Best practices

A radical choice

Asia/Pacific Circulation Exponents, Inc.

A radical choice

by Floro & Tess Flores

My name is Floro and this is my wife Tess. We are the principal owners of ASIA/PACIFIC CIRCULATION EXPONENTS, INC. - a company that is engaged in the importation and distribution of international and domestic publications. It was founded in 1986 and so it is now on its 23rd year. We have 100 employees and at least half of them are the Deliverymen who deliver the newspapers and magazines to our subscribers in Metro Manila. The other half are in marketing and sales, human resource, finance and administration.

APCEI Inc.

Towards the end of the first quarter last year, our company, like many others, found itself in deep financial stress. Our suppliers who had been lenient in the past years suddenly became aggressive and they wanted their money as quickly as possible. On the other hand, our customers who were probably in the same situation were taking much longer time to pay their accounts. We also found that we were not quick enough to address the rising cost of operations – mandatory salary increases, increase in the price of fuel and oil products, increase in the cost of basic commodities – power, water, utilities and others. The situation was so bad that one day, we were told that the gasoline station where we enjoyed a credit line refused to fill up our motorcycles and delivery vans unless we settled our outstanding account immediately. At about the same time, one of our major suppliers from Singapore threatened to stop all supplies to the Philippines if we will not pay up our accounts in thirty days. A careful review of our situation was pointing to one direction – unless we can find additional funds and address our financial situation, we might as well declare bankruptcy. This was the easy way out. However, we asked ourselves – “What will happen to our employees?” We have one hundred employees and although they will be covered by a retirement fund, many of them will not find new jobs. “What will happen to their families?” We asked Jesus to give us the grace to see how we must proceed.

We reviewed our policies and we did our part in reducing our costs and looked for ways to improve our production. We told our employees about the company’s situation and we asked for their support. We reduced drastically the allowances of the managers and supervisors, starting with our own salaries and allowances. With the approval from the Department of Labor, we reduced the number of working hours for some of our employees. We hoped that everyone could keep their jobs as long as possible, until they can find alternative source to augment their income. We intensified our collection campaigns and we asked our customers for their help. We closed our extension office to save on rent and utilities. We sold all unused and under used assets like delivery vehicles, air condition units, spare telephone lines and others. We talked to our suppliers and we asked for extensions of our credit facilities. Many of our suppliers came to support us but some were not as merciful and took their business away. One major international title also stopped operations in the whole Asian region. The demand to keep the company going became much more challenging.
Since the business is family owned, we immediately presented the situation to our children. Together, we agreed that we will keep the company going so that we can continue to provide livelihood. We had to raise funds, but we had limited business assets. Without hesitation, our eldest son, said that he and his wife agreed to put their property at our disposal. Our second child also did the same and offered a property which is in her name. Our youngest son, who is the US, was ready to support us with everything he had. We were amazed at the disposition of our children to be detached from their personal properties and to put them to use for the service and welfare of the others.

And, since we belong to a bigger family, we saw this in unity with the responsibles of the Focolare in Manila. We also shared the situation with the members of the commission of the EOC in Manila. Immediately, we received assurances of prayers and also very concrete and practical suggestions. Bangko Kabayan, a company of the EOC, looked into the situation and facilitated a loan package for the company accepting our personal properties as collateral. The EOC Commission in Manila extended a character loan and a family of the Focolare from La Union offered a substantial amount of money as their share in the financial needs of the company. A young business consultant who is also a member of the Focolare helped us to walk through our business prospects. Ancilla, another company of the EOC helped us with the presentation of how to handle the effects of the reduction of working hours with our employees.

We looked at our personal lifestyle and as a family, we saw in unity the need to change many of our spending habits and comforts. We also explained the situation to our grandson, who was only seven going eight years old at the time, in a way that we thought he would understand. Sunday eat-outs became less frequent and instead we tried to keep the tradition of staying and eating together on Sundays in our house. The use of electronic gadgets, carpooling and other cost-saving initiatives became serious considerations. Seen in unity, the discomforts became very light and easy.

Even in this situation, we find ourselves still capable of helping others. We find the extra money to continue to help a friend who is in jail and writes to us for help, almost every month. We also found the extra money to pay for the final amortization of the real estate property of my brother in Cagayan de Oro. We were also able to give assistance to an unwed mother who needed money to send her children to school. Last Christmas, we found the extra money to buy small Christmas gifts for the families of our employees. God provides!

But God is never outdone in generosity. Our eldest son was invited to become part of a research team at the Asian Institute of Management - a good-paying contract that still allowed him to spend some time for our business. Nine months after their wedding, our daughter gave birth to their first child – a healthy baby girl. She also found extra sources of income by becoming a co-author of a book and by giving lectures and training lessons; recently, our son-in-law was promoted in his job. While many were being laid off from work in the US, our youngest son, who is a webmaster in a real estate company received an increase in his salary.
In November last year, we received a notice from the Department of Labor about the petition of some employees who wanted to establish a labor union in the company. It turned out that some employees who were affected by the reduction of working hours felt that they were not given proper consideration. We cried over this and we asked ourselves – “Have we not offered enough sacrifice for our people?”  Then we understood that we must continue to be at the service of the others rather than to think of ourselves. One of our managers said that - “we as leaders need to reflect on how much we have contributed to this evident sign of disunity. Let this also be a humbling learning experience for each one and let each one identify points for personal improvement.” Another one said – “we must continue to love everyone.” We also asked the advise of our friends in the Focolare who are experts in labor relations. Everyone shared with us their experience and the common message was to find a way to rebuild lost relationships. For my part, I became more conscious of the needs of the others – even just to greet and smile at every employee that I met at the office – including the union leaders. One morning, one of these union leaders approached me to make a emergency loan. It would have been very easy to turn him down because money was tight. Instead I went to our HR Department and asked them to see how this loan request can be accommodated. Even if he was a thorn on our side, we continued to love him. The Department of Labor fixed the date of election on March 28 this year. By way of secret balloting, the employees were given the right to say yes or no to the creation of a labor union. Because of the relationships that we have tried to rebuild, the atmosphere that morning was very festive. When I saw the labor union leaders and the representative of the mother union, I smiled at them greeted them first. At a certain point, I even offered a seat and a glass of water to them. At the end of the morning and after the counting of the ballots, it was clear that the union was rejected by the majority of the employees. No protest was submitted and the representatives of the labor union, DOLE and APCEI signed a certification that the election was conducted in an honest, clean and orderly manner. Before leaving, I extended a hand to the labor union leaders.
The business goes ahead. Nonetheless, the situation is still very unstable. There are still many sleepless nights. We try to be at peace whenever we can although it is not easy. In the midst of uncertainties, we experience miracles happening everyday – an unexpected payment from a customer who have also recovered in his business; some new products to sell; additional orders from existing clients. Some new publications have come to join our company. One of our major creditors has agreed to accept our receivables as part of payment of our outstanding accounts.

It will take long, we do not know how much longer, before the business can fully recover. We entrust everything in the hands of God and we do our part. Only God knows how this will unfold. Meanwhile, we are happy that we are able to continue to provide livelihood to a small group of people we have considered as our own family.
Alone, we are nothing. With God everything is possible.

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