Oscar M. Lopez’s biography: Life and legacy of a ‘power tycoon’

Published February 11, 2021, 11:30 AM

by Myrna M. Velasco

Theirs is an exceptional story of a family-led conglomerate that had to rise from the rubble – not just once, twice or thrice but maybe even more – that’s because of the wretch of politics often infringing on their businesses, be it in the power sector or in their television network.

Oscar M. Lopez


These corporate tragedies as well as the many triumphs of their various businesses symbolize the life and legacy of Oscar M. Lopez, the patriarch of the Lopez group, as chronicled in his biography — which is simply titled “OSCAR”.


Across decades, the Lopez family had always been prey to inordinate political power play shackling businesses – from the time that the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) had to be forcefully taken from them during the Martial Law years; then for another round of takeover in 2008-2010; and the extreme blow they had to racked in pain with from last year’s denial of their ABS-CBN franchise.


But it’s not all cataclysms that had cemented the foothold of the Lopez group in the broader history of Philippine business – they have more success stories to be proud of across their businesses that had been ‘built to last’ — such as trailblazing clean technology deployments of gas and renewable energy in their power business; managing and operating Meralco in a stretch of a century despite the extreme political maneuvers; their infrastructure ventures in water, toll roads, telecommunications; then media, real estate and even in the development and operation of special economic zones.


And through it all, the group’s patriarch Oscar, who is most known to all their employees and executives as OML, had to lead the way for over a decade – from 1999 until he stepped down as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of both Lopez Holdings Corporation and First Philippine Holdings Corporation (FPHC) in June 2010.


While he had already passed on the leadership baton to the younger generation of Lopezes – chiefly to his son Federico “Piki” R. Lopez as Chairman and CEO of their holding firm FPHC, it was to Oscar’s credit that the Lopez credo had its foundation cast on. This is an overarching call to all Lopez group employees to be guided by the following distinct Lopez values: a pioneering entrepreneurial spirit, business excellence, unity, nationalism, social justice, integrity, concern for employee welfare and wellness.


Beyond business, OML’s lasting legacy will also stand high through the mountains he had climbed – being one of his unparalleled passion and a personal form of recreation that he shares with family and friends.


As typified by his son Piki in the book’s foreword, Oscar’s shadow “looms larger than the tallest mountains he’s climbed,” and to him who has always looked up to his Dad as his “hero” and a shining example, that’s about reminding the son of a daunting task ahead as he took headship on their businesses.


“A boy’s first hero is his father. I always remember looking up to my Dad with admiration, trust and an intense desire to emulate him. Becoming your own man often means stepping out of his shadow and into your own light,” Piki wrote.


Yet from the virtues that Oscar had embraced, the son discerned that the “most daunting of our Dad’s life is that his goals in life were never solely centered around the pursuit of material worth or power. Oftentimes, they revolved around values we should cherish as human beings but are often conveniently left behind in the corporate world.”


Piki further shared “I always learned from observing him that when a commitment comes from the heart, it inspires the head to act in surprisingly inventive ways.”


He similarly recounted those have been the very reason and inspiration why Piki and his siblings opted to publish an autobiography for their father – to share to the Filipino people and the world the story of a man who has not just bestowed attention to the needs of their businesses, but one who has given premium to the welfare of their employees in particular and the humanity in general – primarily inculcating morals and principles of caring for the environment and to put into one’s thinking cap the well-being of generations to come.


“If we are to scale the heights he has reached, then we want to see, show and learn from the many little steps he took to make the seemingly impossible dreams and challenges he faced attainable in the long run,” Piki conveyed.


To many who have known Oscar Lopez as a corporate captain or as a friend, he is widely perceived as “a rarity in business” – because he could stand up for business values even if these are against the widely accepted and profitable business practices – one of which is his firm stance against coal-fired power developments.

To his family, he’s imprinting upon them the “Lopez Way”, because in the end and in the process, Oscar believes that this may hold the key to the family’s future.


In OML’s own words and as he narrated in a speech delivered during a commencement exercises at the University of the Philippines in 2012, he rhapsodized that his life “is simple enough to

understand.”


Primarily, Oscar clings to a credo that “life is a long distance race,” hence, his well-merited advice is “to run to your own capability, to your own cadence. Pace yourself, but when you can, push yourselves beyond your comfort zone, understanding that in this race of life, in the final analysis, there will really be no winners or losers, but only those who reach a finish line, and those who do not finish.”


And the “finish”, according to him, is one important point that a person will discern in time, “guided by your dreams and aspirations, as well as by the brutal reality of just how capable you are.”


For those who have yet to read OML’s story, he gives a peek into what he treasured as a life secret: “As I ran my own race of life, what I saw along the way, who I came to know along the way, constantly changed what I defined to be the finish line,” he said.


He further narrated that when he passed on their businesses to the younger Lopez stewards, these were “in better shape…than when these businesses were when I was forced to assume leadership due to the untimely demise of my brother Geny (Eugenio Lopez Jr) in 1999.”


Ultimately, in reaping life’s own reward and in running a business, “family interests do not necessarily have to run contrary to national interests, and that one can always choose to be a good father and a faithful and devoted husband,” Oscar stressed.  


*Postscript: For those interested in the e-book, please visit the following link:
http://tiny.cc/oscarbio

 
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