Leading a firm, helping the young

(By Tina Arceo Dumlao
published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sunday Biz – January 06, 2008)

“I am fortunate to have inherited a company that is in good shape. I am just building on what is already good... and the people here are straightforward, honest and hardworking.” Ian S. Thackwray CEO, Holcim Cement Corp.

OXFORD UNIVERSITY graduate Ian Thackwray is a man of many passions. Two of them are to lead a company from good to great and encourage the young to get an education.

Thackwray feels fortunate that as chief executive officer of Holcim Corp., one of the country’s leading cement manufacturing companies, he can pursue both at the same time.

The Chemistry major, who went to Oxford at the same time as actor Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), has been in the Philippines for just a little over one year, but has already helped Holcim return to profitability on the back of higher sales.

Demand for Holcim products grew in his first year of operations and Holcim is on track to growing revenues even further this year on expectations that the property sector will remain upbeat and that government will spend more on infrastructure.

“The most important thing for us is to continue to be a reliable supplier in the market” Thackwray tells Sunday Biz in an interview. “To the best of my knowledge we have not failed to supply the needs of any of our customers. We have been a consistent and reliable supplier,” he says.

Providing him as much satisfaction as generating more sales for Holcim, if not more, is sharing his time and resources with some grade school students in the Padling, Pinagtulayan, Coral, Baraka and Bangkal public elementary schools near Holcim’s biggest plant in Bulacan.

Thackwray says it was his French wife who first got him involved with children when they were still living in Shanghai and he was still president for Asia of Dow Corning, which makes products such as breast implants and ignition systems for cars.

He and his wife started with providing scholarship money to just a few girls in primary schools, but the number of children they were helping grew as they realized just how many children needed help.

“I really think that education is the key to a better life,” says the 49-year-old CEO.

“My passion is get the young ones to school and to keep them there because of the major effect of education on the children, their families, the community and then the country.”

He was inspired to do the same in the Philippines by the dedication of Holcim people in implementing different community projects, in the areas of local infrastructure, livelihood and education.

“I was very impressed by the CSR activities of Holcim. That made me think of using Holcim’s infrastructure to help me in my own projects,” Thackwray says.

That gave rise to Project Bata, which was set up last year to help uplift the lives of pre-school and primary students in public schools.

In Bulacan, Thackwray shells out his own money to keep 40 children in five elementary schools in class.

He says his only requirement was that the students be in most need of help. Thackwray even spends for their food because he believes that students cannot learn on empty stomachs.

“If it’s possible, I plan to support them all the way to sixth grade because I really believe in this project,” Thackwray declares.

He is sponsoring the first 40 students for another year this year and has added another 40 to his group.

Thackwray’s involvement has encouraged other Holcim employees to take part in Project Bata and he is not exactly surprised because he says he has good people working.for him.

“I am fortunate to have inherited a company that is in good shape. I am just building on what is already good,” he says, “and the people here are straightforward, honest and hardworking.”

He even refers to Filipinos as among Asia’s “secrets” as only a few executives from outside the country know the caliber of the Filipino workforce.

“If I had known the kind of people here when I was still in Dow Corning in Asia, I would have seriously come here for recruitment,” he adds.

He even says that it was the quality of people in the Philippines that pushed him to come to work in the Philippines instead of taking up bigger jobs with a bigger salary elsewhere in the world.

Many offers came Thackwray’s way because of his acknowledged success in turnarounds, acquisitions and mergers.

He may have taken up Chemistry in college but he did not pursue a career there and instead learned to become an accountant. That was the start of his career in the financial world ending with his long stint at Dow Corning.

After heading Asia for the company, he moved to the Philippines and took on the new challenge of heading a cement company.

Thackwray does not regret coming to the Philippines, and neither do his Wife and two children.

“I love it here and it was not too much of a culture shock because I have been living in different countries for 26 years,” says the executive who often rides a bicycle from his house in Makati to his office in the Rockwell complex.

He admits though to finding many Filipino dishes too sweet for his taste and that he misses eating good French bread and European cheeses.

Other than these, the British national is happy with the prospect of staying in the Philippines as long as he possibly could.

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