PHILIPPINES – Although it takes a lot of gumption, firmness, and drive to lead and shape a gigantic institution such as one of the Philippines’ most prominent banks, three of EastWest’s top leaders bear their fatherly responsibilities with a tender and gentle touch.
EastWest CEO Jerry G. Ngo, Executive Vice President and Head of Consumer Lending Lawrence Lee, and SVP Head of Marketing Martin Reyes all profess to be easygoing dads at home despite being tough bosses at work. It’s an interesting (not to mention welcome) contrast to how many Filipinos grew up.
“I think I’m fairly easygoing as a parent, as it’s a bit difficult to be a disciplinarian these days,” said Jerry, who has two adult children, a son and a daughter in their 20s. He had traveled all over the world with his family for work, first moving to Singapore in the ‘90s when his daughter was only a year old, so the children were well aware that they had to be somewhat nomadic.
“We grew up fairly strict, my wife and I, but we learned to adapt. We learned to treat them as adults, to have adult conversations and discussions early in their lives.”
Martin agrees with that mindset, as he says he tries to be friends with his children (who are also young adults in their 20s) so that they feel safe and comfortable enough to keep communication open.
“That’s the only way they can be open. What you don’t want to happen is they hide things from you and be distant, di ba?” he says.
Lawrence also feels that he has to be a kind parent, especially as his eldest son has special needs. “I would say that was one of the challenges, to take care of someone like him,” he said.
“To raise someone like that, it really requires patience, understanding, and experience.” He realized early on that the ways he grew up with might not work, and adapted as he needed.
From the home to the boardroom
Beyond the kind of doting parents they are at home, some of those fatherly instincts definitely do translate to their style at the office. After all, there is an overlap between being a father and being a leader—when you trim it down to its very essence, fatherhood is simply leadership at home, so it isn’t surprising that some aspects make their way to the team they’re leading at work.
“It made me a better leader, because as a father you tend to be more compassionate,” shares Martin. “Especially now, I’m older and more mature, and then the people working for me are younger. I mostly consider them my kids.”
However, despite feeling compassion, in the office work remains work, and there are outputs to be produced and targets to hit. “I’m not as lenient with the people at work,” he adds. “I demand more from them. Sometimes tough love is necessary. But at home, it’s my wife who’s tough.”
For Jerry, who has the most responsibility as EastWest’s CEO, fatherhood was instrumental in preparing him for the ups and downs of his career. “Fatherhood gives you a lot of curveballs, right? That’s something I learned to take in stride,” he says. “You take it as you go along, never overreact, and try to see what’s underlying.”
He touches on a nugget of progressive wisdom that a lot of fathers—and men in general—could learn a lot from, especially those in leadership positions.
“Even if you’re emotionally charged at that moment, you kind of just hold it and manage it and understand the issue that lies beneath. We are all children at the end of the day, right? It’s quite helpful understanding the psyche, where people are coming from.”
Lawrence reinforces this thinking with his own opinion of leadership and fatherhood. “The similarities between the role of the father and a leader at work is to facilitate,” he adds.
“You know the type of culture that’s there in your environment, so you have to facilitate the right culture and atmosphere. That’s what I applied both at work and in my family.”
Leadership by example
The traditional archetype of a working father is that he grinds and hustles all day at work to provide for his family, sometimes to the detriment of the quality time he spends at home with them. Fortunately, these leaders know full well that those days are over. Having a healthy home life is far more gratifying than success—even if sometimes it could risk the bottom line.
“I’ve been traveling for most of my career, and I learned that moments are very important,” says Jerry. “I always try to be there. And I keep telling my team, if there’s a conflict between you and your family, you should just choose your family.”
He ties this back to his belief that what you do is what your children will learn to do when they get older. Fathers, whether they like it or not, whether they’re aware of it or not, will leave behind patterns and behaviors that their children subtly imbibe. This translates to team members and mentees, especially those aspiring to take on leadership positions in their own careers.
“Your nonverbal communication is equally important as your verbal ones,” he adds. “Children have a way of mimicking how you behave. For example, if you treat your wife well, there’s a better chance that your children will treat their partners like that. Those kinds of things, you don’t directly teach.”
Lawrence seconds this, but also adds that it’s okay to have fun, even when the responsibilities of a father can be intimidating. “Just be yourself. When you do, hopefully they see that and they’ll do the same,” he suggests.
Martin has an even more understanding take on this lesson, a thinking honed by years of friendship with his kids.
“You can’t force your ideas and set your own principles or standards on them,” he says. “They will decide on their own. You can try to guide them through example or let them learn themselves. But you have to be around them, too, and catch them when they make a mistake.”
With empathic and compassionate yet driven leaders such as Jerry, Lawrence, and Martin, it’s safe to say that their “children” that they lead in EastWest are assured of mentors that can guide them to achieve their—and the bank’s—boundless potential.