It was the search for a more balanced life that brought Dutchman Ralph Maurice van Miert back to the Philippines after a hectic career in London. Graduated from European Business School in London in 1999 with a BA Hons in Finance and Economics, he started his career at Bankers Trust, then worked for various stock selling companies in London including Dresdner Kleinwort Securities, Westlb Ag , Rabobank Securities and Crédit Agricole CIB. In 2010, he moved to the Philippines, a country he first experienced as a university intern. He befriended Victor Consunji and two years later accepted his offer to join Victor Consunji Development Corporation (VCDC) as CFO, a position he still holds. He talks about finding that work-life balance in the Philippines and preparing for a post-pandemic world.
What does it mean to be a CFO at VCDC?
My job includes building financial models, reconciling income and expenses, preparing financial statements, monitoring VCDC cash flows, project analysis, financial planning, securing project funding and l analysis of financial strengths and weaknesses. My job also requires me to work closely with our construction team, purchasing department, human resources, and sales team to ensure that goals and budgets are met and that VCDC procures materials for construction. the highest quality that meet our exclusive premium product standards.
My dad taught my three brothers and myself from an early age to always work hard and do your best in whatever you pursue and I have applied this in life and work.
You have been here for over ten years. What was the biggest culture shock you encountered, both in business and in everyday life, when you first moved here?
I did several summer internships here in the Philippines during my college career as it was part of the curriculum. It allowed me to discover and learn the culture at an early stage. However, that being said, coming from a fast-paced industry and being European, I tended to be very direct and to the point, which doesn’t fit the culture here in the Philippines. I had to adapt, learn and accept that things work differently here, and also that everything is moving at a slower pace. People here like to chat before a meeting, which I really enjoy as it brings a personal touch to meetings that my previous job lacked. In the Philippines, it’s about building relationships and relationships and feeling comfortable with each other before things move forward and develop commercially. In my everyday life, I have found it very easy to fit in as the people are very friendly, accommodating and hospitable. I have made good friends here over the years and fully enjoy my social and professional life.
What aspects of your working life in London made you feel like you needed to find a balance?
My day started at 5:30 a.m., as I was getting ready to go to work to be in the office at 7:00 a.m. We had morning meetings to discuss the day’s investment ideas with equity analysts and fellow equity sellers before the market opened at 8am. Throughout the day I was on the phone with my clients – even breakfast and lunch that I had at my desk! Once the market closed, there would be meetings / entertainment with customers to build a closer relationship for future business.
The work was very intense and rhythmic; on top of that, I traveled with our analysts every two weeks to the Benelux region to present investment ideas to our clients. It would leave very little time for other things like family life and hobbies, so the balance was very much work-only oriented. It was really work and not play. After working in London for nine years, I felt it was time for a lifestyle change.
What have been the most important lessons from your career in London and how have you applied them to your work in the Philippines?
Having experience in stock sales where I had to be able to analyze company balance sheets, income statements, future prospects in the industry in which they were operating, allowed me to apply these skills to my current role as CFO at VCDC. In stock sales, we are always supposed to get the best prices for our customers, and I instilled this into our purchasing department to get the best prices for all of our building materials and thus improve our margins. overall beneficiaries. Equity sales require a very strong work ethic and persistence, and I try to project this onto all of our staff as I believe it will improve their job performance and ultimately the company in its own right. together. I spend most of my time in rreconciling income and expenses, preparing financial statements, tracking VCDC cash flow, analyzing projects, planning finances and creating spreadsheets, all skills that I have acquired during my career in London.
How did the construction industry fare during the pandemic?
The construction sector being one of the key sectors of the Philippine economy has experienced a significant contraction and this is largely due to the disruption caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. This forced the construction companies to face and overcome new challenges related to the suspension of operations, the shortage of construction workers due to the lack of work and the departure from Manila, the pressure on cash flow in due to project delays, material shortages and new Covid health and safety work guidelines. I believe the construction industry has risen to the challenge in this new normal and is now well equipped to deal with the lingering challenges.
How do you see the industry’s recovery in light of the severe economic setbacks the country continues to experience due to the prolonged lockdowns?
As in all things like Asian financial crises, stock market crashes or recessions. we always bounce back and come out stronger. Not just in the Philippines, but also around the world. I think it will be the same for the construction sector. Of course, sales have suffered as people have lost their jobs or businesses and projects have been delayed or canceled, but once the economy starts to recover that will correct itself as well. One of the immediate problems faced by the construction industry is the very sharp increase in raw material costs as this will affect overall margins and profitability in the future, but this too will balance out. Banks have a very important role in the process by promoting and stimulating the mortgage market and helping businesses in these difficult times. In the case of VCDC, our primary focus is on exclusive developments of high-end homes and land in prime locations and given this target market, we have been able to maintain stable sales throughout the pandemic. As with many construction companies, we have a very healthy pipeline of development projects that are ready to go as the economy begins to recover, which will bring the construction sector back to the levels of growth we have seen before. the pandemic.
What immediate work adjustments have you made to accommodate containment and telecommuting (WFH)?
When the first full lockdown was announced, we made sure all of our administrative staff had an iPad or laptop so everyone could continue with their job responsibilities and participate in our weekly Zoom meetings. Our other immediate concerns were our construction workers as they would not be receiving any income, so VCDC decided to continue paying their wages throughout the lockdown period which meant they would still be able to put in money. food on the table for their families. This decision allowed our construction workers to remain on standby and ready to mobilize at the end of the containment. We also immediately began to organize rapid on-site testing, quarantine facilities and employee financial assistance when needed.
How do you stay connected and engaged with your employees and customers?
We have ensured that all of our administrative staff are fully available online to ensure a smooth continuation of daily operations and to be able to hold regular Zoom meetings to discuss urgent issues, and also to leave some time to discuss how everyone is doing themselves personally during this pandemic. We have also implemented a skeletal presence system so that each department has at least one person present in the office. The majority of our clients prefer to meet through Zoom, although for unit visits and unit rotations they should attend in person, and we make sure all health and safety protocols are in place in order to make customers feel safe and comfortable.
How did this affect your family?
I think children are the most affected during this pandemic because they no longer physically go out. They have no opportunity to see their classmates or friends and have very limited social interactions with their peers. We are blessed because we have an amazing garden and facilities in our village that children can enjoy and spend healthy time outdoors.
What do you most want to do once we get back to some semblance of normalcy?
I think this pandemic has taught us all a new sense of appreciation for all that we could do and enjoy before the pandemic. Just being able to go out for a good meal with the kids without restrictions is something I look forward to. I love to travel and go to the beautiful islands and beaches that the Philippines has to offer which would definitely be at the top of my list. I haven’t seen my family in the Netherlands for a long time and to be able to see them again at some point would be fantastic.
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