execution of projects, while generating thousands of jobs for our fellow Filipinos.”
ACI is quite unlike other construction entities in the market place. Here’s the difference, according to its top executive. “ACI may be the only construction company in the Philippines that is involved in the shipbuilding industry. We do hull fabrication works for a Japan building company. Also, ACI has been awarded the design and construction work for the expansion of facilities for Austal Philippines, an integral partner for Australia’s Austal Group in building revolutionary high-speed ships for governments, navies, ferry and offshore operators around the world.
“ACI, although similar to AG&P (Atlantic Gulf & Pacific, an 119-year-old concern known for its structural and piping fabrication for the construction market) also exports modular fabrication components for petrochemical plants and power plants, as well as for the mining industry overseas. From ACI’s traditional client base for structural, mechanical, erection and pipe works, we are eyeing large civil and infrastructure works. ACI is exploring new clients overseas for our modular fabrication works. We are also looking new prospects for ports, piers and other marine works as an EPC.”
He continues: “But what makes us unique is our purpose as an Aboitiz company. Most of the time, the job of our employees is not glamorous. Our engineers, project managers and workers are assigned in remote areas far from the comforts of city living. With each construction project, we toil industriously until the job is completed. Every contract signed with our clients is the promise of delivering a project that will enable a community to grow or a local economy to fuel its development or a nation to modernize its infrastructure one project at a time.”
“In other words, we build the foundations of a growing nation, so that industries, businesses and communities may progress, ultimately leading to more benefits for the people who live in these far-flung areas,” he adds.
Each unit in the Aboitiz Group, among them AboitizPower, Aboitiz Land, Pilmico Foods Corp. and Union Bank, have created their own singular work ethic theme, and for ACI, this is reflected in the ‘ta kauban’ (loosely translated from Cebuano — teamwork) attitude. Says Ignacio: “This is really the sum of the Aboitiz Way and our culture as an organization. What drives us to deliver on our commitment both to our customers and stakeholders are our core values of integrity, teamwork, innovation, responsibility and execution excellence.”
“Now more than ever, we dig deep into the meaning and practice of our core values as we transform ACI into one of the best construction companies in the Philippines. Kauban and innovation will be key in making our transformation successful,” he continues.
Ignacio, himself, is one who never tires of acquiring fresh information and competencies to power personal growth. He reports: “As I worked my way up through the ranks, I found new ways to use both my mind and hands to get the job done. I always paid attention to the guys who’d been in the construction industry for decades. They definitely knew their stuff because they worked hard, observing and learning along the way.”
The mentor, who made the most impact on him, was unarguably his father. “I learned from him the value of hard work, perseverance and dedication to work,” says his son with clear admiration. In his professional life, he cites Dr. Fiorello Estuar, First Balfour chief executive officer, who helped groom him for leadership. “Now, here I am leading a construction company. I believe that both my father and Dr. Estuar saw more talent and ability in me than I saw in myself — and both of them really helped bring these out in me.”
An incorrigible bookworm, this part Waray (his mother)-half Bicolano (father) enjoys nothing better than savoring fiction and nonfiction works. The books that have absorbed him include Scaling Up by Vernie Harnish, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek, Strength Based Leadership by Tom Rath, Good to Great by Jim Collins (a favorite of several Boardroom Watch subjects), Start with Why by Simon Sinek and First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham.
Ignacio and his wife are doting parents to a son and daughter with whom they maintain lively communication, “discussing many things,” says their dad, “from their respective school work updates and travel plans. Our family time strengthens and deepens the family bond.” Exercise takes the form of the brood taking regular walks around their neighborhood.
History repeats itself, it seems, with a bemused Ignacio recounting the time his girl, then 10, surprised, if not flabbergasted them by applying for an exchange program in Japan without informing anyone. Her parents only found about it when she presented them with the trip details and requested payment.
“These are the times that you realize your children are growing up,” Ignacio says with touching wistfulness.
He shares his continuing fascination with the industry that he’s immersed in, saying: “As an engineer and builder, it’s feels good to be part of developing a facility that helps improve people’s daily lives. Each of the projects I have been involved with enabled me to collaborate with a team to find solutions on the jobsite, and put our skills to good use.
“Some of the people I worked with may have driven me nuts, but at the end of the day, we still got the job done.”
And to that we add: They helped build landmarks to last.
* * *
TEAMWORK WITH A CAPITAL ‘T’
The work culture at Aboitiz Construction Inc. (ACI) can be summed up by the Cebuano term kauban — loosely translated as “company“ or “associate.“ Here’s how it’s used to unite ACI people in one goal and direction.
• A kauban knows that the project he or she is working on has a purpose — building the foundation of a growing nation to enable industries, businesses and communities to progress, ultimately leading to more benefits for the people who live in these farflung areas.
• Oftentimes, the job is challenging. The engineers, project managers and workers are assigned to remote areas far from the conveniences of city living. With each construction project, a kauban works silently and toils industriously until the job is completed. Every contract signed with its clients is the promise of delivering a project that will enable a community to grow or a local economy to fuel its development or a nation to modernize its infrastructure.
• A kauban is always aware that whatever he or she accomplishes in his or her department has an impact or effect on other kauban in their work, as well.
PHOTOS BY DAN ONG
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