By Ani Serrato, BCBP Cebu
Breakfast Testimony during NAC37
THE SITUATION AND MY CONVERSION:
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Happy Anniversary! My sharing today is about my conversion and the transformation of our plant and its business.
Let me start my sharing with the verse from Sirach Chapter 27, Verses 8-9, which says, “If you try to be honest, you can be, and it will improve your character, as handsome clothing improves your appearance. Birds come to roost with those of their kind, and the habit of honesty comes to those who try to be honest.”
In 1992, I started my career as a young auditor, I was idealistic, dedicated, and honest in my job. My priority in life then was on my professional growth, until I became a Vice President for Finance and Administration in a local forwarding company. During my stint in that company, I short-changed some managers with their incentives and allowances. I figured myself in manipulating the company’s books of accounts to evade from paying the right amount of taxes, and I got involved in bribing government examiners. I justified all these sinful acts as standard operating procedures for the company to survive. I saved millions of pesos for the company from those irregular transactions, but I knew deep inside that I was not saving something for my soul.
During those dark days of my life, I knew I was lost and I felt from God the mounting pressure to change. Our Credit & Billing Manager invited me to attend a Christian Life Program of a Catholic community, but I turned down the invitation. God was reaching out to me and offering me peace and reconciliation, but I did not heed His call, not until I lost my job on the fateful evening of December 22. 2001. The management declared their lost of trust and confidence in me because of some indiscretions I had made. My whole world crumbled and I thought that God had handed down his judgment on my disobedient and stubborn heart.
My wife encouraged me to reconcile with our God and brought me to confession, And indeed, God’s mercy fell on me as He gave me a new job in February 2002 as a Business Analyst in a multinational company. It was at this moment when God opened my eyes to see His great mercy and compassion despite of my unworthiness. I promised to renew my life with total surrender to His will.
THE STATE OF OUR BUSINESS BEFORE:
My new job was with CP Kelco Philippines, a multinational company in Sibonga Cebu, producing refined and semi-refined carageenan using a state-of-the-art gel-press technology. In my first six months in the company, I noticed that it was operating in darkness. There were rampant under-the-table transactions to facilitate licenses and permits, there were flagrant conflicts of interest by top managers. There were also questionable purchases, inefficient production and high rate of safety incidents in the plant. There were also cases of sexual harassment and illicit affairs of some managers and supervisors. I discussed some of those issues with my immediate head, the Finance Manager, and even challenged some managers on those issues, but to no avail.
My wife and I joined the BCBP in December 2002. There was great joy in our hearts when we met Jesus again and re-discovered His unconditional love, His generosity, and His wisdom and guidance. My miserable life gradually transformed into an awesome sanctuary of Jesus as I faithfully talked to Him in prayers. The mission of the BCBP “to bring Christ into the Marketplace and winning the marketplace for Christ” was a perfect answer to my search for guidance in my work. The “Be Honest” advocacy struck my heart and reminded me of the hard lesson on honesty in my previous job. Through the BCBP, the good Lord made me a catalyst in the transformation of our plant operation and business.
When I became the Finance Manager of our company in 2005, I called for honesty and transparency in all business dealings in the company and instituted reforms and cost improvement measures with resistance from some managers. We stopped the personal business dealings of some managers with the company. We strengthened the procurement system by putting more controls and reviews especially on huge purchases. To have a baseline for my role as Finance Manager, I requested for a general internal audit of the plant. The audit results led to the termination of the Plant Manager, and affected some department managers. They tried to isolate me from the management team, but the strong support of my immediate head in the Corporate Office and my newly-found faith in God through the BCBP, emboldened me.
However, my relentless effort to clean-up the clutters in the plant was short-lived when I was assigned by the company to Shanghai, China as Regional Operations Comptroller. While I was there in 2009, a huge purchasing anomaly happened in the plant. While there was an impending decline on the prices of our raw materials, our Purchasing Manager and Plant Manager, indiscriminately issued Purchase Orders to our suppliers in Indonesia. About 6,000 mt tons of seaweed were purchased at very high prices and after three months the prices dropped by 50%. Eventually, our company lost Php110M worth of seaweed inventory. Some managers were eventually terminated.
TRANSFORMATIONAL ACTIONS IMPLEMENTED:
Because of the incident, I was brought back to Cebu as Plant Manager with a big task to put order in our operations and to grow our business. The first item in my list of strategies was to bring God in the midst of our operations. My first directive to our HR Manager was to hold a regular 1st Friday Mass in the plant and to require all meetings to start and end with a prayer, which until now we are religiously doing. This is my way of caring for the spiritual needs of my people with the intention to initiate value formation in them. I required all managers to exercise active caring for our people, and to act on all people issues promptly, big or small. We also implemented and embraced a transformational leadership program to strengthen our safety culture and improved our safety and environmental-protection performance. We also trained all our people on the compliance with Foreign Corrupt Practices Act as required by our Corporate Office. All these were appreciated by our people and they responded well with great support to our plans and objectives. Eventually, the trust of our people in the management was restored.
I also introduced Jesus Christ to my colleagues in the plant, to our suppliers, service providers, and friends, and invited them to the BCBP breakfast. Some of them eventually became regular members of our community. This is our way of not only evangelizing our customers and business partners but also aligning their business dealings the Christian way.
MY CHALLENGES ENCOUNTERED:
Management was successful in implementing the new programs. But it was not all easy. God reminded me to not to rely on my own understanding. As I submitted to His wisdom, I felt His protective and guiding hands in overcoming some of the threats and temptations that came my way. At one time, God’s hands were there when I refused a bribe of about Php2M from an insider in the Bureau of Internal Revenue who may have secured the Tax Credit Certificate for our Php55M Input Vat Claim. God’s guidance was with me when I turned down bribes from an international forwarding company in exchange for volume of shipments. God’s wisdom was with me in 2013 when I recommended the closure of our Customs Bonded Warehouse due to high facilitation fees and allowances, and decided instead to pay the government. My roles as Plant Manager and Supply Chain Manager are conflicting functions and are vulnerable and tempting to irregularities, but never did I succumb again.
I also received death threats probably from those terminated employees through text messages on the Christmas Day of 2010 and 2014. Instead of provoking the persons, I sent back a text message in this line: “In the spirit of Christmas, I forgive you and offer you peace and reconciliation. If you have an issue with me, let’s talk about it. Threatening me will not solve your problem. Thanks and God bless you and your family.” From then on, the person stopped texting me. Honestly, I feared for my young family. But, I fully trusted our God, our great protector and shield. The threats did not affect our service and attendance in the BCBP activities. To the upright, God always show His saving grace.
THE CURRENT STATE OF OUR BUSINESS:
Today, after seven years, I am proud to say that all our efforts and sacrifices have paid off and I would like to share with you that our company now is:
1. Highly compliant with all the laws and regulations, permits, licenses, and taxes settled honestly over the table.
2. Since I became the Plant Manager seven years ago, the plant has been the recipient of the coveted “Outstanding EHS&S Performance” for 5 years, the latest of which was in 2016.
3. A recipient of various national awards from Department of Labor & Employment; and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources
4. Our productivity keeps on increasing and the efficiency of our operations is continually improving.
5. Despite low capacity utilization and market challenges, our company continues to post amazing earnings.
6. And as of today, six of my supervisors and managers are BCBP members. They are my willing partners in maintaining good corporate governance in the company.
Brothers and sisters, all these are manifestations of God’s goodness as we bow to Him and honor Him in our business..…. I thought before, that transforming our business for Christ was impossible. It just needs the 3 C’s in order to succeed: Commitment, Courage and Christ.
Finally, allow me to exhort that God is indispensable in our business, in our work, and in our profession. His presence in our workplace and in our lives prevents our business and profession from falling into the pit of destruction. Let us stand for Jesus, let us stand for His love. He is the only Way, the Truth, and the Life!
To God Be The Glory!