Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan has announced his retirement from PLDT, more than two decades after helping engineer one of the country’s largest corporate acquisition deals in the late ‘90s of what was then a monopoly firm bogged down by horrendous service inefficiencies, to become one of the country's most profitable companies.
Pangilinan said during the press conference today, May 6, of PLDT’s first quarter results that he will “pass the baton” as CEO and president to PLDT’s chief revenue officer Al Panlilio at the company’s annual stockholder’s meeting on June 8.
“I will stay on as chairman, subject to shareholders’ consent,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan has intimated a number of times before his eventual retirement from the day-to-day operations of the blue chip firm that has been closely tied to his identity since the start of the millennium.
Pangilinan took over as company CEO in 2016 after longtime CEO Napoleon “Polly” Nazareno retired in 2015. Nazareno, who oversaw the restructuring of Piltel’s debts, presided over the company’s explosive growth during the SMS call-and-text era.
But during Nazareno’s exit, PLDT was already being overtaken in the wireless segment by upstart Ayala-led Globe Telecom, who proved agile and faster in the growing digital space. When Pangilinan took over, the company was bleeding subscribers by the millions and profits turned south. Pangilinan described the year 2016 as “annus horribilis.”
In end-2016, in a talk at his PLDT suite when the company was in the thick of reshuffling its top management and executing a turnaround strategy, Pangilinan said that the next CEO “should be ready to die for the job.”
“Work over family. Period. You can’t be a CEO of this company on an eight-hour shift. You need to have the intestinal fortitude for this,” Pangilinan said on what should be the qualities of the company’s next chief executive.
“There is always a price you pay for the life you choose,” Pangilinan said, referencing a line from the movie The Godfather.
Ruing from the company’s recent missteps then, Pangilinan said “I still think it is a great company, we did not just manage it right.”
After arresting the hemorrhaging of the company’s wireless segment in 2017, PLDT has already regained its groove, even as the challenge of new competition and new technologies, not to mention regulatory issues, remain on the horizon.
Buoyed by increased data appetite by Filipinos marooned at home during the pandemic, PLDT is aiming to increase its profits this year by 6% to end at P30 billion. With a strong showing for the first quarter, as profits are up by almost a tenth, company officials said they are confident of hitting their full-year target.
Now that PLDT has more than hit its stride, the 74-year-old Pangilinan said he is ready to step back.
“I would guess that as the years passed by, you are physically less effective than when you were young,” Pangilinan said today.
Pangilinan cited 5G, even 6G, and hyperscaler as the next growth frontiers in the telco space.
“It’s a great company but it needs a lot of care and feeding. It’s a hungry animal, hungry for capex, which means you have to generate a lot of cash to feed the requirement of the business, particularly for the network build,” said Pangilinan.
“I think the future is looking great for a company like PLDT if we get it right,” Pangilinan said.
“I would simply wish my successor all the best.”