What’s happening to PH’s most admired conglomerate?

For more than a century, the name Ayala has been synonymous not only with Philippine business, in general, but of sound management that lived up to its enviable reputation as one of the best places in the country to work for, in particular.

Makati City became the Philippines’ premier business center because of the Ayala family, and the main thoroughfare named after them – Ayala Avenue – is a showcase of how a world-class environment could exist and be maintained in the country. The avenue is spotlessly clean and at par with any of the world’s main business addresses such as NYC’s Wall Street.

I must admit that I had nothing but the highest admiration for the Ayalas, who had created a mighty conglomerate without having to curry favor with politicians.

I write in the past tense because of what has been happening with the flagship companies of the Ayala Group of Companies in the last few weeks and months, and I honestly hope that they can regain the trust and confidence that millions of Filipinos had bestowed on them for the longest time.

Specifically, three of the Ayala-owned companies have floundered of late, and it is no exaggeration to say that millions of Filipinos were angered by their actions, or lack of it.

Last month, Manila Water which supplies the prime commodity to about half of the population of Metro Manila suddenly failed to deliver. There was little warning, and millions of residents of the metropolis had to do without water for days.

The company gave an explanation that sounded too much like an excuse. It was not their fault, they said. The La Mesa dam had breached critical levels and no water could be pumped to the city.

The most frequently asked question was why didn’t they inform the public sooner? Almost everyone was caught unawares and this caused widespread anger that the company failed to appease.

That problem has been partially solved, and the two Ayala brothers who run the conglomerate, Fernando and Jaime, apologized to the public for their shortcomings. This was the right thing to do. This week, the chief operating officer of Manila Water resigned. That, too, was the honorable thing to do.

Unfortunately, last week saw the Ayala Group suffer two more black eyes. One was not too serious, but it was still extremely irritating, at the very least. Their telco Globe Telecoms went offline without warning for around seven to eight hours.

This could have had potentially serious repercussions. If a Globe plan holder needed to make or was expecting to receive an important call of message, he or she would not have been able to get through.

What if it was a life or death matter?

There has been no word whether something serious happened to anyone as a result of Globe being offline for that long a period.

About the worst thing that happened to hundreds of thousands of Filipinos was when Ayala-owned Bank of the Philippine Islands failed to deliver adequate banking services for an entire week.

I have to admit that I was one of the victims. When I needed my money, I could not get it. Not from any ATM and not even from the branch near my place. I was told that it was due to a “systems upgrade.”

In my case, it came close to being a matter of life or death. Specifically, I was scheduled to have an eye operation and the clinic where the procedure was to take place only accepts cash payments.

To make a long story short, I had cash in the bank but I could not withdraw it.

I will not discuss my personal problem further. Suffice it to say that after banking with BPI’s savings bank for the better part of a decade, I have decided to cut my ties with them.

More than a few friends asked: What’s happening to the Ayalas?

One sarcastically asked that if Manila Water, Globe and BPI could all falter, what’s next? That would be Ayala Land, which has built a lot of condos in the Makati business district.

The question now is, was everything that happened to the three Ayala companies nothing more than a spate of bad luck?

I don’t buy this. I have to think that the owners and top executives of the  Ayala conglomerate must do some soul searching and try to find out what is happening. Professionally run companies do not depend on good or bad luck to show profits or face crises.

I am hoping that the Ayala Group of Companies can regain its century-old reputation as one of the most admired conglomerates not just in the Philippines, but in Asia. But first they have to admit that they do have some serious internal problems that need to be addressed asap.