It's love of country that seems to propel San Miguel Corporation's president and chief operating officer Ramon S. Ang forward, particularly when it comes to the company he leads. Ang believes that the glue that binds the different businesses in the San Miguel Group is the company’s ability to contribute to the welfare of the Filipino and Philippine economic development.
What do you see is the role of business today?
It’s our job as individuals and as an organization to make a difference in society. That’s why we’ve chosen to enter businesses like infrastructure, or power, or energy. This why we decide to support the plan of government, whether it’s to provide housing for those left homeless by a typhoon, or to help solve the traffic or address the need for a modern airport. As a company, we want to be something larger than ourselves. For our employees, work should mean something beyond just the job at hand.
The airport has been a dream of yours for so many years now. Are you excited that San Miguel is on the verge of beginning work on this project?
Yes, of course. I’m excited that we are on the way to solving a problem that I believe has held our country back. The new airport will provide a long-term solution to our airport congestion problem, addressing the capacity we need today. A modern, functioning airport would give the Philippines a geographical advantage as a jump-off point in the region. It would allow our country to become a hub rivaling Singapore or Hong Kong.
You’ve said that San Miguel will be a nation-builder, you mention this in the context of the airport, which is a future project. To what extent do you think we’ve already succeeded?
We’ve already done a lot. If you look at the roads and expressways we’ve built, the facilities that we’ve put up throughout the country, the power plants there’s enough physical proof. By putting up this infrastructure, San Miguel is an enabler of prosperity. And where we have led the way and opened up opportunity—in Mandaue, Davao, now Cagayan de Oro, the provinces of Quezon and Pangasinan—we’ve fostered an environment that’s conducive to business. Our beer, San Miguel, is a national brand. You go to Europe or the United States, and they associate the Philippines with San Miguel. Brands are a form of soft power when it comes to national identity and nation-building.
We’ve generated so many jobs. We have a workforce of nearly 30,000 employees, creating downstream jobs in the hundred thousand across the Philippines. Indirectly, we’re helping these people support their families, achieve financial security, and provide their children with more opportunities.
When you create employment, it allows people to build a hopeful future for themselves and their families. This is at the heart of our nation-building.
What’s next for San Miguel? What does the new decade hold for us?
We still have more roads to build and plants to put up. We also know that the world is changing in ways that even the combined resources of San Miguel and other companies would be nowhere near large enough to solve the most pressing social, economic, and environmental problems. So we also need to change the way we do business.
I’m finding that it’s much easier to be a great business than a good one. To consistently come down on the side that—as much as possible—benefits the marginalized and the environment requires commitment and a value system that I’m proud to say is part of our company’s make up. Doing the right thing matters, and especially when you are San Miguel, a company that many people look up to.
In terms of the environment, while the reality is we can’t yet entirely do away with coal, we’ve spent millions in technology that limits emissions and produces the cleanest energy possible. We are also investing in more sustainable forms of energy like battery storage. We are looking at even more sustainable innovations, rethinking how we do things and how we can transform the system for more positive outcomes.
We are getting more efficient in using water and have cut back our use of surface water by nearly 25% over the last two years. We realize that when San Miguel does something, the impact is outsized. It’s only now that people have become more aware of water scarcity. We made this commitment as early as 2016 because we knew that if we were more conscious and careful with our use of water, we could make a huge difference.
Instead of hoping for a better tomorrow, we are working on real solutions and putting money where we can get the best outcome for the greatest number of people. We’re finding solutions that will include everyone in today’s opportunities.
Rural-urban migration is a problem, and we’re trying to keep farmers in the countryside.
We’ve invested millions in new feed terminals, new ports, and grow-out facilities. In cassava-growing communities, we are trying to raise productivity through skills training, microloans, and a guaranteed market so that farmers won’t migrate to the cities in favor of higher-paid work. We’re also investing in schools that teach entrepreneurship to young people in rural areas. We understand the connection between education and economic growth, but we don’t want to educate young people so that they can be better workers. We want them to be better citizens, capable of participating in development wherever they are.
Ramon S. Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel is the architect of the company's growth.
Sustainability is something many companies are trying to get behind now, what are your thoughts. Is San Miguel as sustainable as it should be?
Sustainability has been ingrained in San Miguel's business operations long before it became a byword in governance and corporate responsibility. The things we have been doing over the years are best-practice. Our beer business runs on a returnable glass bottle system and has done so for over a hundred years. Ginebra San Miguel runs on the same system, and we are working to improve retrieval rates. Our pallets and plastic crates business are recyclable. And our Food Group has many practices that would fall under the circular economy model. The same can be said for our power and oil refining industry. Our commitment to tackling waste across our business is nothing new. Recently, we piloted the use of waste plastics for roads, and we are also evaluating bio-degradable packaging for our food business.
But like many companies, we are re-evaluating how we do business and assessing the role our company can assume to do good better. As I mentioned, we are looking at investment opportunities for clean energy options. So over time, we can make a transition. We have to do so in a way they won’t make life even more difficult than those who need low-cost energy or in a way that will exclude the poor from basic opportunities. That’s going to require changes in our regulatory environment and new policy measures that will make renewables even more competitive.
We need a different mindset and more deliberate and intentional choices to separate the growth we seek from the cost to the environment.
In what ways has San Miguel changed in the last five years?
As a company, we’re redefining what success means to us, and we’re saying it’s not just about the bottom line. We have to think about the social and environmental impacts of what we do. This is the reason why we shifted from third-party contracting to the direct hiring of merchandisers, logistics providers, and people whose work is critical to the running of our facilities. We are in a position to better take care of them and provide for their needs. So even if it is more expensive to do so, we are taking them on board.
If you look across our business, many practices can be seen as sustainable: our returnable glass bottle system, our wastewater treatment, and recovery system for example. But we’ve never really consciously thought of them as such. Sustainability is the new lens with which we view our business. It's a lever for creating value and differentiation for San Miguel.
This article appeared in a slightly longer form in Kaunlaran, San Miguel’s internal newsmagazine.