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Financial Adviser: 5 Business Lessons Everyone Can Learn from Dennis Anthony Uy, Founder of Converge ICT Solutions

His estimated net worth: $2.8 billion.
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
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 We have heard stories of overseas Chinese who migrated to the Philippines and became successful business tycoons.

Many have come and gone and we wonder if their stories can be replicated in our modern time. Dennis Anthony Uy’s successful journey is one of the few stories of our time that is worth telling.

In 1978, during the height of Cultural Revolution in China, Uy migrated to the Philippines from Fujian province with his parents and siblings at young age of 11.

Uy grew up helping his Uncle Johnny’s supermarket in Angeles City, Pampanga, where he worked as repair technician in the maintenance department.

This experience developed Uy’s interest in electronics, which motivated him to attend vocational training courses in refrigeration and air-conditioning and later pursue his electrical engineering degree in college.

Uy’s passion for technology led him to find his future business opportunities. While attending night classes in college, Uy spent most of his time buying computers from Manila and selling it to wealthy families in Pampanga.

Uy’s initial success in trading inspired him to expand his business into several electronic-related services, including a Betamax rental shop, which would lead him later to discover the cable TV business.

It was in the cable TV business that Uy discovered the opportunity to offer internet broadband access to his subscribers using data over cable interface technology.

In 1996, Uy formally established his internet service provider company, ComClark Network and Technology Corporation, which gave birth to Converge Information and Communication Technology Solutions, Inc. in 2007.

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Converge today is the largest high-speed fixed broadband operator in the Philippines with almost 60 percent market share in the residential business segment.

In 2020, Converge raised over P29 billion from its initial public offering that put Uy among the top ten richest people in the Philippines with an estimated net worth of $2.8 billion according to Forbes.

How did Uy overcome the challenges of competing against the dominant players in the telecom industry? How did he grow Converge to be one of the most valuable companies in the country in 15 years?

Here are the five business lessons we all can learn from the founder of Converge ICT Solutions, Dennis Anthony Uy:

1| Follow your passion and be good at it

Being passionate about what you do is not enough to succeed in business. You also need to know what you want to do and why you want to do it.

Being a migrant from China with a language barrier did not prevent Uy from pursuing his goals. He prepared himself well for future opportunities by learning from his work and improving his skills.

“I am passionate about technology ever since I was in high school days pa,” Uy says. “Alam mo naman no choice tayo, galing tayo ng China, so pagdating mo dito survival ka eh, di ba? Hardship talaga. Gusto mong umasenso ka, you need to do it.

“Yung nag-public school ako, habang nag-aaral ako, nagtatrabaho din ako sa Johnny’s supermart. Meron silang malalaking freezer doon that we have to maintain, so doon ako nag-focus. Mahilig ako magkalikot eh. When it was kind of hard for me to handle, I went to vocational school para mag-aral ng refrigeration and electrical.

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“Nauso din ung video games dati, kung natandaan mo yung games na Galaxians or Pacman, yung may table na hinuhulog mo na piso? Meron kaming mga 30 machines nyan, pati yun nire-repair ko. Pag naiipit yung coins na kailangan mo buksan, aayusin ko yun. Pati yung pag-program ng games kasi tatanggalin mo tapos ibang program na naman para hindi magsawa ang gamers.

“Doon ako natuto mag-programming at mag-computer kaya nag-aral na rin ako ng computer, so all these things nagkasabay-sabay yan. Yun ang passion ko.

“Yung technology, nasa puso ko na talaga. Pag ikaw ay hilig mo na talaga, parang wala kang pagod eh di ba? Hindi mo nararamdaman kasi nage-enjoy ka eh. Hindi mo na iniisip kikita ka o hindi pero nage-enjoy ka sa ginagawa mo and at the same time may na-introduce ka sa consumer. Never ending ang innovation. You need to keep practicing. Dyan ako napasok dito, nauna yung love while doing it.”

2| Face your challenges and turn it into opportunities

When crisis occurs and the future suddenly appears uncertain, adopting a positive mindset can help you rise to meet the challenges and move forward.  

In the early 1990s, the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo almost destroyed Uy’s startup cable TV business in Pampanga, but amidst the difficulties, he persevered and never lost hope.

“Yung na-discover ko yung cable TV, sabi ko eto pala ang papatay sakin, which was true enough kasi ang daming channel, andun na lahat eh bakit pa ako magre-rental ng Betamax tape kasi andyan na yung movies,” Uy says. “Sabi ko titigil ko na etong Betamax business.

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Nagset up ako ng Cable TV sa Angeles. Nabili ko na yung makina pati yung cable pero sumabog yung Pinatubo. Noong pumutok yung Pinatubo, wasak talaga ang pier namin. Pati yung Pinatubo pinaalis yung mga Amerikano. Depressed lahat ng tao dun so ano ang gagawin namin?

“Yung meat, gulay, wala lahat pati kuryente. It was a disaster, pero ako, in the middle of winding of the table tinuloy ko na. Lahat ng mga tao dun sabi sa akin sira daw ulo ko. Bakit daw gumagawa pa ako ng cable television eh wala na nga tao dyan, umalis na lahat. Sabi ko saan ka naman pupunta? Kung pupunta ka sa ibang lugar, makikisama ka na naman sa bagong lugar.

“Sabi ko itong lugar na ito, temporary lang yan. Down ngayon, pinaka-down ka na sa pinaka-down, wala ka na iba puputahan kundi up ang susunod, aahon din yan.

“Kaya tinuloy ko yung cable TV in spite of the crisis para meron kami public information, kasi meron kami local news. Maganda rin may local entertainment para yung mga tao may kaunting moral uplift.”

3| Leverage your core competencies to create competitive advantage

Identifying and developing your strategic resources and capabilities can help you stand out from your competitors.

When Uy discovered the use of fiber optic technology in expanding his cable TV network, he developed and transformed it into his distinctive competency.

“Noong 1996, kinonvert na yung Clark na maging economic zone and I saw the opportunity na iniwan nung mga Amerikano yung mga duct sa ilalim kasi yung mga ginawa nila underground.

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Walang kuryente na nakasampay sa itaas. Hinanapan ko ng daan. Nilinis namin lahat yan, yung backbone tapos nilagyan ko ng infrastructure sa underground. Kaya ako ang unang naglagay ng cable entertainment sa loob ng Mimosa noong 1996. Ako ang unang naglagay ng napakamahal na fiber optic from Clark to Angeles para i-link ko yung dalawang network para di magastos.

“I remember in 1996, fiber optics was $9 a meter, ang mahal. Kailangan ko i-link kasi yung technology na hindi kaya ng radio frequency. Pahina ng pahina masyado pag malayo, so yung signal pagdating sa dulo nagha-humbar na. Kasi you are casting a lot of noise unlike yung fiber optic na end-to-end malinis yan, walang active component. So from there, gumawa na ko ng cable network.

“Sabi ko at that time, paano ako makakakuha ng nationwide franchise. It was a dream, so tiyaga-tiyaga until nakakuha din ako finally noong 2009. From 1996 to 2009 ang tagal din ng tiyaga na inantay ko.

“From 2009, nag-expand na ko sa Central Luzon. Pinuntahan ko Bataan. Pumunta ako ng Tarlac and Mabalacat, in-expand ko. Ini-stable ko muna yung mga ground works doon sa probinsya para I have enough muscle dahil pag pumasok ka ng Metro Manila, pag wala ka muscle, yung kalaban mo papaluin ka lang sa paa, luluhod ka na.”

4| Overcome adversity through creativity and innovation

Learning to embrace adversity means learning to be resilient and adaptable. Overcoming setbacks and frustrations teaches you the importance of problem-solving on your own.

When Uy failed to expand his cable internet in Metro Manila due to competition, he resorted to innovation, which led him to discover the microtrenching technology.

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“Ang ginawa ko, pinartner ko si Destiny Cable,” Uy says. “Ako yung may technology, alam ko yung cable business pero probinsya. Sabi ko sa kanya lagyan natin ng internet yung consumer mo. Tutulungan kita sa negosyo mo. Whatever you have sa consumer segment mo, hindi kita papakialaman pero yung excess gawin natin enterprise, sa akin ‘yun.

“Doon ako nakapasok sa Metro Manila. Yung offices nilagyan ko ng internet pero at that time mahirap kasi makipagdikit sa poste kasi na hawak ni Meralco di ba? So, pag didikit mo Meralco nandiyan si PLDT, nandiyan si Skycable sa kanila lahat kaya nakaride on na ako kay Destiny.

“Pero eto na masaklap: binili ngayon ng Skycable si Destiny bigla. Disaster na ako. Paano ko matutuloy yung expansion ko sa Metro Manila? Parang nabalian kamay ko.

“Pero nakakita ako ng technology, yung microtrenching kasi importante na maintindihan mo ano ang solution mo. The more na nape-pressure ako, the more na zezeroed-in ako sa isang wall, the more ako nakakaisip ng magandang solution.

“Yung tinatawag natin na microtrenching is less invasive cutting in the road, so nagtry muna ako dalawang makina pero ang mahal, presyo ng Ferrari. Imagine mo remote control, para kang naglalaro ng RC.

“The reason why ko naisip yan kasi Makati and Metro Manila have the worst traffic in the world and if you are going to dig in the traditional way, walang papayag sa iyo kasi gagawa ka na naman ng traffic. Hindi ka makakuha ng permit.

“So, the way I am thinking with this technology, when I cut the road, it is going to be only 2 inches wide and 18 inches deep. Pag ginawa ko yan, the same day restored, walang istorbo sa traffic.

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“Pino-post ko muna sa Makati, na-impress sa akin ang mga local government. I finished the whole Makati under micro trenching in 60 days. Imagine kung gagamitin mo ng traditional yan, ilang buwan, ilang taon mo tatapusin ang buong Makati.

“Technology changes so fast, unlike yung traditional yung kalaban ko, palakihan ng tubo sa ilalim. Ang technology ngayon is two inches and mini ducts because yung fiber kasing laki ng buhok mo lang.

Yung technology na yan tumatakbo na yan sa U.K. at sa New York so dinala ko dito yan. Nakahanap ako ng paraan na kung iipitin mo ako, ayaw mo ako padaanan sa backbone sa poste mo, dito na ako dadaan sa sarili ko.”

5| Adopt a game changer mindset to lead the future

The most successful entrepreneurs are those who dare to envision a new environment and change the rules.

Uy differentiated himself from the competition by disrupting the norm in the industry. He set a vision ahead and worked backwards from there by rewriting the rules of play.

“Nakita ko trend ng technology,” Uy says. “Ito rin ang papatay sa lahat ng communications kasi that time lahat ng tao gumagamit ng old technology kaya tayo pinagmumura ng iba. We were the slowest internet in Asia and the most expensive internet during that time.

This duopoly walang ginawa kung hindi mag-focus sa wireless because wireless is faster kasi maraming tower, mabilis i-connect, mabilis kumuha ng pera so wala kang choice. Kung saan tayo hihilahin nitong dalawa sa ilong, susunod tayo kasi may choice ka ba? Parang pagkain na ayaw mong kainin, pag pinakain sayo, gutom ka, kakainin mo, eh wala kang choice.

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“It’s about time, we need to transform. We need to build a new technology. This is the way we can solve our problem by rolling out the fibers.

“Recently, natapos ko na yung buong Philippine backbone. Ang strategy namin ngayon is to go deep and go nation. Ang promise ko is 55 percent home pass network ng buong Pilipinas na dadaanan ng fiber by 2023.

Every time na may na-install kami na customer, sinasabi ko naka-rescue na naman ako ng unhappy customer na hindi naka-connect ng hi-speed internet.

“I am happy to tell you every month that I survey my customers, 90 percent of new customers, first time broadband fiber users, ibig sabihin ganun ka-hungry ang industry, and this is a blue ocean market.

“We have nine million households as of today. The total fiber connected to the bone, wala pa yatang four and a half million, so that is 50 percent. If you compare to Asian peers like Vietnam, Thailand, they are 50 percent connected, so there is a big gap. We need to build, which is yun ang binibigyan ko ng focus.

“This is very good for the Filipino consumer. Kailangan mo talaga may  first mover and they will follow. In the longest time we have 20 million homes but we only have three million subscribers. Ibig sabihin kulang na kulang infrastructure mo. Pero at the end of the day, my dream is simple, I am looking at years to come that each individual Filipino home should be connected with digital highway of what I begun regardless of economic status.”

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Henry Ong, RFP, is an entrepreneur, financial planning advocate and business advisor. Email Henry for business advice [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @henryong888 

 

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