“We want to continue the legacy of Mr. Locsin,” Mr. Belmonte said in an interview with BusinessWorld, adding that just as his mother -- the late Betty Go-Belmonte, founding chairman of The Philippine STAR -- continues to be a guiding light in managing The Star, he has Mr. Locsin to look up to for BusinessWorld as well.
President and CEO of The Philippine STAR for 17 years, among the many hats Mr. Belmonte also wears include being president of Pilipino Star Printing Co., Inc.; president and publisher of tabloids Pilipino Star Ngayon and Pang Masa; president of The Freeman and Banat News, daily newspapers published in Cebu; and vice-chairman of People Asia Magazine.
He may be currently tagged as one of the bigwigs in the country’s print media industry, but he is not one to deny his initial disinterest in the newspaper business. His undergraduate degree from the University of the Philippines-Diliman is not even Journalism, but Hotel and Restaurant Administration.
TREADING A DIFFERENT PATH
“My first job was in the hotel industry as a front desk clerk in a five-star hotel. I moved up the corporate ladder quite fast. There was a point when I bypassed almost everyone in my department, and I was only 21 years old at that time,” he shared.
His stars had other plans for him, though. Just as he was about to contract a job in a hotel in China, his mother requested his assistance in organizing the personnel department of The STAR, to which he obliged.
“It was just shortly after the EDSA Revolution and all of a sudden there was freedom of the press again, and newspapers were reemerging. At that time, The STAR was growing; we had a broadsheet, we had a tabloid, our own business newspaper, and an evening paper. My mother didn’t even know how many employees we had. And so I decided to stay and didn’t pursue my contract in China anymore,” he said.
He initially joined The Philippine STAR as its personnel manager in 1987. And although his heart was not really into it at first, he eventually enjoyed working for the company.
“When I started working with the people, it gave me a sense of fulfillment that I did not experience in the hotel business,” he admitted. “I started in the personnel department, but later on became more and more involved in the operations. Everything that I learned about newspapering, I learned on the job at The STAR.”
When his mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1992 and could no longer report to work every day, it was then that he became vice-president for administration. In 1994, Mrs. Belmonte succumbed to her illness.
“I was only 30 then. I owed our publisher Mr. Max Soliven a lot because he had faith in me. He appointed me as executive vice-president, which was a position I was not really expecting to get because there were other more senior managers in the company than me,” Mr. Belmonte said. Four years later, when the owners deemed that he was ready enough, he was appointed as the company’s president and CEO, posts that he capably holds up to this day.
THE GO-TO GUY
Mr. Belmonte describes his management style as “very involved and very hands-on.” In fact, after all these years, he has always handled the personnel needs of The Philippine STAR’s employees, who are free to talk to him directly about any concern.
“Even during lunchtime, they come and talk to me and I say ‘I hope you don’t mind. I’m going to eat while we’re talking, but I’m listening’,” he quipped.
He describes the relationship between the management and the staff as “healthy and friendly.” “We don’t have a union, unlike the other major newspapers,” he said.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE SON
Mr. Belmonte attributes much of his management style to his own mother and considers her as his mentor in the way he runs the company in a family-like manner.
“My mother always believed in giving people a chance to prove themselves, or even to redeem themselves from their mistakes,” he said.
For him, it is paramount to be fair in whatever he does. “If you are not fair, you will surely run into a lot of problems,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of leading by example, saying that one must be willing to put in the time to do his share for the company and not just be satisfied with delegating tasks to people.
IN PURSUIT OF EXCELLENCE
These values that he lives by are constantly put to the test by challenges that motivate him to excel at what he does.
“The job is so challenging that even after so many years, I still encounter new problems. Many describe the business as a sunset industry where you could say that you’ve seen everything, but there are always new problems that present themselves,” said Mr. Belmonte.
His competitive nature, besides keeping him in good stead in the business, also keeps him firmly interested. “I love to compete and I hate to lose. Anyway, it’s all in the spirit of fair play,” he said.
He also shared that retirement is something that he does not see coming in the near future. “In our office in The Philippine STAR, many were worried that I was going to retire. But I said ‘No, we still have a lot to achieve together.’ And although I was not really expecting it, I ended up here in BusinessWorld.”
CARRYING ON THE LEGACY
Mr. Belmonte was elected CEO by BusinessWorld Publishing Corp.’s board of directors last May 30. His mission: To further build on the legacy that Mr. Locsin has left behind. He feels that he is somehow “armed,” having been a regular BusinessWorld reader for some time.
A man whom Mr. Belmonte holds in high regard, Mr. Locsin, for him, was down-to-earth. “Rugged” and “cowboy” are two words he used to describe the BusinessWorld founder, whom he encountered back in the day of meetings among executives of various local newspapers whom he calls the “elder statesmen of journalism.”
“The time I spent with Mr. Locsin was limited but quality time... I recall sitting among newspaper publishers and owners in one table, and most of the time they would be bragging. Mr. Locsin did not let himself miss out on that either. I would listen to all of them, learning in the process and respecting them for their achievements,” he fondly recalled.
Once when he needed to seek an opinion of someone not from The Philippine STAR, he turned to Mr. Locsin, whose stern advice he followed. The man’s words, he said, had a great impact on him.
Now that Mr. Belmonte is at the helm of BusinessWorld, he acknowledged the necessity to apply a new approach in management in order to adapt to the times. For him, making the company policies more competitive is one way to ensure the continued growth of the paper.
It may seem that the long road in the newspaper trade has been laid out smoothly for Mr. Belmonte, yet he is certain that he is being guided, first by his mother, and now by Mr. Locsin.
“Now, whenever I have to make a decision, I think and believe that they are still around telling me the right thing to do,” he said.