Man in a High Place: HP Philippines CEO Nilo Cruz

Nilo Cruz is a distinguished veteran of the wild world of high-tech mega-corporations. A loyal workhorse for IBM who then turned to running Compaq Philippines, a company he had driven to record growth just before its parent company was absorbed into the HP behemoth, Philippine IT pundits had speculated that Cruz’s chances of staying on top post-merge seemed remote, and so his ascension to HP Philippines chief was quite the stunner in an already surprise-filled saga.

Nilo took this all in his stride without missing a beat. “I never stopped looking back, but I kept on moving forward – so one step forward, two steps backward, review, learn, then move again,” is how he puts it.

It’s this continuous drive to improve himself as a boss that probably makes him such a good one. “You want to further grow, maybe there’s something different in the future,” he stresses. “So you want to prepare for it, but since you don’t know yet what’s coming, you just have to really try whatever you can. It may be products, services, competition, management, new approaches, challenges, whatever is new. If there’s any training in terms of management, I’d like to get it. If I can get hold of it, I will.”

Although most people would think that Nilo has climbed as high up the corporate ladder as one could possibly aspire to, he doesn’t believe in resting at the summit. He feels a responsibility to keep working to uplift the team he leads. “Never stop developing people because they’re the ones that will push you up, rather than pull you down. Aside from my family, they inspire me as well,” he acknowledges.

Nilo is the antithesis of the ivory tower CEO holed up his corner office. “I don’t really stay in my room so much. I’m a cubicle manager, I work with the staff, I share jokes with them, I share problems with them.  They know where I’m coming from. I can be nice but I can also be nasty. But of course, that’s the last thing I want to be.”

Absorbing, interpreting, and sharing knowledge is what seems to be key in the IT biz according to Nilo. “You get training from the companies you work with, you learn from other companies, from other countries. They also try to learn from us because we have a more challenging environment. So over the years I try to apply them. I watch the way the competition works, see how I can learn from their mistakes.”

Nilo was able to spin even the notorious Fiorina fiasco into more of a boon than a bane for HP, somewhat proving the old adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. “Since it didn’t affect our business here, which is my concern, I moved on. But it kept HP in the industry’s mind for a while. So every time I’d go to the doctor’s, or to cocktails and parties, people would come up to me and say that they’d read an article on what was happening at HP, and I’d tell them to check how HP stock moves. And the next day they’d see it go higher. So I’d say: ‘That’s what I’m monitoring more than what I see on CNN or in the press.’”

Nilo remains unruffled by the goings-on at the top ranks of HP headquarters and like all good mentors, is ready to pass on the baton when necessary. “Wherever I am I always try to develop someone who can replace me because I know I won’t be here forever,” he admits. “It’s nice to give back to the company the good graces that they have shared with me and not leave a vacuum. And in fairness to the people who have helped me meet my objectives, I want to make sure that they also look forward to getting a crack at my job. That’s one thing that I’m not going to be selfish about.”

Mr. Cruz’s commitment to HP, or any of his endeavors, really comes across in how he talks about himself and his company. But as the Filipino CEO of a foreign corporation, Nilo’s strongest allegiance is still to his country.

“First you have to remain focused, you have to play a role model, you have to learn how to be a bridge between the country and the regional headquarters,” he explains. “You have to represent your country well, both the business and human resources part.  You have to defend what you believe in, which is unique to thePhilippines.”

As head of the company, he has to make sure that he delivers the company objectives as regularly as possible, quite a challenge given our economic and political situation. But Nilo believes that we all need to rise to the challenge. He relates how at a speech he gave for a commencement exercise, he dared the students to stay here and make a difference. “That’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to make a decision. When you go abroad you either make it or don’t. And if you come back you’ve lost time, you’ve lost momentum.”

He encourages all Filipinos not to go for the easy dollar, to find simple contentment in those so-called greener pastures. “You can’t have it all. You have to accept that. But you can have something better, or something similar. Count your blessings, that’s what I always say,” he counsels.

Nilo hopes to stir the Filipino youth’s entrepreneurial spirit. “You can start small, from a thousand bucks,” he argues. “Those people who are big now, where did they start? They were working students! If you read their histories, they borrowed money to be able to start their businesses and look at them right now.  So if they were able to do it, what is the difference? What sacrifice did they do that our youths aren’t doing right now?”

Nilo singles out for admiration those people who he finds “more balanced”, who spend their time trying to help the country while running good businesses and practicing good governance and social responsibility at the same time.  He wants to challenge more organizations to espouse love of country. “Rather than loving one’s club, region or family, I want it love for the Philippines.  I still have to see – not tourism ads – but messages of loving the country, of pursuing what Rizal died for, or Bonifacio, or the rest that followed.”

However, Nilo also does have a more down-to-earth and not-so-secret pipe dream for himself beyond the business world.

“I’ve been sharing with my friends that one day I’d want to have a farm. I have a green thumb and I like doing gardens.  But I’m only limited to my house garden now.”

So it may not actually be too out of the ordinary to see this CEO trade in his business suit and PDA for a rake and shovel. “They say my skin color’s like this not because of golf. I got burnt in the field.  It’s a joke but it’s true.”

-text by Jude Defensor, first published in Manual magazine, 2006

Wi-Fi Bai! Cebu Gets Hot, Wirelessly.

Political map of Metro Cebu

Political map of Metro Cebu (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dominion Wireless Broadband Access may be the best Philippine broadband provider that you have yet to hear about (if you live in Luzon that is). Based in Cebu, and as of the writing of this feature, still unaffiliated with any of the major manila-based telco or media conglomerates, this lean and spunky outfit may just be able to teach the big boys a thing or two, and if all goes to plan, have them heading for the hills. You can count on the Cebuanos to come up with the magical equation of better service + cheaper rates + seamless wireless = broadband domination.

Dominion’s ultimate goal is to make the entire Metro Cebu area a hot zone. Their venture will be the first in Southeast Asia in terms of metro-scale wireless broadband deployment.

Uptown Cebu City has been their starting point. Dominion launched Cebu’s first wireless-fidelity (wi-fi) zone or “hot zone” at the Mango Square Mall last year. To clarify, a hot zone is not the same as a hot spot. While a hot spot covers an area good for one household, office, or establishment, a hot zone can cover an entire neighborhood. Dominion has mounted only a single antenna on the roof of the Mango Square Mall. Powered by Wi-Max, this transmitter is enough to provide wireless internet access throughout the entire mall, even extending out onto adjacent streets and buildings. Dominion has currently set-up additional hot zones at Cebu’s Capitol Site, Fuente Osmeña, and Banilad Town Center. The rest of the metropolis is soon to follow. “We are now in the final stage of energizing our Network Operations Center (NOC). Once the NOC is up and running, the roll-out shall commence and the delivery of quality service we have committed will be maintained,” adds Dominion general manager Edwin Sanchez.

A member of the Nozomi Group of Companies, a subsidiary of ASA Enterprises, founded  by a group of Cebuano Filipino-Chinese businessmen, with the help of some Manila-based tech people from Protocol Century Inc and American hardware suppliers Tropos Networks and Aperto Networks Inc., Dominion aims to launch a surgical strike into the heart of the broadband market.

Wi-Fi Signal logo

Wi-Fi Signal logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they’ve got big guns and deep pockets backing them up. Their partners include such household names as IBM, Lenovo, and Motorola. Add to that list Tropos Networks, the proven market leader in delivering metro-scale Wi-Fi mesh network products and services, and Aperto Networks, who develops and delivers the world’s most advanced WiMAX broadband wireless products for service providers. Already there are rumblings about even bigger names jumping onto the Dominion bandwagon.

Aside from gumption, the Dominion boys and girls have got enthusiasm to burn. For their demo spiel, they showed off video streaming from the powerful wireless cameras they had installed around Cebu. Able to rotate in any direction and zoom in on far-away details, we remotely checked in on their servers and technicians from across the street, and even snuck looks at sunbathers from a block away, all in real time! These cameras highlight just how versatile and effective (and fun even) a city-wide wireless network can be, if coupled with the right technology. As an example of this, to aid the Philippine National Police in rapidly responding to disturbances duringCebu’s famous Sinulog Grand Parade, Dominion Wireless deployed wireless security cameras along strategic areas of the Sinulog route. The policemen were so impressed by the technology, they almost didn’t want to return the equipment, and Cebu City Mayor Tommy Osmena has begun seriously considering installing a wireless surveillance system throughout the city. For another demonstration that would do the W?BIC! extreme techies at m-ph HQ proud, we had a picture taken of their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying the wirelessly transmitted image of me taking a picture of them showing their wi-fi enabled PDAs displaying me taking a picture of them… and so on and so forth like a hall of wi-fi enabled mirrors.

As befits the young Cebuano Turks that they are, their marketing campaigns have been guerilla and unconventional. They distributed plastic streamers to all the establishments within their hot zones. Even sari-sari stores and carinderias have been very enthusiastic about hanging them up, and making their humble businesses look hi-tech without having to install a single gadget. Then they’ve been giving away free prepaid cards to anyone who’s interested. Although, as with other wi-fi providers, they still have a bit of a problem regarding properly educating the participating establishments as to how wi-fi really works and how to deal with customers who ask about it or encounter problems connecting. And of course they also have to deal with their fair share of nay-sayers and pessimists.

Aggressively competing on the two fields where some other broadband providers have thoroughly dropped the ball: price and speed, Dominion is taking no prisoners with their Cebu roll-out. They’re offering a 384 kpbs connection for only 889 pesos per month, 512 kbps for P1,499, and a blazing 768 kbps for P1,999, significantly cheaper and faster than their closest competition. That’s more than enough to get some people to seriously consider moving to Cebu! But hold your horses! Fortunately for us poor overcharged underserved denizens of Luzon, Dominion plans to eventually move up to Metro Manila and start showing the over-complacent broadband providers here how it should be done. For quite some time now, numerous corporations have been testing or soft-launching their products and services in Cebu first, then when they get it right there, that’s when they decide to make a splash in Manila. The success rate of products that do well in Cebu when transplanted to Manila is virtually 100%, and Dominion hopes to be no exception.

-text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in m|ph magazine, 2006

%d bloggers like this: