Nobody enters a small startup company at age 24 and imagines himself becoming President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of its even bigger parent company in 21 years. But things happen—and for good reason.
Carlo Katigbak, President and CEO of ABS-CBN Corporation since the beginning of 2016, recalls: “When I joined SKY (Sky Cable Corporation) in 1994, the only thing I really imagined was bringing cable TV to every corner of the country. That was my job at the time as head of provincial operations. I’ve aspired for many other things since then, but running ABS-CBN was never something I imagined.”
At that time, SKY was not even part of ABS-CBN, but was a subsidiary of ABS-CBN parent firm Lopez Holdings Corporation. It was the pioneer cable service provider in Metro Manila and began a strategic push to acquire provincial operators to gain more leverage in negotiating program acquisitions from foreign content providers. It was only in 2009, following the entry of a Singapore partner in SKY, that Lopez Holdings divested its ownership in SKY in favor of direct control of the business unit by ABS-CBN.
It was not a straight path to the ABS-CBN presidency for Katigbak, either. He even left the group for a few months in 1999 before returning later in the year to head ABS-CBN Interactive, starting up the digital services division of ABS-CBN, beginning with creating websites and microsites for ABSCBN programs, divisions and some Lopez Group member companies. In 2005, he returned to SKY as Chief Operating Officer. In 2012, he became President when Chairman Eugenio Lopez III (EL3) retired.
Katigbak was also made concurrent Head of Access in ABS-CBN, working with teams to commercialize EL3’s goal of ABS-CBN’s leadership in the emerging technology platforms consisting of digital terrestrial television or DTT (now better known by its brand, ABS-CBN TVplus), ABS-CBNmobile and iWantv, and SKY on cable and satellite broadcast.
Today, as President and CEO, he will have to expand his horizon beyond the digital space to include talent management, news and entertainment content production, events, publications, customer service, theme parks and the thousand and one other things ABSCBN does as a multimedia conglomerate. He did spend much of his time as head of Access soaking in the day-to-day affairs of ABS-CBN, getting to know what makes people at different levels of the organization tick.
The best and brightest
“The last two years have been spent learning as much as I can about the company and its people. Both Gabby (EL3) and Charo (ABS-CBN Chief Content Officer Charo Santos-Concio, also recently retired CEO) have generously shared their experiences, learnings and knowledge. I’ve put in a lot of time talking to and working with some of the best and brightest people in the industry. I don’t think you’re ever really prepared for something like this, but the only thing to do is embrace the challenge and keep moving forward.”
One of his major challenges is resurgent competition in local broadcasting with local content providers making a focused push for higher national ratings day to day, particularly in the last quarter of 2015.
“This is a competitive industry and you need a healthy respect for competition. But ABS-CBN is a trailblazer in the industry. We have to stay focused on what we want to do instead of worrying about the competition. While they may have a higher-rating show from time to time, that is the nature of the industry. A sustained leadership is not about looking for the latest overnight sensation. We must undertake a conscious, deliberate effort to keep improving what we deliver to our consumers. Leadership is measured over time. We shouldn’t panic with respect to the day to day. What makes ABS-CBN strong is that we are not reliant on any one team or tandem or star. We have many of the most popular talents—actors, directors, writers—who have generated overwhelming public support for the shows and movies they have created with us.”
He believes that ABS-CBN’s measured response to the threat posed by competition led to its noontime program catching up in the ratings by way of sustained improvements on the show itself. In addition, ABS-CBN’s primetime programs, aired from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., continued to dominate national ratings for the whole of 2015.
Exemplary roster of leaders
And while nothing can ever fully prepare anyone for the enormity of the work ahead, Katigbak believes he has only to look to the exemplary roster of ABS-CBN leaders who came before him.
“The presidency of ABSCBN is a very heavy responsibility because its leadership has a long history of achieving commercial and creative successes. It has built a lasting legacy of public service and nation-building, and it is a company that is constantly in the public eye. If you know the story behind the last 60 years of ABS, you will understand the depth of the struggles that its previous leaders have had to deal with,” he says.
Connection with storied past
It is this palpable connection with the company’s storied past that Katigbak hopes to renew among ABS-CBN veterans and introduce to ABS-CBN newbies through an internal launch of the ABS-CBN brand story.
“It is important to know the story behind the achievements of the company. We didn’t get here in one generation. We can claim those achievements because there were many dedicated leaders working with talented teams who brought ABS-CBN to where it is today. We have to tell our story internally because what we consider important as an organization transcends any one person. It is about the values that guided our leaders and brought us success in the past. We must ensure that the culture they built survives the transition of leaders throughout multiple generations. Values are transcendent and they have the power to bring us to where we want to go as an organization, as a company,” says Katigbak. (Story/Photos by: Carla Paras-Sison)