Would you rather report to a multinational, or MAKE one?

“Always try to schedule a foreigner to do our recruitment talk. Mas may dating.”

I was given this instruction in my first year working in corporate. Of course, seeing how all the highest positions were occupied by foreigners – not only in our company, but in every other multinational – this was easy to accept as reality. They were always more educated, had better strategy, were more charming, smarter, had more business-savvy,  just…better. I mean, why else would they need to fly in, right?

I put them on a pedestal. As a result, I was always more tongue-tied and nervous when dealing with them than my Filipino superiors.

Of course, my mind told me otherwise. After all, I studied and read about equality and all, right? It wasn’t what I was perceiving, though. People were just different around them. Things were different when you were praised – or castigated –  by a foreigner. There was more laughter when they told jokes. People were just…deferential to them.

After forming my startup years ago, I’d still have my share of dealing with foreign bosses, through client meetings. I would see more of the same thing from our client companies. This time, as a third-party, it would be very clear how, again,  people would treat foreign bosses differently, deferentially.

And, since perhaps old habits die hard, sometimes I would find myself tongue-tied, especially when negotiating with the more aggressive foreigners.

This was extremely frustrating for a former English teacher like myself who loved engaging people.

Then, something interesting happened.

My startup achieved profitability.

This was significant because all of sudden, I wasn’t a beggar at the negotiating table. All of a sudden, I wasn’t too desperate for accounts. Suddenly, I could walk away.

Although I didn’t know it yet at that time, this was huge.

For the very first time in my corporate life, I was now an equal on the table. For the first time, either as a corporate lifer or an entrepreneur, I could say: “You don’t like what I got? Not a problem!”

Shortly after, I remember negotiating with a foreign lady who was renowned for her toughness. When our meeting started, she lived up to her reputation.

She was cutting off my sentences.

Looking at me straight in the eye (something which I think isn’t inherent to us Filipinos, because we are taught to bow down).

Talking to me in a certain tone.

Almost ordering me to lower the rates.

I stood my ground. I explained the value of my service as best as I could, then I stood by my pricing. Somehow, I was able to do it both calmly, professionally, and never combatively. I was myself. No tongue tying or struggling with words.

In reassessing what happened on that fateful meeting, I had my epiphany. My heart finally realized what my mind and education had long accepted – that being Filipino does not and cannot mean second rate, even subconsciously. I don’t need to be deferential to ANYONE, save my God. The blinders came off.

I think there are a lot of us Filipinos who need for their hearts to experience this same epiphany, for us to fully realize our own giftedness and talent.

Don’t sell yourself short.  

If you haven’t noticed, the world has become flat. In his landmark   2005 book, Thomas Friedman argues that due to technology and globalization, the playing field has become leveled. In other words, he’s saying that the next Google could very well come from the Philippines.

Technology has democratized innovation.

Nowadays, one man with one brilliant idea CAN make a difference. More and more, where that one man is standing is mattering less and less.

Of course, it is still easier to make a startup in Silicon Valley or Boulder, Colorado, or wherever. Fine. It’s going to be much harder creating the next Google here. But that’s where KEY difference lies: It was IMPOSSIBLE to even fathom that as recently as 10 years ago. Now, it’s merely much harder. There’s a Marianas Trench difference between impossible and “much harder.” Pretty soon, I believe circumstances and technology will necessitate a transition to merely “harder.”

Listen, I GUARANTEE that in the next 10 years you will see non-US firms sprouting and making huge global impacts. So, why can’t it come from here? 

A key transformation in making this happen is mindset. We need to eliminate our deferential thinking.

Remember that world I was talking about, the one where people are deferential to the foreign boss?

Yep, that will STILL exists. This global outsourcing phenomenon will grow to new heights and all but guarantees an even more acute United Nations workforce here in our country. There will be more multinationals. More opportunities to do what so many people before you (like me) have done: to be subservient.

The key difference is that you don’t need to embrace that world if you don’t want to. You don’t need to join, or answer to a multinational. Heck, you don’t need to join a company. Take RJ and Arianne, for example. They decided to create an online Buy and Sell portal in their spare time. After a few years of hard work, their startup baby, Sulit.com.ph, is now THE Philippine buy and sell portal of choice. I just saw a TV commercial for Sulit a couple of minutes ago. Bravo.

My fellow Filipinos, take the blinders off. YOU can do something like this as well. NOW is simply the best time in history to do it. All you have to do is to take a leap…

Ah…

And herein lies the crux of the matter. This is the essence of what this blog wants to address. The hesitation.

I have been in recruitment for nearly fifteen years. In that span I have talked to thousands of people in the workforce. Talented ones. People much better than me. I keep saying that we Filipinos are renowned globally as being some of the best professionals in the world. I have seen that. I have met that. I know you have the potential to create globally relevant startups. I know it.

Look, I know how hard it is to resist that 6-figure salary. It feeds your family and your lifestyle. It’s an awfully nice title. You’ve dreamt about that salary figure for years now. Let me just tell you that you could do much, much more.

More, not only monetarily, but also for your inner passions.

More, not only for your career, but also for your legacy. 

More, not only for your expectations, but also for your dreams.

More, not only for yourself, but also for this country:

This new, flat world? I tell you, we Filipinos are MADE for it. There is no need to defer to anyone else. We speak the global language better than most, we are inherent internet and mobile users – achieving some of the highest technology penetration rates in the world, we are savvy, smart, and are natural entrepreneurs. We are highly sociable, respectful, resilient, and have deep faith in God.

The only thing that’s missing now is faith in ourselves.

It’s high time to take our deferential blinders off and just believe.

Believe.

Let me end this with an 80’s commercial which made a mark on me when it was first shown. When I think of it, this just captures everything. Beautiful commercial. I recommend viewing it more than once – the first time you can look at the video and the english captions. Then, on the second time, close your eyes and let your rich tagalog language flood your imagination.

Umangat sa iba. Bakit hindi nga ba?

 

Comments

  1. Amen! Guys definitely take in and digest the message here.
    I’ve dealt with the “inferiority” mindset the first year I got to work here in US.
    I’ve been a senior software engr in various IT companies in PH and when I got the chance to work here 5 years ago I felt like they were treating me like a newbie and taken advantage upon. I used to be a consultant and got to work in different companies dealing with the whole spectrum of people and personalities. Now I’m a fulltime employee (I cringe typing this word now) in a big company here but not for long as i have this entrepreneurial bug unrelentlessly itching inside me and that’s why I’m a follower of Peter’s blog and other inspirational people.
    As a Filipino that looks like a teenager compared to people here, I kind of “inherently bowed down” to strong, tough and bossy peers I worked with but then something slowly dawned to me through all these initial experiences…I was actually better than these guys! They started to ask help from me to solve something they were blocked with then get more input and insight on implementing stuff and they started to truly respect me without being that assertive. But definitely there are instances you have to put your stake in the ground, be assertive and make your point and push in what you believe in. Like now, I don’t really care what level you are, color, race or age as long as I know I’m right and can contribute to the betterment of a goal I will give you a piece of my mind in best respectful way possible. People here actually encourage you to do that which I quite didn’t experience back in PH.
    I have probably worked with all kinds of nationalities here and the worst ones are probably Indians and next are Russians (in the I.T. industry). Indians I observed are instinctively competitive, hustlers, direct and looks highly of themselves. I guess that’s why they are in most of the top management in IT depts and a co-founder in almost every startup here. I guess they’re innately that way because it’s more of the survival of the fittest mindset? As they are the world’s 2nd bigggest population (even more than US and their land is just around 1/3 compared), one won’t just be sitting around on their butt doing nothing. Heck, I’ll do everything I can to improve and get ahead. I guess that’s what I’ve learned from them. I don’t see very much of this attitude in the Philippines and I’ve lived more than half of my life there. People even go as far as to leave the family and country to be the peon skilled worker for another country. Not that making that sacrifice and being the best worker a foriegn boss can wish for is bad. It’s not that sustainable and just dumping $$$ back home to repeat the cycle is not a good way of moving forward.
    I think we can start by stopping the “Sir/Mam” calling in the office environment there and the leads/managers/upper management should be the one to start preaching this out. First name basis is not that bad and even promotes a positive environment where new ideas can actually come out and flourish from the people you work with.
    We should spread more on the values and mindset this blog is spreading which eventually leads to better Filipino innovation! The “…oh this is a spinoff of a US technology adapted locally” innovation is a good start but I believe we can actually create global-positive-disruptive technology innovations that could wow the world! Let’s stop thinking small. Let’s Dream and Think BIG!
    I know and I’m actually glad the startup community there is flourishing like the Startup Weekend Manila that I think is ongoing now and more incubators and investors coming out. I know it won’t stop there and knowing all of these makes me even more excited to go back home (which is in my plans in the near future) and run the SaaS app I’m currently building and build more web businesses there!

    • Comment of the year!

      Bravo Allan, very well-articulated and thought out. Thank you so much for chiming in and contributing!

      I completely agree with the “Sir/Ma’am” observation, and in fact I highly recommend the abolition of “Managerial” offices in favor of a common room where EVERYONE works and just a place where people can hold meetings separately.

      Continue to dream big bro! I hope we can continue to hear more from you!

      Peter

  2. Melissa Tempongko says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections Peter! I couldn’t agree more. The mentality to look down on brown-skinned people is something that I have likewise experienced having lived and worked in the U.S. Yet, you’re right when you say this colonial mentality is ingrained in our culture and it needs to be addressed.

    I must admit, after college I did not have an overly aggressive or ambitious outlook on life. I needed to learn how to step out of my shell to step up and believe in myself. In my 10 years in Executive Search I learned that I can be professional, straight to the point, ethical and passionate about my craft without being combative or overly aggressive.

    Blogs like yours will encourage others to take that leap to build and improve on their chosen craft. To build on those traits to further strengthen and solidify area of expertise! To aim to be successful servant leaders in your chosen field,

    I am proud to say that I chose to stay here and build my career in the Philippines. I encourage others to do the same!

    By the way, your commentary couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ll take this opportunity to plug CNN’s feature week on the Philippines (April 30 – May 4) : CNN’s ‘EYE ON THE PHILIPPINES’ – http://www.cnnasiapacific.com/press/en/content/800/

    I invite you all to make time to watch this series on the Philippines!

    • Awesome sharing Mel, thanks for contributing!

      Hmmm. I’m glad you used the term “colonial mentality.”

      When I was writing this post, I was debating as to whether I should use it or not. From the very term itself, this literally means “acting like a colony.” I’m not so sure if this is still the pervading mindset, so many years removed from actual foreign occupation. When this term was still being bandied a lot, the US bases were still here. I think that mentality is fading. I don’t think our mentality stems from us being colonized before.

      As globalization increases, a new type of foreign occupation is happening right now. And while this is an undeniable blessing, I think we also have to be very careful as far as how we look at (and treat) ourselves.

      We cannot allow deferential thinking.

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