The Man Behind EMS: Up Close and Personal

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As soon as I entered his office, I felt a warm welcome from the man who continues the legacy built by his father. Getting up close and personal, EMS Group of Companies Chairman and CEO Ferdinand “Perry” Ferrer looks like a younger version of Stan Lee (minus the iconic moustache) as I sat across his table and engaged on a learning conversation with him in his office in Laguna.

The mild-mannered executive was very expressive and articulate in sharing the history and pillars that built the family business, which has given jobs to fellow Filipinos in the country. His father, the late Francis Ferrer, former president of the Ayala-led Integrated Micro-electronics, Inc., encouraged the son to join him in establishing an electronics company. EMS was born in 2004.

Like a superhero that Lee created in his comic books, Perry rose through the ranks of family-business with the objective of putting up a company to save the manufacturing jobs in electronics from going out to China.

EMS is a proud Filipino-owned company with a workforce of local employees coming from different provinces and from different levels of education. “We are trying to bring all our employees in certain level of parity,” Perry began answering my inquisitiveness.

From hardware topics to millennial behaviors, the interview evolved from light to very feel-at-home conversation like I had known the man in front of me for a very long time.

All our workers are Filipinos. “I’m proud that we are probably the only private Filipino company in the assembling parts industry in the Philippines. I’m proud to keep it that way. When people ask why, we want to really showcase a Filipino company (we don’t have investors), that on our own, through sheer work of employees and performance, we are able to grow where the big boys are, and we can go up together with them.”

EMS currently employs 15,000 Filipino workforces. “When my father started the company 15 years ago, the intention was to prevent the loss of jobs in the Philippines. In 2002 to 2003, China was cheap when it comes to production costs and we can not compare. During one of my father’s meetings with companies who were about to move productions to China, he said, ‘We can do that also in the Philippines,” and one of the Chairman of a multinational dared him and said, “Francis if you can do it, prove it.”

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That was the start of EMS, with 80 people and sure enough they were able to keep the jobs here. “From 80 head count, by the end of that year, they were over 800 and before the global recession in 2008-2009, we reached a high of 1,800 people. That’s how it grew. Unfortunately, recession hit globally, and we lost 90% of our production,” he continued.

When Issues Arise

“If there is an issue, in the past in other companies itatago mo iyan. If there’s an issue, we go for it. Instead of putting blames, we tackle the problem right away. Because every hour, everyday it lasts, it becomes expensive.” The mantra of the company and the people working with him is if there’s a problem, solve it right away before it becomes expensive or it ruins what the customer’s planned.

“I never fired anybody for making a mistake because I make mistakes also.”

Silicon Valley-type hub of the Philippines

EMS is located inside Laguna Technopark, one of the Philippines’ premiere industrial estate in the fastest-growing regional center in Binan, Laguna. The industrial estate covers 460 hectares that cater to light and medium, non-polluting enterprises, from both global and local markets. It is home to 239 of the world’s leading manufacturing companies specializing in electronics, automotive, consumer products, food processing, and pharmaceuticals. The estate is almost ripe to be developed as a Silicon Valley-type hub, where EMS could be part of.

“We are attempting to have that here amongst the electronic companies here (Laguna). There is an organization Semiconductor & Electronics Industries in the Philippines (SEIPI) and we are trying to group together and form and organization to exchange talents and bring rise tot eh different talented Filipinos here.

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Perry also added that SEIPI have a lot of technical working groups that exchange ideas amongst companies and present it how it is done that other companies might be able to use also.

He admits though that “we are not completely there yet,” but “there are handfuls of Filipino companies in the semiconductor industries that have proven that Filipino designers and developers are at par or are some are better than our foreign counterparts.”

SEIPI’s main goal is to set a level where Filipinos will not be just known as laborers assembling parts but designed and Made in the Philippines products to improve and can prove that Filipinos can equal those in Silicon Valley.

Training While They’re Young

EMS provides training as early for those who are in kindergarten and up to 3rd Grade students focusing on Math and Science because they believe in getting the interest of the younger generation and how it is applied to normal day-to-day lives, they will accept technology much faster at the very young age. Perry himself is a witness where at a very young age, these kids can develop programs to run robots.

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EMS’ training company Creotec Philippines, Inc. represented the country last December in the robotics championship in China where they ranked 19th place out of the 150 entries who joined the competition. The surprising part was these students came from grade school level. “Of course, there’s this anxiety on how our students will fair and we don’t want to be frustrated because it was our first time. But if we don’t do it now, how will we benchmark? So, we practice, we supported them.”

Perry walked me through a company tour around the property and showed me their training classrooms and assembling areas that not everyone will be able to see in person.

Corporate Social Responsibilities

EMS isn’t just about into creating new programs and establishing subsidiaries, they are also committed into corporate social responsibilities supporting four orphanages, two old age homes, and other non-profit organizations where employees are part of as volunteers. “We want to teach our employees that this is not just about money.”

Aside from Creotec, EMS also runs under its wings the Alliance Mansols, Inc. (AMI) which started in 2010 as a retraining program for trained man to power and run their factories. Under the EMS Group, they also have EMS Components Assembly, Inc.; EMS Resources Technology, Inc.; EMS Services Philippines, Inc.; and EMS Services International, Inc.

EMS Services International is currently based in Japan. “Whatever we have here, the volunteerism program, the scholarship programs, and everything, we also want to duplicate that in Japan.” Perry’s wife Helen heads these programs in Japan. “We want to give back to that country and to find more ways on how our fellow Filipino workers be even better in Japan.”

Secrets to Success

Perry wakes up early in the morning at 4:30 a.m. and comes in the office by 6 a.m. His daily routine starts with having conversations with his people, sat down with them and connects with his employees regularly in the absence of managers. “I found out that they are more open when I’m the only one in front of them. You learn a lot of things and you get the pulse of the employees better. That’s what we do in the morning and I look for where I can improve.”

“After office I have dinners with partners. Then, If I could sneak in my running, I do it at night. I like anything outdoor.” Perry shared that he just came back from diving in Siquijor.

“During weekends, I spent time with different family members. Because it’s our family’s company, their input is equally important. The input that they give me is how we can improve more of the relationship we have with the employees. And that’s important to me. Our family’s objective is, while our employees are with the EMS Group of Companies, they have the best time of their lives.”

Legacy of the Father

These traits and visions are what Perry learned from his father, Francis. “Hopefully, we can spread it in the next generation, how we can mentor, putting aside material things, look after what is good for them, the future leaders, that is our objective. The challenge for our management team or human resource is to put the right person in the right job they are passionate about.”

Retirement doesn’t run in the Ferrer bloodlines. “We want to continue what we’ve started and share it to other industries and associations to craft programs that whether it’s from the Chairman down to the operator or vice-versa up to myself, that’s how we can collectively contribute for a common goal. The common goal is not profit. The profit will come if you do good work but collectively if you’re working with the same goal and objective, the company will be better for the common good.”

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While Lee made superheroes in the comic books and movies, inspiring a lot of people, Perry and his father’s legacy to make Filipino workers more passionate in their jobs makes them even more superheroes and the best in their fields. “If what they’re doing is what they’re passionate about, I will fight for the Filipino workers.”

Celebrating Fifteen Years of Improving the Lives of Filipino Workers

“Fifteen years ago, when my father started this company in February, our objectives has never changed, it’s always for the Filipino workers and providing work for them. We will continue that in the next 50 years. Having that objective gives us the best satisfaction any CEO or Chairman could have seeing Filipinos work and have a massive amount of them come in to our company. We have provided employment to over 60,000 Filipinos. Some of them left, absorbed by our principals and clients. We just keep on improving and training. We’re still a young company, and for us to be called an adult company, we must reach the 20-year old marker. In the next 5 years will be a bigger transformation of our group as we continually improve.”

With the high demand in business and growing job orders, EMS is gunning on expansion and eyeing a construction in Malvar, Cavite.  China’s high costs of production becomes a sweet opportunity for EMS to expand the business. Perry admits that the economy in the Philippines could be better with the trade war happening globally. “It’s either us or Vietnam.”

Training Makes Ordinary People Produce Extraordinary Results

Before our conversation ended, Perry shared to me what his father told him when he was still alive. “My father once said to me, “Training makes ordinary people produce extraordinary results.”

Those words stuck with me that day and I couldn’t help it comparing to what the late comic book writer’s popular quote, “With great power there must also come great responsibility!” Perry’s job is to push and train his workers to become the best in what they do.

“My job is to just to make sure that our employees are motivated to bring out their best for them to survive in the world where we are going.”