telecommunications companies

Who is Al Panlilio, the next PLDT CEO?

Aika Rey
Who is Al Panlilio, the next PLDT CEO?

NEXT CEO. PLDT executive vice president and chief revenue officer Al Panlilio is a Captain America fan.

PLDT

From sports to the corporate world, Al Panlilio is business magnate Manny Pangilinan's successor

After years of hinting at retirement, business magnate Manny Pangilinan is ready to “pass the baton” to PLDT’s No. 2 boss, Alfredo “Al” Panlilio.

Panlilio inheriting the mantle will be finalized at the annual stockholders’ meeting in June. Pangilinan said he would remain as the telco’s chairman.

Panlilio, 58, will stay as chief executive officer for seven years until he is due for mandatory retirement, unless the PLDT board decides he stays longer.

From sports to the corporate world, Panlilio appeared to be Pangilinan’s successor. But who is Al Panlilio?

From IT to telco to power

Panlilio started as a systems analyst at global IT firm Software Ventures Incorporated in 1985, a year after he earned his undergraduate degree in business management concentrating on computer information systems at the San Francisco State University in California.

After five years on the job, he moved to tech giant IBM, where he spent a decade – first as a client executive, then as industry head in the Philippines.

His path to being a veteran executive was cemented when he took the position of vice president at the Lopez Group of Companies in 1997. He was on top of business development for the Lopezes’ communication units ABS-CBN Broadcasting, BayanTel, and SkyCable.

In the aftermath of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Pangilinan invested in PLDT, which at the time was called the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company – the first of Pangilinan’s several investments. Shortly after the leadership change, Panlilio jumped to PLDT before the turn of the millennium.

Panlilio served as PLDT Global Corporation’s senior vice president from 1999 to 2004, then as its president and CEO until 2010.

TOP BOSS. Panlilio, currently PLDT’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, is set to become the telco giant’s president and CEO.
PLDT

With Panlilio at the helm, the telco unit expanded its reach to several markets, starting in Hong Kong, then Europe, and the Middle East, catering to overseas Filipino workers. PLDT Global also launched Smart Padala, a messaging-based remittance service, in 2006.

As Panlilio headed PLDT’s international arm, he also completed his executive master’s degree in business administration, a joint program by the Kellogg School of Management in Northwestern University and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

After over a decade in the telco unit, Panlilio was pulled into Manila Electric Company (Meralco) as Pangilinan increased his control over the country’s largest power distributor. In 2010, Panlilio assumed a senior vice president post and served as the head of customer retail services and corporate communications.

PLDT said Panlilio was “responsible” for P300 billion worth of revenues in Meralco. He also spearheaded the utility firm’s shift to digital and had pushed for innovations in customer service practices.

A man wearing many hats

Aside from being a veteran executive, Panlilio has also taken leadership positions in sports. It does not come as a surprise, as Panlilio used to play ball for Ateneo Grade School and Ateneo High School’s Blue Eaglets.

After finishing his undergraduate degree in the United States, Panlilio returned to the Philippines and played one season as a point guard for the Fuji Soy Sauce team in the Philippine Amateur Basketball League. But Panlilio realized he was meant for something else.

“After one conference, I realized that this wasn’t for me so I hung up my sneakers to join the corporate world,” he was quoted as saying in a feature published on the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) website.

Fast forward to 2016, Panlilio was elected as president of SBP. On his watch, the Philippines remained a dominant force in the region and a competitor on the world stage.

Under the leadership of Panlilio, who succeeded Pangilinan, Gilas Pilipinas reached the FIBA World Cup for the second consecutive edition in 2019.

REFRESHED. Panlilio unveils the new Gilas Pilipinas logo which features a more youthful aesthetic.
Josh Albelda/Rappler

Gilas Women found success as well in 2019 when they captured a gold medal in the Southeast Asian Games, their first in the history of the biennial meet.

In the teen scene, Gilas Youth – led by aspiring NBA player Kai Sotto – competed against the best teams in the world as they saw action in the 2018 FIBA U18 World Cup and 2019 U19 World Cup.

The SBP expanded its program to 3×3 basketball with Panlilio at the helm, with Gilas 3×3 set to vie for a spot in the Tokyo Games through the FIBA 3×3 Olympic Qualifying Tournament in June.

It is also during the tenure of Panlilio that the Philippines secured the co-hosting rights of the 2023 FIBA World Cup together with Japan and Indonesia.

Outside the SBP, Panlilio wears multiple sports hats as the team governor of the Meralco Bolts in the PBA, the president of the MVP Sports Foundation, and the first vice president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.

Back to base

In 2018, Pangilinan already hinted at retirement, following PLDT’s steady performance. The telco giant reported a 3% increase in its telco core profits to P24.4 billion from January to December that year.

It appeared that Pangilinan did not have to look far for a worthy successor – from sports to the corporate world.

In July 2019, Panlilio left Meralco to return to PLDT, to be the executive vice president and chief revenue officer of the telco giant.

Panlilio was also named as president and CEO of Smart Communications in August 2019, with a mission to regain market dominance on the wireless side.

In the first half of 2019, before Panlilio returned, PLDT’s net income inched up 4% to P12.2 billion. When the year ended, its telco core income surged 13% to P27.1 billion – higher than its target for the year.

Then 2020 came. Panlilio had to face a pandemic that stunted PLDT’s growth and delayed investments in 5G.

Despite this, PLDT emerged as one of the few outliers ending 2020 in the black – its core profit increased by 4% to P28.1 billion. While its enterprise segment was hit as businesses remained closed, demand for home broadband grew as people stayed at home.

For the first quarter of 2021, PLDT saw strong performance as core profit went up by 9% year-on-year to P7.5 billion. It was during the first quarter earnings briefing on May 6 that Pangilinan announced to the media Panlilio’s next job.

“I simply wish my successor all the best. It’s a great company but it needs a lot of care and feeding. It’s a hungry animal hungry for capital expenditures, which means you have to generate a lot of cash to feed the requirements of the business,” Pangilinan said.

What’s next for PLDT?

With Panlilio at the helm of the country’s oldest telco, he will oversee the growth of PLDT’s fiber network and the rapid expansion of 5G to address the growing dependence on fixed and wireless internet.

While the Philippines is still playing catch-up in the 5G scene, the world’s industry leaders in telco are already starting their research on developing 6G – which would raise the bar even higher in terms of speed and bandwidth. This would mean another infrastructure rollout and the possible retirement of would-be-legacy 4G/LTE service in the next decade.

When it comes to market dominance, Panlilio will also have to play his cards right with the two ambitious Dennis Uys in telco – Dito Telecommunity in the wireless business and Converge ICT Solutions in the fiber segment. (Dito is also planning to enter the fixed-line business.)

To illustrate how PLDT would ensure success, Panlilio, during PLDT’s annual Philippine Digital Convention in 2020, drew similarities between sports and business.

“There is a single-word answer as to the goal of sports: win. While the methodology might be complex – training, nutrition, memorizing plays, forming a capable team – the usual goal of playing is simply winning,” Panlilio said.

“What does winning look like? A satisfied customer. It is simple and true. Customer satisfaction is to our business as winning is to sports,” he said. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.