Ancilla and the economic crisis

Ancilla Enterprise Development Consulting Inc.

Ancilla and the economic crisis

by Renato and Tita Puangco

Ancilla Enterprise Development Consulting is the consulting and training company we founded 18 years ago. My wife, attending a meeting on Chiara’s launch of the economy of communion felt called to respond to it. She just resigned from her job as Vice President of Bank of Philippine Islands and took on a professorial job at the Asian Institute of Management. Since I had a steady job at that time I quickly agreed to her proposal for us to set up a training and consulting company.

It was mid-year 2008 when we started to feel the start of the economic crisis. We continued to have a steady flow of projects and programs except that the clients, specially a number of multi-nationals surprisingly started to lengthen the repayment period to 30 and even 60 days. This was strange since typically training and consulting is something that is promptly paid upon completion of the service. Since we are also strategic planning consultants, we constantly monitor local and global trends. In fact for December we gifted our clients with a tea box and a CD entitled “Weathering the Storm”. It contained all our findings of the impending crisis and what actions they can begin to take. We knew the trends and just like other companies, we started to brace for a slow-down.

Ancilla Enterprise Development Consulting Inc.

Our first move was to review our topline. Is our marketing slowing down or slackening? Our answer was no because we recently added staff in marketing. Then we looked at our overhead. How can we reduce overhead to increase our bottom line.

During regular meetings consultants and associates felt free to propose ideas. In one brainstorming session, where we showed them the slow down in financial performance, two ideas came up. One is to move to Alabang where, providentially, we have bought commercial space at pre-selling price and the building was now ready for occupancy. The other idea was to cut our rented space that was costing us PhP170,000.00 a month to half. They proposed to cut out the consultants’ space since they mostly worked at home or at client’s offices.

Some of the staff, especially those living in the North, made representations that we reduce our Makati office space first. We agreed. Then, three people with experience in design came forward to offer their services. One was a marketing associate who finished third year architecture. The other was our driver and purchasing officer who has done carpentry and painting jobs before. The other was the responsible for IT who knew all about electrical work, and computer cabling.  After two weekends, we were able to transfer to our smaller office space without affecting operations and at minimum cost.

Though in our hearts we knew a slowdown was coming, we were not prepared in terms of how great it would impact us. With over 18 years of work behind us and over a thousand clients, we were confident that our revenues would dip 10 to 20 per cent at the most.

In January, we were surprised how many of our client-companies started to postpone and cancel programs. We got many distressed calls from clients, especially, multinational companies in semi-conductors, pharmaceuticals and even oil and gas. They were requesting deferring all signed contracts of programs to third and fourth quarters of the year. We saw our results dip almost 50%, and for the first time, we found ourselves in the red, scrambling for funds till all the savings of the company were exhausted.

Appropriately, the projects that remained and could not be delayed were, mostly, for the “management of change” projects that we are also well known for, having handled around 50 multinationals, large companies, as well as, small ones.
 
Once again, we had a staff meeting to see in unity with Jesus in the midst what to do. One of the decisions was to move to the South and occupy the new office space. It also meant putting on leave the support people for projects because they had very little to do. I talked to every person, one on one, to appreciate their unique circumstances. Then, the EXCOM met to decide to partially cease operations for 6 months in the hope that things would turnaround in that period. The EXCOM decided to lead by example by volunteering to go off salary except for fees for project work. Two new staff volunteered to resign. Then, we did a one day Change and Care program to prepare everyone’s mindset for the change.

Even with all this preparation for readiness for change, the actual announcement day that half of the staff would have to go on leave was a big suffering—a tight embrace of Jesus Forsaken. It felt like giving away your children. After all in the company we cultivated the family atmosphere and culture. We also decided to revise our consultant model that would turn consultants into entrepreneur partners and reduce our overhead. Daily we would pray as part of our morning prayers for all Ancillans on leave that they may find jobs or ways to survive. We continued to outsource work to those on leave. We also gave them as a gift their office computers so they can continue to be productive.

But even in this crisis, God could not be outdone in generosity. We have a property in Sta Rosa. We decided to sell it to fund operations. To our surprise, in two weeks it was sold even with the difficult market. With close to 5 million in our hands, my wife and I talked, do we save this for our retirement or do we fund Ancilla during this downturn. Almost without hesitation, with Jesus in our midst, we felt God wanted us to put it in Ancilla. And we did. In this crisis, our unity as husband and wife entrepreneurs has become stronger—we felt we had the grace to make the right decisions about the company.

There were moments when I would blame myself. Perhaps, I wasn’t competent to manage the company; perhaps, we should have done this or that. In those moments, I would spend time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and we would talk. He told me to stop blaming myself, that this was a global crisis, a result of the value of greed dominating the economic system. He told me he wanted to teach us powerful lessons such as transforming the economic culture.

He asked me to accept the situation of Ancilla as His will. Experiencing economic difficulties, we will be able to empathize more with clients. We will go back to our mission to be “helping hands”. He often told me this pruning was good for me, good for us. He drew me to recognize the value of simplicity and frugality. We bowed to His will and immediately we felt God’s blessing of peace and serenity.

In May, our results have started to improve. We are growing again as companies are gearing up for the upturn. We are back to our monthly results before the downturn. Today, we recognize that everything is Providence. For example, I was invited to a hospital to present and bid for their customer service program. I was the last to present of 10 bidders (that is how competitive it has become).

Saying for you Jesus, I entered the presentation room. To my surprise the final decision maker was a former client in another company. She was overjoyed to see me. She said for me to sit down while I present since it was already 6 pm. The next day, I was informed we won the bid even if our price per day was on the high side. The decision maker, based on her past experience, knew we would deliver quality work.

This happened again with a business process outsourcing company of a shipping corporation. I decided to pay a visit to the training manager. At first she was very formal saying she had already the training providers she needed. Then, I heard at my back, someone call me by name. It was her boss, who used to be a client again in another company before. Once again, we got several training batches for team leaders. Truly everyday God manifests His immense love for us. Recently, we got a big contract from a telco and an organization research with a big Bank in Brunei.

Last week, we started to recall some of our employees on leave. Four of them were no longer available. They have landed good jobs (since they have grown competencies over the years) and 3 of them would prefer the current arrangement of doing outsourced work from their houses.

Today, with the traffic on SLEX, I feel working in the South has given us the balanced life we have always yearned for. Living ten minutes away from the office, we are able to spend more time with my family at home. The economic crisis has become a blessing in disguise for us and for our employees.

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