Monday, July 21, 2014

Dare to Ask Sandy: My one-on-one interview with the PDI President

(This exclusive interview was conducted in 2008 for the cover story of the People Manager magazine July 2008 issue. Some information were updated.)

Majority of Filipino households are characterized as extended family which consists of parents, children, and other close relatives, often living in close proximity.   For Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) President and CEO Maria Alexandra “Sandy” Prieto - Romualdez, her family includes all the members of the management and staff of the no. 1 newspaper in the country today.

“We kinda built already a sense of mutual trust and respect through the years”, Sandy explains how the PDI family maintains the harmonious relationship among their employees with the kind of pressure and demand in the broadsheet industry.

At home, Sandy loves to read inspiring stories like Trophy Newbery’s Charlotte’s Web to his three sons.  The same way she imparts lessons from American author, speaker and leadership expert John C. Maxwell to her people in PDI.  Call it a mother’s love to her children.

The Road to the Top
Sandy describes her entry to PDI as “merely accidental.”  Tragedy struck their family in 1994 when her brother Louie, the president of the company then, met his untimely death due to a motorcycle accident.  Her mom Marixi Rufino-Prieto who was the PDI’s Chairman of the Board that time asked her if she’s interested to join the company to represent their family.

Sandy is a Sociology graduate of College of Notre Dame with a Masteral degree in Development Management at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) but had little background in managing a newspaper. 

But she considered the fact that her mom was not a media practitioner when she joined the Inquirer.  “My mom got into publishing by chance”, Sandy narrates.

Marixi was into the real estate business until a friend asked her to invest with PDI.  The Prietos are not newbies in the broadsheet venture.  Sandy’s grandfather Benito “Bibelo” Prieto is the former president of the Manila Times and brother-in-law of then publisher, Chino Roces.

Her other three siblings were already practicing their professions in other fields --- interior design, medicine and banking. 

It was not an easy decision but Sandy accepted the offer in the end with the belief that she can combine her management skills and passion fro social progress.  When she started with Inquirer, her first position was as the Executive Assistant to the President. 

Other family members eventually got involved with PDI.  Sandy’s sister Tessa Prieto-Valdez and cousins Ria Francisco-Prieto are now lifestyle columnist and Beauty editor, respectively.  Her brother Paolo is the President of PDI’s website ( while cousin JV Prieto works as the Editor-in-Chief.

Sandy became the Executive Vice President first before became the PDI President in 1998 at the age of 31.  It was the same year Joseph Ejercito Estrada became the country’s Chief Executive.

Through Thick and Thin
The year was 1999.  An advertising boycott was felt by the company when the Inquirer started publishing critical stories about the administration.   Backed by the PDI Board being chaired by her mom, Sandy personally rallied all employees to keep their “Balanced News, Fearless Views” mantra despite a drastic drop on their ad revenues.  And at the end of the war, Sandy and her battalion won the fight.  PDI’s circulation rose by 15%.

“What really gets me going is this… when I can see that because of a story that we could come out, something positive happened”, Sandy put in plain words what drives her to continue despite of all the difficulties she have faced in her profession.

Sandy is also grateful for the fact that she has very competent people to support her.  She describes her job as the one who “handles the business side.”  She wants to keep the editorial as independent as possible but with the assurance that what would be written are fair and accurate.

“Operationally, I don’t sit with the editors.  I don’t choose the story that goes on the front page.  But I am part of the editorial board”, she added

Sandy conducts an editorial assessment meeting once a week where she could make her views on the items that were published the previous week.  She also makes sure to regularly meet with the supervisors of different departments to know their needs and get some feedback or ideas.

“Ideas are not the domain only of the executives and management”, she said.

She believes that having good communication with employees and sound people management contributed to the remarkable retention rate of their workforce.  40% of the 440 PDI employees today have worked with the company since its establishment in 1985 when it started publishing with less than P1-M in seed money and a maiden issue that sold only 30,000 copies.

People Management
The Inquirer takes pride on being one of the few companies with a profit sharing scheme as part of the benefits of their employees.  This is just one of the privileges that the management generously offers to their deserving staff as part of the landmark collective bargaining agreement that the PDI union and management signed in 2007.  It was the seventh CBA package in the company’s history.  It was also considered a historic one because for the first time in the Inquirer history, the CBA negotiations were concluded after just five meetings.

Sandy said that it is a compelling proof of the company unity.  “People have stayed because of the sense of family (in PDI)”, she added.  “Some even found their spouses here.”

PDI also offers a lot of “extra” things to their hard-working manpower.  Sandy worked hand-in-hand with the HR department headed their manager Reggie Reyes in designing their Employee Services Development Center.  Today, they have different clubs for those who finds interest in badminton, running, arts and other recreational activities. 

They even have a daycare center where the children of their employees can spend time while the parents are working.  This idea, Sandy confessed, was conceptualized seven years ago when she saw a female employee breastfeeding her baby inside the comfort room.  It was also timely because she just gave birth to her first child that year.  She admitted that such idea should have been thought a long time ago.

The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) encouraged companies and corporations to put up day care or child care centers in their workplaces to form part of non-wage benefits for workers and their families.

DOLE said that putting up childcare facilities benefits employers, especially in those with more women workers, in terms of sustained efficiency and productivity of workers who would no longer be saddled by family and economic pressures in looking after the welfare and safety of their young children while they are at work.

DOLE commends companies like PDI and other firms who have shown their social responsibilities to their employees with programs like this.

PDI extends their social responsibilities to the community with advocacies like the Inquirer Newsboy Foundation that helps poor but deserving students get a good education.  Their Corporate Relations Office partners with different NGOs like The Children’s Hour, Hands On Manila. WWF, Habitat for Humanity and others.  Sandy believes that PDI is more than just a newspaper.  It has a mission. And in Sandy’s words, “The mission is the soul of the company.”

She is proud to say that this passion is being shared by the whole PDI family.  She considers sharing a common passion play a key role in the working relationship in their company.  Almost 50% of their employees are active volunteers of different foundations. A good communication line has been established in their group by conducting regular sessions.  And if there is a decision to make, she wants it to be consensus ---but with a deadline.

How we do it
More than 90% of the businesses in the Philippines are family-owned.  PDI is one of the known family businesses that have survived the test of time and still growing.  Sandy shares some helpful tips to other companies, especially the small and medium-sized enterprises, how the Inquirer reached the top and maintains their position up to now.

First, Sandy advices all family ventures to have a clear company vision and mission that should be imparted and practiced by heart by both the owners and workers.  This would create the direction that the company will take to achieve success.

Each family member should also know their responsibilities, abilities and limitations.  This will result to a harmonious relationship not only in the family but also in the workplace.

She also added that things should not be automatic in a family business.  As an example, she said that being a Prieto should not be a guarantee for a position in PDI.  A Prieto should prove first that he/ she is competent and qualified to hold a position in the company. 

Communication is also key factor in the success of the business.  The family should work doubly hard in this aspect.  One should know when and how to deliver topics especially if it relates to a family issue in order not to influence the outcome of a business decision.

Embrace complains the way you accept suggestions.  “Complains mean it’s time to improve your business, if not your competition will grab your patron.  Take time to listen”, she explained.

Stay open to new ideas.  Sandy still gets some advice from her husband Philip Romualdez, President of Benguet Corporation, the oldest mining company in the country.  Their workplace may be different but their principles in business and people management may also bring good results if adopted in their respective fields.

And the simplest but best advice from Sandy, “Love your company”

When asked how she sees the Inquirer in the years to come.  Sandy gave a big smile, paused a little and answered, “PDI will stay with the Prieto family.  It connects very much with our values as a family.”

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