Q-and-A with the first Asian Apprentice

Ira Agting

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What's in store for 'The Apprentice Asia's' first victor?

GLOBAL PINOY. Jonathan Yabut hopes to inspire the Filipino people. All photos by Kai Magsanoc

MANILA, Philippines – Cheers erupted after the screening of “The Apprentice Asia” finale where a Filipino emerged victoriousThe viewing party held Wednesday night, July 31, at Hyve Bar and Restaurant in Bonifacio Global City left the crowd elated and beaming with #PinoyPride.

READ: Filipino Jonathan Yabut wins ‘Apprentice Asia’

While an Air Asia chief of staff position now awaits the first “Apprentice Asia” winner, Jonathan Yabut remained humbled by his dreams and passion. More than anything, the “boy from humble beginnings” opened new horizons for the Filipino people; he showed resilience, adaptability and humility all throughout the reality show dubbed the “toughest job interview.”

READ: Can a Pinoy win ‘The Apprentice Asia’?

Rappler sat down with Yabut at the viewing party, and he let us in on his “orgasmic” love for marketing, his thoughts on Celina Le Neindre and Andrea Loh, his dream of becoming the next Tony Fernandes, his aspirations for the Philippines and his plans for his 6-digit US$ salary.

READ: 6 facts about our ‘Apprentice Asia’ finalist

Rappler: How was your journey?
Yabut: People always ask me, “Would you do it again if you were given the chance?” My answer is [always] a definite ‘no’. It’s very stressful!

My tip to the aspirants: prepare for the worst. You wake up at 5am, sleep at 11pm, eat something that’s different from [what you are used to], interface with different nationalities — it’s very, very different. 

How do you think your life is going to change?
Before “Apprentice Asia,” I was just a guy who was doing marketing. I sent in an application video and voila, here I am now. I think that’s the lesson in the end: you can be anything, time is just the enemy. It’s [about] taking the first step, showing up when the opportunity knocks.

PROUD. Jonathan shares his victory with the Filipinos

How do you think this achievement will affect the Philippines?
I’m thankful a lot of Filipinos are being inspired. When I check my Twitter, my Facebook, a lot high school or college students tell me, “I wanna be like you, I also come from humble beginnings, I wanna make it big out there.”

That’s the message of “The Apprentice.” Even Tony himself is the message. Tony also comes from humble beginnings, from the middle class. [He] was an accountant with an 8am to 5pm job who became a marketing guy, got noticed by the CEO, grew from rank-to-rank, and finally said, “I wanna make my own business, I want my own airlines.”

He dreamt big. I think he’s the best CEO in Asia right now. There’s no one as inspiring as Tony.

What’s next? What’s your new biggest dream?
To be the next Tony Fernandes. [laughs] I told him that and he frowned. He said, “What, you’re gonna replace me?”

I think to be the next Tony Fernandes is something [I can achieve] also for the Philippines. We don’t have a Tony Fernandes in the Philippines and I wanna be that. I want to put the Philippines in the map and I think the power is also shifting in the Philippines now. We’ve got the best stock market, the best currency performance, the best economy. 

Do you plan to put up your own company?
Definitely. When I get older, when I get more mature, I definitely want to become the next Tony Fernandes. I want my own kitchen empire.

Watch a clip from his acceptance speech here:

What was the most valuable thing Tony Fernandes taught you?
Humility, because Tony is a very humble guy. Off camera, he would talk to the camera men, the artists — even if you’re already up there, you know how to put your feet on the ground. In the end, people will die, people will forget about you, but your legacy is how much you imparted and shared with people.

He [went into] the airline business because he wanted every Asian to fly. That was his passion. There’s so much tourism to develop in the Asian region, yet no one is flying in.

What for you was the most memorable task?
The IG Task where we had to trade some stocks. I had never experienced trading [before that] and my idea was, “Guys, we don’t need to know how to trade. We just need to know the big picture which is managing the risks.”

I thought I led the team to win, and that was the task where Alex and Sam were shifted to the other team. I showed Tony Fernandes that “this guy could lead the team even if he’s not a project manager.”

Was the competition easier knowing a fellow Filipino was on board?
It was a blessing in disguise that she wasn’t in my team; otherwise, we would have fought in the boardroom. The good thing was that [Celina] was always on the other side. Every time we traveled to go somewhere, we sat beside each other and talked. 

READ: Filipino learns from Apprentice Asia defeat

There was always teamwork, synergy and secret connivance from the very start which, I think, is very, very Pinoy. We always root for each other.

What makes Filipinos excel in challenges like these?
Filipinos are so insecure; we always feel like we’re the underdogs, that we have to prove so much about ourselves because we know who we really are.

To be honest, that’s the reason why I joined “The Apprentice.” I felt sick and tired of people ganging up on Filipinos thinking that we just send a bunch of domestic helpers out there. We are so much more than that. I wanted to show them that Filipinos in marketing and sales are arguably the best in Asia. “The Apprentice Asia” was the platform for me to say that.

GOOD FIGHT. Andrea taught Jonathan that it's never too late to chase a dream

On Andrea Loh as a competitor
I’m very happy for her. I know there are more opportunities for her as well. I wish her the best. It could have been her, and I would have admitted defeat. There was no other person in the competition I was going to lose to but her.

A learning from Andrea
It’s never too late to be whoever you want. Andrea is a lawyer, but she always excelled in marketing and sales tasks. I have 7 years of experience in marketing, but she showed me that you don’t need 7 years of experience to be good at what you do. She did those things really well, that’s why I felt she was really deserving to be in the final two.

It’s never too late if you wanna shift careers, it’s never too late to learn something new, however old you are. Just dream big. Dreaming is free.

READ: What does ‘Apprentice Asia’ tell us about Asian business styles?

If you were Tony Fernandes, what qualities would you look for in an apprentice?
Someone who can drive people, because those people want to do it for you. It’s all about leadership and influence. In GSK, I was taught [that] no matter how good you are, how cutthroat you are, if people don’t believe in you, they will not follow whatever you ask them to do.

They have to do it because it’s in their heart. They want to serve you, they want to do these things for you because they also want to succeed. I think Tony saw that in me. I think, in the first episode, you saw how I led my team, that I led them because I wanted them to be the ones to shine.

It’s not about me because I’m the one who’s driving the boat. The team members are the boat.

FIRST BLOOD. The Apprentice Asia's first batch of aspirants, Dee Oeawpanich, Nik Aisyah, Nash Idrus, Celina Le Neindre, Sam Nallaraj, Andrea Loh

In one of your interviews in the show, you described marketing as “orgasmic.” Did you really mean that?
I come from the UP Debate Society and we make use of really, really out of this world words. Even when I was in college, I’d always been using the word “orgasmic.” [After that episode aired] my college friends texted me and said, “Ah, you used that term. You’re milking it so much.” [laughs]

I think there’s no other way to express it. If there’s anything beyond passionate, it’s orgasmic for me!

READ: Pinoy makes it to ‘Apprentice Asia’ finals’

Now that you’re hired, what’s the first order of business? What are the perks of your new job?
My first day of work is on August 15. I will be flying to Kuala Lumpur as the chief of staff for Air Asia, reporting to Mr. Tony Fernandes. I am very excited and a bit scared, but that’s how life is. It’s always about change and I’m ready to take on the challenge. It’s more of business development, finding new businesses for Mr. Tony, for Air Asia.”

There’s a US$100,000 contract that comes with it, [but] for me it’s not about the money. The prize is the kind of mentorship that you will get from Mr. Tony Fernandes, the kind of learning, the people you will meet and all other opportunities that come with it.

[i”m] very proud, very happy. Like I said, it’s not about me, it’s about the Philippines.

What will you miss most when you move to Kuala Lumpur?
The food. When I was in “Apprentice Asia,” I had problems eating the food because it was spicy. I will also miss the fact that wherever you go in the Philippines, there’s always someone who’ll smile at you 

You have two weeks before you start with your new job. What will you be doing until then?
I’ve already booked my ticket; I’m travelling for a while. I’m going to the beach. I’m going to travel somewhere else and I’m going to unwind and detox first. I’m going to Boracay tomorrow and next week we’re flying to Europe.

What are you gonna splurge on with your first paycheck?
I’ll save first because I have a lot of credit card bills to pay for. [smiles] – Rappler.com

‘The Apprentice Asia’ finale will be replayed on August 1 at 8:05pm; August 2 at 9:15am and 9pm; and August 3 at 7:05pm and 11:50pm.

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