By Patricia Ongpin, ICD Board Services
Cebu City is a quickly growing metropolis with a lively nightlife and a vibrant culinary scene- and no one knows that better than the Cebuanos themselves. One particular Cebuano has long been nurturing the growth of his island. Like a gardener would, this real estate developer would find his inspiration by appreciating the landscape to see what it can grow, to see what it needs to thrive.
It’s May 23 and Cebu Landmasters Inc. (CLI) has recently finished a whirlwind Investor Roadshow in three days and in three cities: Manila, Cebu and Davao. Our interview begins as Mr. Jose “Joe” R. Soberano III settles into his office and generously gives ICD almost an hour of his time. An hour is a lot for man whose schedule travels at light-speed. Aside from the May 17 to May 19 roadshow, the company has also recently concluded a deal to develop a central business district in Davao.
Cebu Landmasters has been “trending” these past few weeks as it eagerly anticipates its initial public offering. “We did not really start out with the idea of an IPO,” says the spirited CEO. “And then when we thought it would be a good move, it was with the realization that we had the basic elements to become a publicly listed corporation.” He continues to say that CLI has been practicing the basic framework of good governance. To support this claim, Mr. Soberano states, “Even right now as we become public we have three independent directors in the board to give us new ideas and to tell us where we can improve.” Although a family business, the Soberanos clearly wish to continue professionalizing the company.
Cebu Landmasters has close to 200 employees, many in the management level with extensive background in real estate. The company believes in grooming their people by providing training programs and encouraging them to pursue further studies.
When asked which of his personal values helped him get this far, it wasn’t surprising to hear Joe answer: family values. With him at the organization are his wife, Marose, and his children, Franco, Joanna and Jamie. Familial values of respect and teamwork are inherent within his family and are passed on within the organization. According to the real estate veteran, the Strategy Execution Pathway (StEP) workshop CLI underwent with ICD in February 2016 was helpful in bringing about collaboration in the company. Through the StEP workshop they discovered the different dimensions of each department and how they can help each other with common goals.
The island of Cebu looks like a decapod crustacean, with invisible slender legs in constant motion, not unlike its economy. In 2003, Joe found an opportunity in Balamban, a town not far from his hometown. Balamban sits next to the Tanon Strait, a fact not lost by Tsuneishi Heavy Industries which established a shipyard there in 1994. During his visit to Balamban, Joe noticed that there were about 2000 workers but no housing developments. “I remember the struggle we had,” reminisced Joe. “We were just two and I had to ask (Tsuneishi) for permission to present to their workers and middle managers.”
Joe and his assistant presented to the employees in three batches because not everyone could fit in the Tsuneishi auditorium. During break times, while his assistant would pass around sandwiches, Joe would open bottles of soda for almost a hundred excited prospects then resume his presentation. And so began Cebu Landmasters; this first development was built on a mere three hectares and the community was christened San Josemaria Village, after Joe’s patron saint, Josemaria Escriva.
Joe continues this brand of hands-on service in his business and encourages his people to do the same. “Even with my team I want to make sure that we are able to address the needs of the buyers as personally as we can.”
This statement talks about the company’s commitment to their value of putting the customer first. There is another value that Joe emphasizes on: integrity. As the CEO, he sees it as the measure of his work in the company and how his company is measured by their stakeholders- their customers, suppliers, employees and, more recently, their shareholders. By going public, they put their governance to the test.
But even without the strict SEC requirements of PLCs, Joe is proud to say that his company has always practiced integrity in terms of meeting the expectations of the public and “completing a project to the full satisfaction of the buyers…Part of that legacy is that we don’t shy away from responsibility,” explains Joe. Franco Soberano, Joe’s son, sits at the associations of all their completed developments. This is one proof of their commitment to address the needs of their clients. In addition they have also created their own property management team so as to keep abreast of the requirements of their customers. “It’s normal for national players to form their own property management team but when it’s the owners who are really there it makes a difference,” shares Joe.
Like a gardener, it seems that a developer’s work is never done. Even after the property has been turned over, CLI continues to maintain and improve where they can- just as gardeners pull weeds, replant and make improvements to the plot they attend to. But how does one start tending to a piece of land or property? How does a gardener know where to put a tree or a shrub? “Inspiration comes from appreciation of the location, the community and the surrounding; it comes from the uniqueness of the place,” says the Cebuano. As the company grew, Joe began to involve a team of professionals in the process, even hiring foreign architects to contribute to the exchange of ideas. Joe explains, “As much as possible, we retain what is unique to CLI.”
At the same time, Joe reminds himself and others to stay true to themselves, “There are real opportunities around us and I think we should always look back on the portion where we started- with a dream for the better interest of the community. It is always service that’s important.” Even as CLI has diversified to serve a broad spectrum of the market, Joe remains attached to the first development they completed.
Joe Soberano has achieved a lot since he started his company in 2003. He remains anchored to his mission to “transform properties into exceptional developments” like a gardener transforming an unruly patch of land into something beautiful and bountiful. Joe needs to connect with various elements: the earth, his family and team, the customers and his suppliers. This is characteristic of his is visible in his hands-on approach to situations, be it breaking ground or popping open soda bottles. With the passion of a lifelong gardener, Joe continues to cultivate communities and dreams, never afraid of getting his hands dirty.
“The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” - Ray Bradbury