Thursday, April 17, 2014

My Russian Diary - Day 2

Day 2 - March 21

It was already 7:00 AM and the city seems still quiet. Below, only a few people can be seen walking on the streets.  Eleazar, my classmate from Peru, told me last night that only few people are seen outside because most of them pass the subways—the Metro, they call it, those marvelous underground structures used as shelter during the last world war.

It seems to me Moscow is peaceful, not hectic like Manila. I saw only a  few cars  and  traffic was nowhere to be seen, although from time to time, cars have also to stop at street lights. Quite orderly. Buildings were more of less of the same design. Like boxes, especially the apartment houses.

It was still snowing when we came down the hotel. Oleg fetched us for our flight to Zaporozhye. There were no porters at the airport nor at the hotel. We were  left on our own to carry our luggage. How my shoulders ached. Surprised that there were only four of us in the pre-departure area. Later we learned that foreigners have separate terminal areas. Upon boarding, we were again whisked to the ramp separately. The Russian passengers boarded only when we were already settled on our seats. And there were no seat numbers.

Then Zaporozhye--our home city for the next four months, a major industrial city of the Ukraine region. We stopped in the middle of a big airport, doubling as an air base. At the far other side are hangars of the MIG fighter planes. Temperature was -10 degrees C and first time I stepped on melting ice; I had no hat nor gloves. The winter wind was terrible. I couldn’t understand why the baggage claim area was outside the terminal.

Settled at the 10th and last floor of Hotel Zaporozhye (In Tourist Hotel) - the best in the center of the city. Vladimir Soroko, our training director came up to welcome us. Went down at 9PM  with Jorge and Eleazar. The basement bar was full and noisy and there were many beautiful girls. Didn’t know what to drink. Finally, I decided to go back to my room and rest. Still a long way to enjoy.

My Russian Diary - Day 1

Thirty years ago at about this time, I arrived in Moscow for a 4-month technical training in steel. It was  then called the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), which I later learned was composed of 15 republics. It was also named  Soviet Union. That period was Chernenko’s era, who took over after the death of  long time leader Brezhnev. A few years later, Gorbachev took charge, introduced  “glasnost” and “perestroika” and the rest was history.

I was then a Senior  Supervisor at Quality Assurance  Dept. Of National Steel Corporation in Iligan City  and together with Mike Uy, also a Senior Supervisor at Hot Mill Operations, we represented the Philippines in  the 27th UNIDO/UNDP  In
- Plant Training  for Iron and Steel Engineers from March 19 to July 19, 1984 at Zaporozhstal Iron and Steel Works in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. While based in Ukraine, our group of 17 engineers from 10 developing countries travelled far and wide the former Soviet territories, by bus, by train, by plane. From the capital Kiev, Krivoi Rog, Zdhanov, Donetsk, Boronets, in the heartland of Ukraine to the western port city of Odessa in the Black Sea, to the Russian region of Liepetsk, Cherepovets, Leningrad in the north and the capital Moscow, we saw its  vastness and  the richness in resources, culture, and history. Most of all, we saw and learned who they are, how different they were, and how they lived in that time.

I first published excerpts of my dairy in the NSC News, the official magazine of National Steel Corporation in 1989, the year Soviet Union was disintegrated into independent states. The recent incidents of conflicts which started last year in Kiev and spilled over to the Crimea region in the Black Sea and now the crisis in the border areas like Donetsk,once again brought back vivid memories of my memorable stay in that wonderful faraway place.

Day 1- March 20, Moscow

“Ladies and Gentlemen, in just a short while, we are landing at the Shereyetmevo International Airport. Time is now exactly 7 in the morning. Ground temperature is 14 degrees below zero”, came the Aeroflot’s stewardess’ final announcement. Suddenly, almost everybody stood up and reached for their overcoats, hats, and gloves. I remained seated, glued to the window. Below, everything was white. I could see Russian airport personnel standing dutifully on guard, in thick fur hats and overcoats, the read insignia blazingly visible from above. Beautiful-just like in the movies.

It was a bitter winter initiation for me. All along the drive from the airport to my hotel, the Rossia Hotel, reportedly Europe’s largest with 3,000 rooms, strategically just a stone’s throw away from the Kremlin Red Square, I have to raise both my feet to fight of the cold seemingly penetrating through my bones. I should have known better, I thought. Napoleon and Hitler learned this the hard way, and with it shattered their dreams of world conquest.’’Mr. Oleg (my guide/interpreter) but I thought it’s already spring time’’, I protested. “Mr. Delid, to the Ukrainians, it’s still winter time. To the Muscovites, it’s now spring time.’’ My first lesson here: for me, they’re just one and the same—Russians.

I slept practically all day. I left Manila the day before with stopovers in Singapore and New Delhi and the long journey took its toll. And for the first time, I learned that Manila time was 5 hours in advance.  The cold weather all the more made it conducive to sleeping. Later, had dinner of chicken and bread with my two Peruvian classmates in one of the hotel’s many restaurants overlooking Red Square. Against the backdrop of the magnificent Kremlin and Lenin Mausoleum dutifully manned by the Red Guards, we toasted for our safe arrival and for the good things to come.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Phinma Group formally launched its Business Continuity Management (BCM) Program

The Phinma Group formally launched its Business Continuity Management (BCM) Program in a Kick Off Forum and Training held last June 20, 2013 at Microtel Mall of Asia, Pasay City.

As stated in the BCM Policy Statement, which was signed by Mr. Ramon R. Del Rosario, Jr., President and CEO of Phinma, Inc., and Mr. Roberto M. Laviña, Senior Executive Vice President and COO of Phinma, Inc., Phinma “aims to ensure  that all its companies are able to achieve their respective strategic business objectives by safeguarding its processes and operations with business continuity management plans.”

Highlight of the activity was the signing of the Phinma Business Continuity Management Pledge led by Mr. Oscar J. Hilado, Chairman of Phinma, Mr. Ramon del Rosario, Jr., Mr. Roberto M. Laviña, Mr. Victor J. Del Rosario, Phinma Chief Strategy Officer and UGC Vice Chairman and CEO, and other executives from Phinma’s Business Units.

UGC was represented by SVP Pines Roranes, VP - Manufacturing Romy Salanga, AVP -Comptroller German Costales, AVP - Rollforming & Distribution Manny Alvior and AVP - Customer and Technical Services Nono Delid. Together with 6 other executives from Phinma’s other ‘business units, they also signed the BCM Pledge and attended the one day orientation training/seminar conducted by SGV and Co. (Ernst and Young).

In the UGC BCM organisational set-up President Art Florendo will be the BCM Champion, German Costales as BCM Coordinator and Pines Roranes, Romy Salanga, Manny Alvior and Nono Delid as Process Owners. They will form the core group of UGC in this program.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

“Quality and Safety Are Not The Same Thing!”

That’s according to Mr. Jon Echanova, EU Key Expert-National Quality Infrastructure during a forum with PPSQF (Phil. Productivity, Safety, and Quality Foundation) held last month at Citibank Tower in Makati. It was the same subject he echoed in other fora for government agencies especially DTI and other business organizations.

The forum was about the National Quality Infrastructure (NQF) which they want to establish in the Philippines under the EU-Philippines Trade Related Technical Assistance Project 3. According to Jon, trade is the driver for growth and the basic question now is how we can make the best out of something that is bound to happen- market globalization. This project therefore hopefully will prepare the Philippines for the global market and ASEAN harmonization scheduled to start in 2015.

He is proposing the creation of a  National Standards Board, which our current Bureau of Product Standards (BPS) is not. He emphasized that “Standard Bodies” are different from “Regulatory Bodies”. Our BPS is doing this in a dual role. He added that safety standards should be separated from quality standards. Our existing national standards in contrast do not separate safety from quality standards. In fact, more often, safety defines quality. Further clarifying, he said standards are voluntary whose purpose is for common understanding and are prepared by standard bodies. On the other hand, technical regulations are compulsory whose purpose is for protection of health of health, safety, and environment and are prepared by regulatory standards. Sounds interesting.

Ironically, in our present Philippine National Standards (PNS), products that have “impact on safety, security and health” are considered as “mandatory” and a PS (Philippine Standard) license is required before manufacturers (for importers, Import commodity Clearance or ICC is required) can distribute and sell in the market. Quality and safety are just one and the same.

I have been a member of the BPS Technical Committee on Flat Steel Products (TC 64) for more than 10 years now as “industry expert’. Our committee’s function is to review and formulate product standards on flat steel products which include, among others, hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, and galvanized steel. This is the industry where my whole professional life has been centered.

I find this subject therefore very interesting. But knowing the “realities”, out there, I’m afraid this may just end up as a wishful thinking. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The State of the Philippine Steel Industry: An initial Look Today

Two Wednesdays ago, I attended the regular board meeting of the Philippine Iron and Steel Institute (PISI) in lieu of our president who was then out of town. Our president has been a long time officer of the board representing the Flat Steel Sector and in times that he is not available, he would send our vice president for manufacturing, or me to pitch in for him in such meetings or in other PISI activities, forums, etc. That  help us get first hand updates of what’s going on in our world of steel from steel gurus and businessmen.

The PISI is an umbrella organization of all steel stakeholders, namely, suppliers, traders/importers, manufacturers, etc. Its membership cuts across various steel industry associations and individual companies. Its objective is to promote, enhance, and protect the interest of its members as well as the steel industry as a whole. Incidentally, the current president, was my close colleague during our years at National Steel Corporation in Iligan City.

A hot topic discussed (which is actually a regular item in all meetings) is the hottest subject which hogged the headlines recently- smuggling. For many years, smuggling or technical smuggling specifically, has always been identified as the menace in the industry. In recent years, it has become rampant to alarming levels. Like other business sectors such as oil, agri- products ( like meat, poultry, and rice), etc.,  the Institute had been expressing outcry and consistently decried the unabated rampant smuggling, most common of which are under declaration or misdeclaration. For 2012 alone, estimated loss due to smuggling reached P1 billion. It has been common that people are already immune to it  and that any news about it is not news anymore. When will that day come when we all can say,” it’s time to play hardball”.

Another main feature of the meeting is the report on imported steel price. From scrap to billets, slabs, hot-rolled and cold rolled coils, plates, tin plates, GI, PPGI, figures from traditional sources namely, China, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, it was reported that  last month’s prices generally went down compared to the previous month. April prices for  (figures are in US dollars per MT) scrap bulk sea cargo was at 375, containerized ex Taiwan at 395, HRC ex Taiwan was 580 and ex China is 560, 0.6mm CRC at 600 and 0.17mm CRC iwa at 700, 0.33m GI at 840 and PPGI at 950. Interestingly, while prices are going down and analysts say demand will be depressed, China increased its steel output by 9.1% this first quarter, year on year. For Jan-March 2013 alone, total China output is now pegged at 192 Million MT.

Next month, SEASI or Southeast East Asia Steel Institute will hold its annual international conference. Every country member presents their respective country report. During the board meeting, a tentative PISI country report was presented for comments, validation, etc. I noted some highlights; first on the  GDP  report where, from the 6.6% GDP growth registered in 2012, in the Industrial sector, it was Construction which registered the highest growth of 14.4% while Manufacturing stood at only 5.4%. In the Services sector, transport was highest at 9.1%. Another notable highlight was in our GI/PPGI/Aluzinc/EGI sector. For 2012, total 2012 importation reached over 530,000MT, around 35%   increase from the previous year level indicated by the updated data from the Bureau of Imports (BIS). This is because, most, if not all galvanizing plants are not anymore producing or are not anymore operating and merely imports these coated products mostly from China. The reason is pure business economics. It is now cheaper to buy imported GI products than buy CRC raw materials  and process or convert them to GI. Sadly,manufacturing of galvanized steel is one sector which has not only declined but is tilting on the verge of extinction.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Journey Continues: Tale of Steel Companies, Part 2

Fast forward. Four months from now, my 2nd and current company, Union Galvasteel Corporation (UGC) will celebrate in style its 50th year of existence. Center of celebration will be at the place where it all started in 1963, at Poro Plant at Poro Point in San Fernando City, La Union. As the company celebrates its golden years, it is likewise excitedly looking ahead for the next 50 years and perhaps beyond.

Fifty years ago, the company, then named Bacnotan Steel Corporation (BSC), a division of Bacnotan Cement Industries, started with its old, sheet to sheet galvanizing operation producing GI sheets for roofing products. Five years later, another similar type of galvanizing operations was opened in Davao City. It was only in 1990 when it opened up in Calamba City, Laguna which would then become until now as its main plant. It started to expand and modernize with the construction of its coil by coil color coating line in 1993 and the commissioning of its continuous galvanizing line in 1997. The Asian financial crisis took its toll and nearly brought down the company to bankruptcy. But with a bamboo like tenacity and resiliency, brought about by overall restructuring of its operations and strategies, it survived the storm and started to expand more, both in reach and products lines. Today, it has the country’s biggest supply chain and distribution network in the industry with 26 roll forming plants, warehouses, and sales offices strategically located throughout the country from north to south. “Sa Tibay at Ganda, Panalo Ka” has become an institutionalized tagline of the company.

I joined UGC in the latter part of 1996 at the worst time when the financial crisis was hitting the company, the industry and the country real hard. All through these years, I did my fair share, practically in all aspects of the business, from operations, technical/quality assurance, marketing, human resource, training, finance, etc. Externally, I have broadened my scope of knowledge and understanding of the industry, not just locally but regionally as well, through active involvement and regular liaisons with steel industry associations and leaders, government agencies, customers, competition, suppliers, environmental groups, consumer advocates, etc. I even wrote a technical paper about how the company survived the crisis, which I presented at the SEASI International Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in November 2002. Indeed, an enriching experience.

Emma A., a dear colleague from NSC who is now happily settled in Canada, once asked us to write about our life after steel. This is what I wrote; “Fortunately or unfortunately, my life is STILL WITH STEEL.

It seems like I have taken my steel career in full circle. But not quite.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Journey Continues: Tale of Steel Companies, Part 1

Two significant events will happen in the next few months to the only two companies that I have been connected (read: employed) throughout my professional career. These events definitely define my “steel journey.”

Eight months from now, the moribund National Steel Corporation (NSC), then the largest steel company in the Philippines, would have been 40 years. It was established as a forerunner of the National Shipyard Corporation in the 1950’s and later on the IISMI or Iligan Integrated Steel Mill Inc. in the 60’s. All the main plants were located in Iligan City in northern Mindanao. Active and loyal “alumni” based in Manila are organizing a grand reunion on its anniversary month, February next year for all its ex-employees from Iligan Plant, Pasig Plant and Makati-Home Office many of whom are already settled abroad. This will surely be big event to enjoy and reconnect. There will be lots of hugs and kisses and embraces and lots of reminiscing, something which will make everybody’s hearts sink. Once upon a past era, these were the “steel trailblazers” who aspired and dreamed of “building the Country”.

I joined NSC as an engineering management trainee (we were then called Industrial Engineers) barely a month after college graduation. I am proud I belonged to this group, which former president Rolly Narciso described in his tribute as “among the best technical and managerial mind of NSC”. When I left 18 years later, already a developed professional, the NSC ship was already sinking and it was only a matter before this steel giant finally closed down 5years later. In that span, many left the company and the city for good. Notably, many migrated abroad to Canada, the U.S, Australia, New Zealand. the Middle East countries and the neighboring ASEAN countries. Such exodus can be aptly described as “the great brain drain”. Still, quite a number, including me, moved to the big city, Manila while some remained and cast their luck with the lamentable Malaysian and later on Indian owners who likewise closed shop without even taking off, weighed down by lack of capital, technological obsolescence, loss of market and overall mismanagement. What happened to the Iligan plant, its once thriving employees’ community called “Steeltown” and perhaps the lives of its people is reflected in the movie and now Broadway and Manila musical, Full Monty.

What a sad ending to a glorious past!