Alpha Male (an interview with Fred Uytengsu)

Wilfred Steven Uytengsu Jr. is president and Chief Operating Officer of the Alaska Milk Corporation, Team Owner of the Alaska Aces PBA team, and arguably the most visible active triathlete in the country. He started in sports as a child with competitive swimming and baseball. But at the age of 11, he made a decision to focus on swimming and began to train and swim with the Philippine team. He prefers individual sports because you win or lose based on your own performance as compared to team sports where if one makes a mistake it can cost the whole team. Triathlons came after he graduated from college. He did a few while in the US and when he came back here, it was a fledgling sport. He then stopped training for more than 10 years and only resumed 7 years ago when he felt that he was getting older and out of shape. Since then, the sport has grown. Although this Alpha Male admits to pouring in a lot of energy into his professional career and athletic endeavors, he loves spending time with his family just as much.

On Competition and Teamwork:

I enjoy competition. My wife says I tend to be on the borderline of being over-competitive.

I enjoy the challenge because I feel that competition really brings out the best in people. It forces you to be the best that you can be whether it be in business or sport. To be faster, stronger, better, in whatever you are pursuing.

Having a competitive background helps me understand professional basketball players. I know what it takes to perform at your best. Training from swimming has helped me in terms of learning perseverance, commitment and dedication. Those are all things I carried over into my adult life and my business career. Those are attributes and characteristics that have molded me and made me who I am. You need those attributes and you look for them in the people you hire, to have in your team. You need people who are committed to the goals of the company and the team.

On Persistence:

Persistence is key, and if you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. In the realm of sports you need to continuously practice and train. We would swim 2 to 4 hours a day, 6 days a week, roughly 320 days a year.

In business you need to be persistent and that is something I work on with my management team in terms of pushing people. In this case, my responsibility is to push people further than they think they can, than they’re comfortable doing, because that’s how you can get the best from people.

On Perseverance and Inspiration:

I would say that someone in the business world who I find fascinating is Steve Jobs of Apple. He’s the consummate entrepreneur who really helped develop the PC revolution. But he was ousted from his company, which I think was a great American tragedy. Here’s one man who was forced out by a professional hired gun and basically be left for dead in his professional career. Only to come back for an encore and achieve greater than he did the first time around. That’s the classic case of perseverance.

It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life

It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You look at Lance Armstrong. He’s a person we all admire not only for what he achieved in his professional biking career but what he has achieved in his life as a classic case of never say die, literally. What also inspires me is after I read his book, It’s Not About the Bike, which is very moving in terms of what he has overcome, and I have several friends who have been diagnosed with cancer. I have given them a copy of that book and what’s so powerful is that 3 of them are now in remission. So maybe the book has inspired them. I think the mind can overcome whatever physical ailments you may have if you believe that you can help and heal yourself

Both these men were very brash at a young age, then they became statesmen of their respective endeavors, computer technology for Steve Jobs, while Lance Armstrong is the undisputed greatest bike rider ever.

On Achievement:

One motto I have that the people in my company and basketball team know I use frequently is: Good enough never is. That’s from the book “Built to Last” by James Collins. I believe in hard work to achieve what you want. To move ahead you need a strong work ethic. That’s something my father believes in and instilled in me.

Integrity is very important. I live by a very finite set of principles. Nobody succeeds in life just waiting for things to be served to them on a silver platter. You have to pursue that. Never be afraid to try anything. People live with preconceived notions of what they can or cannot do and you need to break those barriers down. The minute you relieve yourself of those barriers you’ll find the opportunity to surpass them.

I’ve looked to overcome certain personal physical barriers. I’ve just finished Ironman Australia which is a fairly long and competitive event and is something I’ve hoped to do and do well.

Right now, that’s been the apex of my physical accomplishments. I don’t know what lies ahead. Maybe I’ll continue to do Ironman. The motto of the Ironman is: Anything is Possible. Look at what ordinary people achieve if they put their minds to it.

-interview by Jude Defensor, first published in Men’s Health Philippines magazine, 2006

There’s No Page Like Home

(first published in Manila Bulletin, 2003)

The Turcuato’s snug Sucat residence mixes the minimalist with the maternal.

Internet and Sports TV trailblazer Jude Turcuato, likes looking upward and outward. His home is all high ceilings and huge windows. You might expect a bit more tech or sports clutter among the decor, but the house is surprisingly spare and simple. It’s a zone of calm and comfort for the busy Turcuatos, a welcome haven from their wired and active careers.

Jude’s wife Tricia, who works for Unilever, states, “When you go home you want to forget about what’s going on outside. Our home is a place to relax and unwind and let go.”

They do remember when their tranquil abode wasn’t always as welcoming, “This house used to be owned by Tricia’s aunt and she gave us a really good deal.,” Jude recalls. “It was originally used by a general as a safe house. And it was built exactly the same way as the neighboring houses. It was very dark. It was such a good price but we really didn’t like the house itself. We wanted to tear it down and build a new one.”

Their house wasn’t the only structure Jude built from the ground up (and with a little help from his family). He is also responsible for setting up and maintaining PinoyExchange, one of, if not the largest Philippine-based online forums, with close to 100,000 registered users and counting.

Jude relates how unlike a lot of young professionals these days, the road to his success and fulfilment actually started by his returning to the Philippines instead of leaving it.

“I went to school in the States. When I graduated there in 1995, I wanted to try things out here but I didn’t know what to do. Going to school seemed the easiest thing to put together. I wanted to join the basketball training team of Ateneo, and in order to be in the team you have to be enrolled. So I enrolled in the Communications department, and that’s where I met Tricia.”

“Jude and I met in class,” corroborates Tricia. “Our professor, Tony Perez, told us that we were soulmates and that I should pursue Jude. He brought me home one day and we talked for 3 hours straight. We’ve been dating ever since. That is, until we got married in 2001.”

The Ateneo not only brought Tricia and Jude together, but also got Jude into sportscasting. “Ateneo is where I saw the ad for Silverstar. Father Holscher was the athletic director at the time. He kind of put the sign up there and had a good relationship with Silverstar. I tried out and they liked my VTR. So tuluy-tuloy na after that. I worked with Silverstar until ABS-CBN got the rights to the UAAP. So it was Silverstar that gave me my break, but it was ABS-CBN that pretty much continued my sportscasting career.”

Jude considers sportscasting to be a part-time sideline, albeit one he particularly enjoys. One wonders then how he went from balls and hoops to nets and links. “PinoyExchange was really started by my cousins,” Jude humbly explains. “Back in 1999, my cousin, who is a doctor based in New Jersey, loved to be a part of the online communities in the states. Back then the Internet wasn’t really that prevalent here. He called us since we were the ones based here and asked if it was a good idea to start some sort of community within the country. He couldn’t do it since he was in the states, but he could help out, give his input,” he narrates.

“So I said, sige. Let’s try it. I didn’t know anything about the internet. Actually, at the time I had just resigned from La Tondena, where I was an assistant brand manager. It was good timing because I was free to start a business. So I started researching about websites.” And the rest is Internet history.

From the very beginning, Jude and his team were discovering that taking an untraveled path would mean a bumpy ride. In fact, PinoyExchange could have been called something else entirely. “The name PinoyExchange was a 3rd or 4th choice. We wanted something different, like PinoyTalk, but they were already taken. PinoyExchange was the only one available so we ended up with it by default,” Jude recounts.

“It was really simple when we started out, we would just use Powerpoint to design the pages and then save them as html. I used my position as a sportscaster to sort of jumpstart PinoyExchange because Silverstar agreed that I could plug the site. We first structured the site to focus on UAAP. So that’s how the whole thing got jumpstarted and after that the viral nature of the internet took over and people just told people. We never really advertised PinoyExchange per se. And now we really have trouble keeping it up because of the traffic. Because we always have to upgrade servers and that costs money. We want to make sure that we don’t spend too much on hosting so that we can continue to survive.”

Jude also gives credit to their lean and mean workforce for the site’s success and profitability. Composed of only five employees, the PinoyExchange team somehow manages to keep such a large and busy site up and running. Although things don’t always operate as smoothly as they wish, a consequence of the site’s enormous popularity. Jude admits to having to function as the company’s treasurer, secretary, and even janitor at times. The company is also very grateful to iAyala for all the support they have given the site, and that a rough-and-casual team like them have been allowed to prosper within the uber-corporate Ayala organization.

Jude appears to have extended his no-fat, no-frills business philosophy to the construction of his house. “Building it didn’t cost that much because the foundation was already here and it’s only a bungalow,” Jude explains. “My personal preference was that I wanted it white and bright. I wanted a lot of openings, huge windows so that the sun can come in. I also wanted high ceilings.”

This clean, unpretentious approach to design also influenced their home’s interiors. There is a refreshingly minimalist slant to the living areas, with vivid touches of colorful Asian objects and art work in all the right places. There are pillows and prints from Bangkok, wood and wicker furniture from the Philippines, and an assortment of pieces handed down or given as gifts by relatives and friends. Tricia also added a few select accents from local shops such as EDIA and Dimensione. The result is a mix that is modern but not stark, cozy but not fussy. Unless you look closely, or are clued in by the Turcuatos, you might not be able to notice a subtle theme to their décor. Scattered about the house are various objets-d’art that suggest a Mother-and-child motif. This is Tricia’s extra little touch to impart just a bit more distinction to their home. Unsurprisingly, she has her mother to thank for helping them implement this charming idea.

But what the Turcuatos are really most proud of is what hangs over their heads. Their living room boasts of a rounded vaulted ceiling, imparting a cathedral-like stature to the airy space. Jude confesses to this one lofty aspiration that he didn’t quite reach, “We wanted the ceiling to be even higher, but the architect advised us that any higher just wouldn’t work anymore.”

The exception to all this bright-and-airiness would be Jude’s domain, the den. Here lay his big boy toys such as the home theatre setup, and of course, the computer. Also displayed prominently is a Michael Jordan poster that once hung in the living room, until Tricia insisted on its relocation.

Much as he helped develop the local Internet industry, Jude also hopes to advance the current state of local sports television. He has just launched a new show on Studio 23, named appropriately enough, Sports TV. It airs every Saturday at 6pm.

“I want this project to work because there really aren’t any local sports news and opinion shows. It’s all just events or games coverage,” Jude declares. “That’s one of the things I really want to be a part of, to create a better awareness of sports. Not just watching the event itself but being able to talk about it, having intelligent discussions, knowing what’s going on.”

When asked who he admires in the sportscasting profession, Jude replies, “My favorite sportscaster is Bob Costas. I think he’s one of the best around because he combines knowledge and delivery and content so well.” Which is all well and good for Bob Costas, but we’re pretty sure that Bob didn’t have to run a website on the side.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved

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