Atty. Juan Lorenzo Tañada, Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Director of Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc., talks to The Ortus Club’s Roman Manuel about finding success in a fast-paced, ever-changing business environment and the importance of adaptability in dealing with technology.
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Can you give us a one-sentence summary of your company?
I work for Coca-Cola Beverages Philippines, Inc. We are the bottlers for Coca-Cola products in the Philippines. Coca-Cola has been in the Philippines for over 110 years already. We started here around 1912, and having said that, we’ve encapsulated what we do here in a short phrase.
We’d like to say that what we do is we deliver happy, refreshing moments to Filipinos and everyone else within our 7,107 islands with every bottle and can that we serve.
Can you describe the role of a Director for Corporate & Regulatory Affairs in one word? Why?
I would say ‘wired’. Why? As the Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Director, you really have to be immersed in everything that goes on from within and without. You are totally immersed, so you have to have a feel of the pulse of the company insofar as operations are concerned, how the people are doing, how sales are doing, and how your supply chain is going.
But, at the same time, you also have to function as the weather-vane for the outward environment and the business environment that you operate in. In effect, as the head of this function, you have to be wired.
What current challenges are Directors for Corporate & Regulatory Affairs facing right now? Can you identify a solution?
Actually, for this particular function, there’s a lot going on now. I would imagine that my colleagues are also navigating through the regulatory hurdles that each one of us faces as heads of our functions because being in an industry like ours, the fast-moving consumer goods industry, we have to deal with a lot of regulators and ensure that our companies are in compliance with the rules and the laws of the land that are in place.
A lot of it has to do with the fact that, with being a multinational corporation, a corporate reputation is very, very important. It’s making sure that we toe the line and, at the same time, be able to thrive within the particular business environment. That would be the biggest issue that we face in our function.
Solutions. It’s probably really just being available. It’s making sure that you are in constant touch with your regulators, knowing what their policy frameworks look like, and advising them from time to time about how your business is going. And, basically, it’s just making sure that your company is on the up-and-up. It sounds a little simple, but a lot of work goes behind doing that.
“Try your best, although it can be tempting, to not burn bridges, especially as you rise up the career ladder because you never know. Your adversary in the court today may end up being your ally the next day!”
How do you explain the success you’ve had in your career?
I never really thought of myself as successful, per se. I think every day is a struggle still. But, I would like to think that getting to where I got is a combination of a lot of things. Of course, I can’t deny that some luck plays into it because, growing up, I was exposed to particular networks and particular business interests that, in turn, showed me what it was like in the business world.
Going to school definitely plays a part in that, but making the networks that matter in school also helps. When you get to the workforce, of course, it’s about hard work. Hard work is something that you cannot do without. They actually say, ‘it’s only in the dictionary that success comes before work,’ right? Because it’s that way alphabetically. It’s luck, hard work, perseverance, and maybe just knowing that you are not in complete control of your destiny.
Reconcile yourself with a thought map. Just focus on what you can control. Work on what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t, because I know from experience that if you are driven into paralysis by panic or by worry, then you don’t end up doing anything. What you want to do is make sure that you have constant progress and that your networks continue expanding along with the knowledge. So, a lot of that has to do with boning up, making sure that you immerse yourself in your function, and learning as much as you can.
Can you tell us about a time you took a major risk in your career?
I actually took a lot of major risks in my career, but I like to think of one in particular. Prior to working for Coca-Cola beverages, I was working for an airline, and I had already basically said yes to moving to Coca-Cola beverages at that time.
However, maybe during my third to the last week in my previous company, that particular airline encountered some difficulties that required me to explain the company situation and the company perspective on air. That meant going live on television and radio. It was difficult because they were front-and-centre at the time in the news, and I was kind of worried. I was worried that if I didn’t do well, my job offer might just be withdrawn. What would I do? I just resigned.
I thought about it, and I said, “Look, if you don’t do this, where I was then, no one else is going to do that job and, face it, that’s still your job. It’s still your responsibility.” So, I really just hunkered down and went about doing what I had to do because it was my professional responsibility, and I owed it to my employer, then, to present the best version of me and not hide under the sun.
I’d like to think that my previous employer saw that that was evidence of professionalism on my part, and I’d like to think that my present employer saw that as evidence, too, because they saw that, even as I had already said goodbye, I still took my responsibilities seriously. So, maybe that’s one thing also that we have to remember in the future. If we come across those things, if you have a task, if you have a commitment, and you have really signed up for it, then it really just reflects on you to come through with what you promised.
What marketing/business trends are you taking advantage of right now?
If you mean personally, what we’re really big on right now is how AI is getting more prevalent in the stuff we do. We’re in the FMCG industry, and when this industry started moving, I want to say in the last century, there was really not much, if any, AI in play. There was no internet to speak of, and yet, now, it seems to be a new space for everyone to immerse in. And, if you’re not there in that space, it’s like you’re conceding that part of the battlefield already.
So, being a Gen X-er, I’m trying to learn as much about it as I can. We’re not digital natives like you guys. We’re basically digital migrants. When all of this started happening, the internet started booming, and AI started coming into precedence, we were roughly around your age already. So, we didn’t get the headstart that you guys have. In a way, these are the things that we really have to bone up on if we are to stay relevant today. We can go into detail, but that’s basically the top line.
As a company, we’re really trying to explore how that goes. The pandemic made it very, very important for us to be in that space. ECommerce has become quite important for us, especially during the earlier part of the pandemic when basically no one could go out. We conducted a lot of our business online, and we’re seeing the prevalence of this way of doing business already. Little by little, I’d like to think we’re getting the hang of it. We’ve spent 100 years already in the Philippines, but I think we’re nimble enough to say that we don’t act our age.
What career advice would you like to share with Directors for Corporate & Regulatory Affairs?
If you’re already in this line of work, I don’t think I should give you advice because you guys are already there. But, if we’re talking about people who aspire to reach this position, I will advise these aspirants to just make sure that their networks continue to expand. Try your best, although it can be tempting, to not burn bridges, especially as you rise up the career ladder because you never know. Your adversary in the market today, or for myself as a lawyer, your adversaries in the court may end up to be your allies the next day.
We do have a way of helping each other out because we know each other. It’s a very small industry, but it’s one with very, very big possibilities. As a career, these particular specialists are in high demand. Corporate affairs guys, regulatory affairs people, these are the kinds of guys who you need, especially in times of uncertainty because they can really help not just navigate through policy messes or crises such as this pandemic. But, moving forward, who knows what will happen next?
Corporate affairs guys really have to go through uncertainty. They’re the ones who know how to manage uncertainty. So, if you want to do this job, practice, expand your networks, and be open to new experiences.
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