Lydia Fullon Santos (second from left) with LGFI's Mitos Santisteban, LGFI Chair Oscar M. Lopez and wife Connie, Lopez Inc.'s Margot Fragante and Zeny Tañada.When Lydia Fullon Santos, 95, looks back on her years of service in the Lopez Group (she started working with the Lopezes in 1937), two values stand out—trust and integrity.
Lydia had just finished third year high school at the then Philippine Women’s College and was in Iloilo on vacation when the manager of Lopez Sugar Central, Don Carlos Lopez, approached her and said, “I will give you a job.”
Surprised, Lydia answered, “But I have to go back to Manila to study.”
Don Carlos replied, “Never mind. I will give you a job as cashier of INAEC [Iloilo-Negros Air Express Company] for P50 a month.” (Today, that would be equivalent to P50,000.)
Lydia was flattered to be offered this job, and she immediately started working. “I was good with figures. I would accept payments, make receipts, do deposits and reconcile these with the bank. I did this until 1941 when we were forced to close our operations due to the war.”
Her job eventually expanded to include the purchasing of materials and opening letters of credit.
“They trusted me,” recalls Lydia, referring to the Lopezes. “I lived in their house in Manila by myself and they would come to Manila just to check on the company. Once they know you and trust you, that should be there forever. Minsan kang masira, tapos ka na.”
When INAEC’s offices and planes were bombed in Iloilo on December 17, 1942, Lydia had no more job. She asked the permission of former Lopez Sugar Central president Doña Maria Lopez, then matriarch of the Lopez clan and aunt of Eugenio and Fernando Lopez, if she could return to her hometown in San Pedro, Laguna.
The next time Lydia would meet Don Eugenio was in August 1950. She read in the Iloilo papers that a cement plant was being put up by the Lopezes, the Philippine Portland Cement Company, in Guimaras. By this time, Lydia was married to war veteran Ernesto Fullon and they had three children.
Lydia was given money for her transportation and advance salary by Don Eugenio as long as she reported for work right away at the old Chronicle building on Aduana Street, Intramuros.
She was first assigned to the personnel department then later worked as cashier, taking care of the shipments of cement at Philippine Portland. At that time, the demand for cement was greater than the supply and she would accept payments in advance for 10,000 to 20,000 bags costing P3 per bag.
“Easily I could have been rich,” she says. “They were offering me a higher price than P3 as long as I could give them more bags. If I was that corrupt, it would have been easy. They would even hound me at the house.”
Philippine Portland Cement was eventually sold in 1963 after Meralco was bought and she joined Meralco, again under Don Eugenio.
When news spread that her bosses were going to buy Meralco, “the Lopezes worked very quickly to create the company to carry out the sale,” as related in the book “Phoenix” by Raul Rodrigo.
Many investors wanted to get into the holding company Meralco Securities Corporation which later became First Philippine Holdings Corporation. Lydia was then the treasurer of Biscom, also a Lopez company. She recalls that in June 1961, she stayed at the office till midnight receiving and tabulating the contributions of the investors which reached a total of P22.5 million! Lydia was with Meralco during its golden era in the 1960s.
Describing the management style of Don Eugenio, Lydia says, “He had a paternal way of running things. Management was paternal. Today it’s more professional. In our day, we just had to time in and time out. Mr. Lopez had this black book which guided him as to whom to give salary increases. There were no job assessments. In 1968 I was getting only P1,500 as salary then all of a sudden it became P4,000. I almost hit the ceiling!” She notes that Don Eugenio was very considerate of those who worked for him and merit increases were given to those who consistently performed well.
She adds, “You have to show that kaya mo ang trabaho mo. You have to really know Don Eugenio. And you have to be sharp. You must be able to grasp at once his idea. He had a far-reaching mind and he can see through you. Everybody was scared of him, yet we all loved him. We were scared of him but with respect. He commanded that kind of loyalty. You respect him. You fear him, but you know you can approach him. Especially when we would ask for bales (advances).
In “Phoenix,” Lydia says of Don Eugenio: “He was a caring boss, more like a father than a boss. We called him ‘Tatay.’ And he made us feel that the company was one big family that should help and care for each other. He would underscore this family spirit by inquiring about the families of the employees. He gave parties that included our family members. If deserving employees approached him for financial assistance for their families, he would always help.”
Because of this, before 1962, strikes were unheard of in any Lopez company.
Lydia Fullon, who reverted to this name after she got widowed a second time from Narciso Santos, never finished high school. But as the longest surviving employee of a Lopez company, she is still being called in for special occasions, as when Lopez Group Foundation Inc. president and Lopez Museum and Library head Cedie Lopez Vargas would ask her to help in identifying the personalities in the massive photo collection of the library.
To this day, after more than seven decades, the Lopezes still trust Lydia Fullon. After all, it is still a basic Lopez value in relating with their employees, this matter of trust. (Story/Photo by: Dulce Festin-Baybay)