ABS-CBN chairman Eugenio Lopez III with the sculpture of his father on the 15th floor of ELJ Communications CenterEugenio L. Lopez III (EL3) was the youngest member of the triumvirate that steered ABSCBN to unprecedented heights in the 1990s.
Post-martial law, EL3 took on the role of ABS-CBN’s strategist/analyst, his father Eugenio “Geny” Lopez Jr. was the founder/dreamer, while longtime executive Freddie M. Garcia was the market-savvy helmsman/tactician, wrote Raul Rodrigo in his 2006 book Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN.
Officially, EL3, who had earned a MBA from Harvard Business School and worked six years as MIS Group manager in Chemical Bank during his years in exile in the US, joined ABS-CBN as finance director upon his return in 1986. A year later, he became tsyhe general manager of the network.
Within three years after the end of the Marcos dictatorship, the revitalized ABS-CBN had regained its lost glory. Ensconced back in the coveted number one spot, the network had become so successful that it was by then competing only against itself and its own remarkable record, according to Rodrigo.
Geny presented EL3 with a challenge: to spearhead the diversification process that he himself had argued for after realizing that it was the path to take in order for the company “to continue growing at the rate that [it was] growing.” His dream was to “transform ABS-CBN into a fully integrated media company, like Time Warner or Disney.” Under EL3, ABS-CBN successfully ventured into interactive media, sound recording, international cable and satellite distribution, postproduction, sports programming and licensing, and merchandising.
Aiming for synergy
Even then, in the early 1990s, Kapitan’s eldest son was aiming for synergy.
“It makes sense for us to try to go into all these ancillary businesses. …We look at ourselves as a ‘software’ company; we produce content. And we exploit that strength in movies, television, pay per view, video, basic cable and the international arena. These are all the different windows that our ‘software’ passes through,” EL3 told Rodrigo.
The first to come to fruition was the cable venture, SKYcable, which started operations in 1992. This was followed in quick succession by movie studio Star Cinema, the UHF channel Studio 23, postproduction studios Roadrunner Network, and ABS-CBN Interactive.
However, ABS-CBN International, whose flagship product is The Filipino Channel (TFC), is arguably the centerpiece of the network’s diversification efforts.
The millions of Filipinos overseas—estimated by 2010 to be as many as 12.5 million, or 11% of our total population—presented a large potential market that was hungry for news from back home.
Network executives still remember ABS-CBN International’s early years, when almost everybody in the foreign cable network circle shot down the idea of carrying Filipino content. They had to explain what the Filipino market was and why it made perfect business sense to cater to their viewing needs.
The Lopez Group is an old hand at trying something exciting and new. Employing the pioneering entrepreneurial spirit fostered throughout the Group’s history, ABS-CBN forged ahead despite the considerable odds. After all, to be a pioneer, one must tread a more arduous and difficult path, albeit one that promises significant rewards at the end of what would probably be a painful journey.
EL3 recalled: “We couldn’t get on the cable operators. It was almost impossible. The cable operators in America preferred to pick up the Pet Channel than The Filipino Channel. They understood the Pet Channel. They didn’t understand The Filipino Channel.”
Eventually, doors began to open. TFC was first carried in Daly City, California in 1993. It was an instant success among Filipinos yearning for a connection with the home they left behind. After Daly City, TFC was quickly rolled out in cable system after cable system.
Today, TFC is available in almost all countries where Filipinos are, while ABS-CBN International has grown to become one of the biggest contributors to ABS-CBN revenues and its bestperforming subsidiary.
Another visionary step taken by EL3 in 1997—by then he was the newly minted ABS-CBN chairman, having been previously promoted to CEO in 1994—was to form the Communication Group. The CommGroup consolidated the Lopez Group’s investments in telecommunications and cable telephony and data warehousing. With himself serving as its chairman and CEO, the CommGroup “oversees the development and implementation of convergence projects for ABS-CBN together with Bayan and SKYcable.”
Through all these innovations, the values he learned from his father Geny, who passed away in 1999, served as EL3’s beacons.
EL3 may have been coolly analytical and Geny the more intuitive one, but father and son both possessed ag- gressiveness “in spades” and the same relentless, undaunted spirit. Both men, noted Raul Rodrigo, also placed the same emphasis on values.
EL3 said, “…If you have the right values, people will make the right decisions. If you don’t have the right values, people won’t make the right decisions… I have learned that big businesses are driven by values, not by profits.”
He added that profits result from doing the right things. It is a way of “keeping score, but it doesn’t drive the business.” “The values are what drive the business,” EL3 stressed.