Saturday, January 17, 2009

taipan observations

wishing to finally shake off my long standing restlessness, i decided to do my "rounds" of my project sites. i have been having this underlying sense of anxiety for the past few days now, owing to the fact that my schedule has been rather quiet lately. i guess i have gotten used to zipping in and out of cities and meetings and weaving through traffic and all the chaos my job entails that peaceful, uneventful days, at home, leads me to fear for the worse! the calm before the storm as they say. thankfully however, the worse never happened. but that obviously did not keep me from stressing over the quiet still. experience has taught me that you should never let you guard down, most especially if your success relied on the hands of other people, in my case, my contractors. so yesterday, i decided to jump the "chaos gun" and make a quick visit to the site.... all the way in libis, a good two hour drive with moderate traffic from where i live :)

i met with the foreman who always looked more than happy to see me. he updated me of the status of the project while i relayed to him the newest instructions from my client. plans were finalized and new deadlines agreed upon. there were a few problems that arose but nothing too grave as to cause hell to boil over. in a hour, i was done... and had again the entire day to myself to be idle. i started to feel restless again.

i then decided to go to trinoma and pick up my cousin on the way. my client's first store was having their soft opening yesterday and i wanted to see how things were going. they franchised this frozen yogurt brand, RED MANGO, from korea and are hoping to make it the IT brand as far as fro-yoes are concerned in the philippines. my cousin was visiting from anaheim and had tasted RED MANGO there and loved it. so naturally she got all excited when i mentioned it was opening here and that we could go get free samples.

it was good to bond with my cousin. despite the large age gap between us (she is 22, and i am a dinosaur) i was surprised it wasn't that difficult to relate to her. i asked her about how things are doing in the states and she asked me about my work. she's currently attending "Bible school" (or what i affectionately call "spirit camp") at a training center in anaheim. naturally, her disposition was very positive, practically glowing if i may say so myself, this compared to my anxiety ridden, worldly and very gloomy demeanor. i then told her about my current project and about who my clients were. i told her that they were super young, 24 years old, and yet have already started stretching and flexing their entrepreneurial muscles. it also pays i guess if you are related to one of the most influential families in the country.

i was supposed to be having down time now, enjoying a stroll in the mall in the company of family. however, as i approached the RED MANGO kiosk, i suddenly realized the remains of my day might not work out as i had planned. my client, and her entire taipan family was on site and none of them seems to be smiling. o dear....

i excused myself from my cousin and approached my client with trepidation. she looked rather harassed, frazzled actually. taipan mom was zipping in and out, pointing at this and that while their staff tried to take note of every single detail being addressed. taipan dad looked serious, standing at the corner, in deep thought. my client's siblings were also running around fixing things. i made my presence know to my client and she, thankfully, greeted me with a brief smile. i later learned that all the frenzy i was experiencing was the entire family trying to make the opening PERFECT. it was an almost obsessive-compulsive display or ironing things out and polishing details that made me realize how serious these people are when it comes to business. no wonder they are taipans, i thought.

i arrived close to 3pm already and learned that none of them had had lunch yet. they took leave of me and went to grab a bite, all the while exchanging text messages with me to follow up on the status of certain things they needed to know about. before leaving though, they offered my cousin and i their prized yogurt, much to my cousin's delight (we later came back and got more servings with toppings now. we were drafted as hypothetical customers... and even had our pictures taken too! hehehehe)

the brood eventually came back after their break and immediately got back to work. i chose not the meddle too much in their activity since from the looks of things, they had everything under control. i also didn't want to be put on the spot since, it takes me a while to process information and impromptu decision making was never one of my strengths. my cousin and i just stayed in one of the empty seats and enjoyed our free yogurt. while seated there though, i could help but observed this family as i found them utterly interesting to watch.

the term tai-pan is a cantonese word that referred to the business leaders in hong kong back during the end of the opium war. loosely translated as "supreme leader", these were basically the movers and shakers of the territory and were composed of a very exclusive few. in the philippines, we know these taipans based on their family names or the corporations they represent. they hold vast amounts of power (and money) that dictate almost how we think, move, eat, work and live. though our government may seem to hold supreme authority over the country, it is these families, with their businesses, however who control an entire culture, our very life blood as a nation.

as i sat there watching my clients busy themselves, my cousin interrupted me with a remark. i guess she too was curious on how "gods" worked and said "your client looks so ordinary." for in fact, she was. actually, disregarding the three escorts they had with them, my client and her entire family could have looked like any other member of the malling crowd. people were passing by them, having no idea who they were brushing elbows with. there was no air about them, no flare, no sense of greater importance, no nothing actually. quite contrary to how you would expect people with so much influence to carry themselves in public. hell, i know of baranggay captains who are more flamboyant! but here you are with the "rightful keepers" of power and yet, they handle it as if they don't have any at all. all you actually see that can be described as anything out of the ordinary was how meticulous they were in their work. this i guess was what made them so interesting, to me that is. there was a focus to their energy and surprisingly, it was not about making money. i recall once when i was talking with the mom on our first meetings. i asked her how business is and how they plan to ride the wave with the looming crisis and what she said was like a motherly advice but heavy with business sense. she said, and i'm paraphrasing, that "business is ok. it's always risky to enter the market with a new product but you really have to learn to take gambles. we just have to get ourselves out there and make people know we're there. once people realize you have a good product, you protect it." i last spoke to her almost half a year ago and i still remember what she said. this was what was echoing in my head as i watched them move around, setting tables, moving modules, and trouble shooting little kinks. they were exercising the focus, determination and strategy of building a business. it was all about the product and getting it out there, like almost giving birth. the money, the prestige, the fame, the glory were all after shocks of creating and protecting a solid product. valuable lessons i learned, no wonder they were able to build the empire they have today.


gentle said...

a very well constructed entry! from start to finish, was murmuring to myself, construction worker tong jamie na to! hehehe. kidding. :)

Mugen said...

I like the way you write this entry. As I always say, the old rich people hardly shows their fortune. They subdue it as much as they can.

In my class, I have a classmate who's like that. You will know that she's very rich, the elite of a bygone generation. Pero with the manner she expresses herself around us. Sobrang down to earth. As in, the more I get to know her, the more I'm being starstruck.

I might post her essay one of these days. I'm sure those who are into beauty pageants will love the way she writes.

Reena said...

oo nga. rich people i know don't look rich at all. and many of them are really frugal. i guess that's the secret to their success. it's not about the money or material things, but it's about self-fulfillment.