TO Antipolo residents, the sprawling Meralco Management and Leadership Development Center (MMLDC) along Sumulong Highway is a familiar sight, even if most of them have never ventured inside the grounds or know anything much about the landmark. But to thousands of others that have benefited from its programs, there is so much more to the 10-hectare expanse.
MMLDC started as an internal training facility for the 6,000- plus workforce of Meralco, including contractors, partners and managers. The utility was then undergoing a spate of transformation coming out of the 1980s and 1990s.
“We were doing a lot of out-of-town training; practically every week we were doing team building, living out of our suitcases,” recalls Agnes Fidelino, the managing director of MMLDC. “So we said, why not set up our own center to make it more convenient?"
On August 9, 1999, MMLDC was formally established, with the Academic Hall as the first structure to be opened. By 2000, the buzz was out about the new training center, with people from other companies requesting to rent the venue for their own training activities. MMLDC got the green light to take on outside clients in addition to other Lopez Group companies, and the revenues started coming in. In the absence of a formal business setup, MMLDC remitted the rent payments from its newfound clients to Meralco, which in turn put them into a separate fund. When it became a foundation in 2002, the fund reverted to MMLDC as its seed fund.
Promoting social responsibility
As an educational foundation, MLDC’s stated vision is to create a brighter future through institutions and individuals who manifest and promote social responsibility through its five advocacies: ethical leadership, quality management, technical excellence, environmental stewardship, and safety and wellness practices.
In 2006, the corporate training and academic services programs were beefed up to complement the teambuilding programs, considered the centers bread and butter. Vivien Arnobit, who had put in a five-year tour of duty as Meralco’s training development and administration division head, came onboard as full-time director of academic services.
“We take pride in customizing our programs according to the need of the group, that’s why we have multinational companies, pharmaceutical firms, construction companies, international and local nongovernment organizations, universities and cooperatives asking for our services,” Arnobit says.
“It really depends on the objective,” Fidelino avers. “If you are going into training and conference you would choose MMLDC because it is a focused facility, a one-stop shop—facilities, accommodation, food requirements. If you don’t have a program, we can offer you one. Everything is there.”
MMLDC conducts more than a thousand programs a year in such areas as corporate best practices, strategic planning, annual planning, budgeting, and visioning. Aside from the teambuilding programs, MMLDC offers Leadership and Management Programs, Technical Excellence for Teachers, Environmental, Safety and Health Programs, Technical Development Programs, and Education and Training Programs.
To date, external clients contribute some 80% of MMLDC’s business, with Meralco chipping in 20%. As of last count, some 1,500 companies including Lopez Group companies and other blue-chip firms have held their conferences and seminars at the center. Business has been so brisk that it didn’t take long before MMLDC became something of a profit center.
“If you look at our revenues from 2002 up to last year, there was about 400% growth; by 2008, we were already earning a profit before taxes and depreciation,” Fidelino says. “We did post a small profit in 2007, but we really became profitable in 2008 because hat was when revenues came in from selling our programs.”
Gold standard in training centers
Along the way, MMLDC collected three ISO certifications in quality management; environment; and safety and health, in effect making it the gold standard in Philippine training centers. It was the first Meralco organization to be awarded the ISO 9001:2000 certification for product quality in 2001.
MMLDC also granted a five-year certification by the Philippine Council for NGO Certification (PCNC) for the first time in 2008, attesting that it is a bona fide donee institution; the center had previously received three-year PCNC certifications in 2002 and 2005. The certification is considered the seal of good housekeeping for foundations.
Another distinction that sets MMLDC apart is the fact that it is a foundation with a business, where its surplus funds are channeled into advancing its pet causes, especially those in environment and education.
“Meralco, as our mother company, uses us for CSR. It actually has three arms which conduct CSR activities, two foundations and an employees association: MMLDC Foundation and Meralco Millennium Foundation Inc. (MMFI), and Meralco Employees Fund for Charity (MEFC),” Fidelino says.
MMFI concentrates on employee volunteerism and quick response programs in addition to its major project, building Sibol schools in partnership with Gawad Kalinga, while MEFC is contributory from the employees and is used for outreach activities and charities.
Meanwhile, MMLDC—by itself or with partner-companies—conducts free training programs for public schools in coordination with the DepEd. The number of MMLDC beneficiaries has grown almost tenfold in a span of only four years, from 765. Now, with more than 7,500 beneficiaries reached, MMLDC’s School-Based Management and Development Programs (SBMDP) are growing its coverage for DepEd and LGUs.
“We adopted several divisions and we train their leaders—school administrators, principals. About 70% of our beneficiaries, out of the estimated 7,000 people that we have trained, are school administrators— either teachers-in-charge, principals or OIC level,” Arnobit reveals.
“We focus on the top level because a lot of people are trying to help the public sector through facility donations, infrastructure, computer donations, books, teacher training,” Fidelino adds. “But we have to remember that all of these will not be managed well and might go to waste if the people on top do not know how to support and continue building up the donation.”
The remaining 30% of MMLDC’s beneficiaries are either students or student leaders, who usually take part in environmental field trips called Lakbay Kalikasan, put together especially to cater to public school students. “It’s a perfect opportunity for them to have a field trip and also get educated on how to take care of the environment,” Arnobit observes.
Fidelino notes that when it comes to their beneficiaries, the biggest challenge lies in measuring the impact of MMLDC programs. To address this, ABS-CBN Foundation’s research group has been contracted to undertake an impact study, which in turn will allow the center to do what it does better.
MMLDC is also looking at going back to its roots by strengthening its technical training program, which Fidelino and Arnobit see as a potential growth area. As the best utility in the Philippines with the expertise of top engineers and other experts in its fold, Meralco is looking to leverage on its position to train Filipinos who are hired for overseas jobs—linemen are in demand in such countries as the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand—or even for CSR.
We reach out to the small cooperatives because their linemen need training especially in the area of safety,” Arnobit notes. “It’s also an area for partnership— First Gas and First Gen for example are very interested in helping people in their communities in Nueva Ecija, specifically the electric cooperatives.”
Supporting Meralco vision
As it marks its first decade of managing managers and developing leaders in a variety of fields this year, the people behind MMLDC look forward to a low-key commemoration with their stakeholders even as they celebrate the center’s numerous accomplishments.
“We’re proud that we were able to accomplish so much despite having only 42 regular employees—being able to hurdle all of these certifications, raise our revenues for the past 10 years, manage 10 hectares, come up with more products,” Fidelino says.
“And also, we’re proud that this was really the vision of Meralco chairman Manuel M. Lopez and the Meralco management team—for Meralco to be world-class, a training center is necessary to support development. I think we were able to support that vision.”
(Clockwise from left): At the lobby of the Residence Hall; Turnover ceremonies for the Manuel M. Lopez UP Centennial Professorial Chair led by Meralco and MMLDC chairman Manuel M. Lopez (center); Clients test their skills in a teambuilding activity; Paintball fun; A wedding setup at the Areva Pavilion; Nestlé holds its sales kickoff at the center.