By: Kane Errol Choa
Kapamilya Day – The Philippine Star
It was in the middle of the political campaign season and the height of year-long preparations for its national election coverage when ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) sealed a deal to bring maverick British billionaire and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson to headline its first ANC Leadership Series.
At that time, ANC was already planning for its election coverage and it was also part of the teams that were producing the Harapan ng Bise TV debate and the Pili Pinas 2016 Presidential Townhall Debate.
While dabbling in all three major projects on top of the daily news grind, ANC successfully staged its forum dubbed The Asian Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum: An ANC Leadership Series last May 25 that enjoyed a very good attendance at the Sofitel Grand Ballroom.
Bringing Richard to Manila was a coup. To think, ANC only had two months to plan and mount the event and barely a month to promote and sell it to the public.
The event was a major milestone in the 20th anniversary celebration of ANC, following a grand relaunch in October 2015 and the inauguration of the new ANC Rockwell Studio last January.
According to ABS-CBN head of integrated news Ging Reyes, having Richard in the launch of this series was not a difficult decision. After all, she said, “Innovation and entrepreneurship define this man’s life and career.”
Ging added that by sharing his experience of 40-plus years of doing business on the cutting-edge will offer valuable insights on how the Philippine business community can thrive and contribute to the progress of the nation and advancement of our society.
“He’s been called an innovator and entrepreneur, business magnate and philanthropist, humanitarian and adventurer. We’ve all heard and read about him. Now, for the first time in the Philippines, we got an up close and personal glimpse of the man whose brilliance continues to amaze and inspire,” she said.
Ging likened Branson’s ability to break barriers and shatter conventions to ABS-CBN’s storied history.
“Our beloved ‘Kapitan,’ the late Eugenio Lopez Jr., steered our company into a daring direction with limitless opportunities for us to let our imaginations take us to greater heights; to let seemingly crazy ideas spark creativity; and to even go beyond the bounds of traditional TV and radio. This is how ANC — the ABS-CBN News Channel — came to be,” she said.
ANC chief operating officer Cilette Liboro said they wanted the first speaker to be a global business leader when it comes to innovation and entrepreneurship, which are two of core values of ANC that they want to impart to their viewers.
“The ANC Leadership Series aims to make the Philippines one of the global destinations for thought leaders, from different fields,” she said. In choosing the speaker, Cilette said they invited a group of business specialists and brainstormed.
She said, “Sir Richard Branson was our top choice. He had almost everything we wanted. He’s not only a global business icon who earned his billions by building companies from scratch in diverse industries, he also supports many worthwhile advocacies, including helping the Philippines during Yolanda.”
The ANC Leadership Series did not only attract senior executives, but also professionals who brought their children and even millennials who were eager to hear Richard’s words of wisdom in person. It was moderated by ANC news anchor Cathy Yang.
How did Cathy prepare for the interview? “His ‘yes’ to the forum and one-on-one chat for ‘The Boss’ came two months after an e-mail chase that cut across different time zones starting January this year,” she said. “I quickly hit the local bookstores, only to find his books are either out of stock or not sold here, so I turned to Amazon online. The books arrived just in time for the Easter break, so I took his first book, Losing My Virginity, to my Japan holiday and back. I started reading from the time we reached the airport and boarded the plane. I just couldn’t put the book down.”
At the forum, Richard encouraged the promotion of entrepreneurship in the Philippines. He told the crowd, “If you are 16 years old and have a business idea, just do it.”
He recounted how he founded Virgin Atlantic Airways. He was booked on a flight to the British Virgin Islands from Puerto Rico via British Airways. At the last minute, the flight was cancelled. He was 28 years old at that time and he wanted to see his girlfriend. So, he carried a sign that said “$29 to the British Islands” at the airport and gathered other passengers for a chartered flight. He eventually called Boeing and ordered a plane. The rest was history.
The founder of the Virgin Group is credited for building from scratch an empire that has gone on to grow successful businesses in various sectors like mobile telephone, travel, transportation, financial services, health and wellness, leisure and entertainment and even space travel.
Aside from his successful business ventures, Richard is also known as a philanthropist. In 2004, he established Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group, which unites people and entrepreneurial ideas to create opportunities for a better world.
“Business uplifts people’s lives. Once a business is established, the people running it can make it more than just a money-making machine. We can resolve a problem. If we can get more businesses to do that, then we get to solve more problems,” he said. “The best-run companies are companies run by people who care about other people.”
For Cathy, Richard is a man genuinely interested in people. She recalled how Richard was listening intently to Mito Fabie, a young, self-confessed Branson fan who performed an impromptu rap in his honor during the open forum.
“This is how he has overcome his inherent shyness: By just being constantly curious, learning from others, connecting with them in the hope that someday, all those he comes in contact with would want to do something together with him, not only for profit, but for good. As I saw him off to his departure after a 15-hour layover in Manila, what he left me with is his delightful personability and authenticity, both in themselves humbling as they are empowering,” she said.
Cilette echoed the same impressions, “He did not disappoint. He is down to earth, very people-oriented, charming and funny. You would not think that he was one of the world’s richest.”
ANC head of business and operations Rhobee Pilares, who welcomed Richard at the NAIA, said airport personnel and other travelers recognized Richard and requested for photos to be taken with him. He described Richard as “charismatic and genuinely down-to-earth person.”
With the success of the first ANC Leadership Series, the public can expect other prominent speakers to headline the forum of the country’s 24/7 go-to-news source of top businessmen and leaders.