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Mariana Zobel de Ayala on How Ayala Corp. Is Training Eighth-Generation Zobels

The younger Zobel on the family business and why its diversified interests need people outside the family.
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Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala recently stepped down as CEO of Ayala Corp., making way for his younger brother, Fernando Zobel de Ayala, to take his place. While JAZA will continue to oversee the family conglomerate in his capacity as chairman, the move turned our attention to an important matter regarding large conglomerates like Ayala Corp: succession.

Family-run businesses make up a bulk of the biggest conglomerates in the country. The Gokongweis founded JG Summit, the Tans run Philippine Airlines, and the Zobels lead the oldest conglomerate of them all, Ayala Corp. JAZA’s eldest, Mariana Zobel de Ayala, will be one of the eighth generation Zobels who will step up when the time comes. 

In an interview with Bloomberg TV’s Generation Next series’ David Ingles, the younger Zobel shared how Ayala’s unique dynamic helped usher in the younger generation into the family business.

“There was pretty deliberate exposure. The generation above us, gen seven, really looked to try and understand through this exposure, kind of where our personal interests and strengths aligned with what the business needed. And I guess that, that those exposure opportunities were a chance to filter for those who are kind of keenly interested in the business,” said Mariana, a VP and deputy head of marketing at Bank of the Philippine Islands.

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, Fernando Zobel de Ayala, and Mariana Zobel de Ayala

Photo by FACEBOOK/AYALA CORPORATION.
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However, she shared that there was no declaration or demand for them to enter Ayala Corp., nor was there any official training before they completed their studies.   

“It was never really kind of an explicit grooming or training process, mostly because Ayala has become quite professionalized over the last generation so we really rely on non-family executives, providing leadership across our key business unit, and I think as a family we're genuinely all in agreement that it would probably be statistically unlikely for one single gene pool to be able to cover all the skills needed for such a diverse set of businesses,” stated Mariana.

That said, the eighth-gen Zobel understands that one of her responsibilities as a family member is to “find the best people for the jobs [and they don't] necessarily have to be family.” The barometer is not familial ties but talent and business acumen. That in itself can create even more pressure to live up to an intimidating family legacy. Contrary to popular belief, a well-known last name is not a free pass to jump through the ranks.  

“Those individuals are so experienced, and there are people that we really look up to. There's definitely pressure to be able to add value in an environment that is extremely established. I would say it's kind of come to terms with how the kind of benefits of that pressure outweigh what some might perceive as a negative,” shared Mariana on the pressures of being part of a large family business.

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“One might argue if I had followed a kind of more traditional path or continued on, like staying in the United States, despite how hard I would have worked and even if I had made leaps and bounds, I think the exposure that I'm getting here with Ayala, especially being a family member, is quite unique. Getting to see a number of different industries close up, getting experience with certain management decisions, that's something that I'm really grateful for and I know that it doesn't come easy to everyone, and if that comes with a little bit of pressure to be able to add value, then I'm willing to take it.”

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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