Let Us Master The Winds of Change

Today, we hope to set the course that will safely guide our Company in its voyage into the future. It is a daunting task requiring of us a farsighted vision, a clear sense of the future.

How we cope with a rapidly changing world shall determine our immediate and long-term future. Our business conference this year, therefore, centers around the theme of flexibility: adjusting our corporate sails and, in the process, mastering the winds of change.

To successfully cope with change, we should first of all have a clear idea of what has changed. The business order to which our Company belonged for many years has passed away. We are no longer a part of an extensive global business organization with almost unlimited resources. We are now virtually an independent business concern pretty much left to its own resources. To survive as a business, we must learn to fend for ourselves and expect very little outside help. In short, we now must go it alone.

Going it alone requires courage and sacrifice. It means convincing our markets that, on our own, we have the capability to continue supplying them with Del Monte products of the highest quality at the lowest possible cost.

Another kind of change confronting us today affects the primary source of our business power - our Plantation. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law compels us to come to terms with a drastically new agricultural order. Ownership of 50% of the lands our Company operates has passed into the hands of an agrarian reform cooperative whose members account for 90% of our employees. The problem is: up to now, vital issues remain unresolved. These include land rentals and lease terms.

To overcome change, we, too, must change. There must be a fundamental reordering of our values and attitudes, a change of heart. Over the last six decades and a half, our company has established a paternalistic culture which, in the context of our present-day corporate needs, has become counter-productive. In a paternalistic system, the thinking and decision-making process occurs only at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, reducing the rest of the body into an army of dependents. Only top management, in this system, may decide on what operational procedures to implement and what direction the business should take. Top management acts as the corporate godfather, dispensing with favors and issuing commands. The situation often results in atrophy of the ranks - the withering of creativity and initiative, total dependency.

To say the least, an attitude of dependency in this time and age is an anachronism The times demand from all of us a lot of creative thinking, and a high degree of self-reliance. For how can we master the winds of change by merely clinging desperately to a ship's masts? Every hand must be on deck, doing everything he can to help the ship of business weather the gales of change!

All lives are at stake!

Stakeholdership. That is the idea I have been leading to. Stakeholdership as an alternative to the paternalistic system of conducting business. Stakeholdership as a frame of mind to supplant “hired labor mentality” and its manifestations: passivity, lack of initiative, sloth and dependency. Stakeholdership as our corporate way of life.

Stakeholdership is an attitude of mind that says we must do everything to protect the interests of the Company because, in doing so, we protect our own. Put another way, it is assuming an active role in the company, knowing so much is at stake: our jobs, our families' well-being, our professional fulfillment and, yes, our future.

Stakeholdership presupposes subsidiarity - making judgments and decisions in consultation with supervisors when necessary at every level of our organizational hierarchy; taking the initiative in seeking solutions to our problems wherever we may be in the organizational ladder; and, in effect, participating in the decision-making process.

When we view ourselves as stakeholders - not merely hired hands - of the company, we will start running the company instead of letting it run our lives. It will no longer be fashionable to ask what the company can do for us. The question becomes “what can we do for the company and in the process, for ourselves?” now that we believe the power to fulfill our needs is in our hands.

Transforming our corporate culture, however, is no easy matter. We go against the grain of established norms and traditions. Some of us may not even like the idea. But change our corporate culture we must, if we want our business to reach its next port of call - the future.

As captain of our ship, I call on all of you to cast away old habits that weigh and slow us down. I call on you to work hand in hand in trimming the sails of our company's burgeoning costs and improving the quality of time you put in. I call on you to exchange ideas freely and share responsibilities fully. I call on you to help top management set directions, and should you have any idea which way we must be going, please come and see us.

As for the rewards, rich dividends await us. Economic weather forecasts point to the future as the Southeast Asian time. In terms of growth, the experts predict that the economies of the region will outstrip those of the New Industrialized Countries. Think of the economic windfall our company stands to gain, considering that Southeast Asia in particular, and the Far East in general, are our major markets. But we must work hard for it, make great sacrifices.

Finally, I invite each one of you to share my vision of a company of stakeholders, a company driven by the synergy of people totally convinced that they possess the power to surmount any kind of weather … the power to master the winds of change!

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