Chronicles from the President

Business Mirror Feature : Paul Richards

The no. 1 Daily Business Newspaper in the Philippines, Business Mirror, interviewed MJN President and General Manager Paul Richards for their Father's Day supplement. Below is the full text of the article written by Marianne Escanilla published last June 17, 2012 which details Mr. Richard's views on leadership, fatherhood and working for the world's leading nutrition company.

How long have you been staying here in the Philippines and why did you decide to work here?

I have been in the Philippines for the past 4 and a half years. I was actually offered a position in a number of markets but I chose this country because the Philippines presented the highest potential for the business and for my professional growth as well.

Being the current President and General Manager of Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines, what were the improvements and changes you have done within the company?

When I took over the leadership of Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines the first thing that I did was to sit down with my team to understand them, their needs and the needs of the business; to make a sound evaluation of what we needed to do first so that we can really make things better for all of us.

I worked with them to identify opportunities which we could seize and gaps which we needed to fill. Among the more important improvements that we have had to initiate was the establishment of a new stand-alone business after we IPO'd out of Bristol Myer Squibb in February 2009. We needed to create new legal entities, set up new transaction systems, establish new working processes and procedures and create our own unique culture. This was both a challenge and an opportunity, and I am pleased to say that both locally and globally we have been very successful with the transition.

At present we are still working on a number of great initiatives to improve our corporate culture which I believe will be the foundation of our success in the future.

All of these improvements and changes are aimed at enabling Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines to be a major contributor to the global business and to fulfill our role in delivering on our Corporate Mission which is "To nourish the world's children for the best start in life".

What were the significant contributions of the company to the country as of the present?

Aside from providing science-based nutrition products that help provide the best start in life for Filipino infants and children, Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines has been engaged in a number of partnerships and programs that benefit the community.

Our existing partnership with the Kabisig ng Kalahi (a non-governmental organization) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) through the Feeding Hope Project has been helping improve the nutrition state of thousands of the most malnourished children in the country. The project has helped over 40,000 children over the past 8 years, many of them within the last 5 years, and has significantly improved the nutritional state of beneficiaries so that, for example, in 2010 98% of the children improved their nutritional state at least one level (severely malnourished to borderline malnourished/normal, or malnourished to normal). This project also enables us to empower the mothers of these children to form groups capable of sustainably providing nutritious meals for their children and their families.

We have a program for public school children - the Pasiglahin ang Estudyanteng Pinoy (PEP), also in collaboration with Kabisig and the Department of Education (DEPED). We believe that students who are properly nourished have a better chance at doing well in school. To date the PEP project has been implemented in hundreds of public grade schools nationwide and we have seen a dramatic decrease in dropout rates from 33% to less than 1%.

We also provide, for free, the much needed milk products of children with metabolic disorders or "orphan diseases" through a partnership with the Institute of Human Genetics under the National Institute of Health of the University of the Philippines, Manila.

From another vantage point, we have been consistent with our tax remittances. As a matter of fact we have been in the list of the Top Ten Corporate Citizens of the City of Makati for the past three years.

We have been in the Philippines for the past 50 years and we are very proud of this milestone. We are humbled by the trust that Filipino families have extended to us and we are challenged by it to continue doing our best in all that we do moving forward.

How difficult was it to balance your time at work and your time with your family?

For somebody in my position, it is all about priorities. When you have very keen sense of your priorities it becomes very easy to balance work life and personal life. Obviously there have been times when I have had to sacrifice family time for the business, but I think my children and wife, and my boss, would say that, on the whole, I have been successful in keeping the balance.

Having two grown up kids, what were the things you keep reminding them as they were growing up?

My wife and I constantly remind our kids to make the most of every opportunity to learn and discover new things – to use every experience good and bad to grow and become better versions of them selves. Our children have obviously enjoyed a privileged upbringing, and in every country we have been we have used the opportunity to teach them how to use their talents to benefit those less fortunate than themselves.

Were there Filipino values you want your kids to have?

I want my kids to imbibe the Filipino value for the family and to develop a healthy sense of enjoying life. Many western kids are brought up to only be successful. Hence these kids grow up too focused on their 30 year plan that they miss out on the joy of the journey. Filipinos also have long term plans but you tend to enjoy life more by savoring every aspect of the journey to get there.

Many families where I come from don't live together and don't even extend any effort to support each other. It is very different here. Filipino families remain close to one another even after the children have families of their own. I am quite touched by the stories I hear about Filipinos working overseas – sacrificing their own personal dreams and happiness, so that they can better provide for the needs of their families. That is why I have nothing but great respect and admiration for OFWs. I am currently experiencing what it is like to work in a foreign land and not be with your loved ones, but I am doing it out of choice and because my kids have grown up and are in college in the UK; I cannot imagine what it is like to do that out of necessity. I am in awe of their great sacrifice.

Do you regularly spend time with your kids, and what were the things you do in those times?

When they were growing up yes, my wife and I saw to it that we maximize our weekends with the kids. We would spend time with William (22) playing sport specially football and doing art stuff like painting with Charlotte (18). We are big on movies and we would always watch together. We would also spend some weekends and family holidays out of town.

Now that they are a bit grown up our time together is a bit limited. They have their own schedules. But we still try to have summer and winter vacations together. We also stay connected. I'll be very honest, largely through my wife, via Facebook, texting, and regular phone conversations.

Are you the disciplinarian type of father or were you the cool type of father? Why choose to be that type of father? Do have usual rules when it comes to disciplining your kids?

I would like to believe I am the latter (however I don't think it will count if the description came from me.) But I am definitely not the strict disciplinarian. In the early stages of growing up, there was a clear need for some form of discipline. My wife and I ran a somewhat structured home that provided the security and protection for the children ; we have about the same set of rules as any other family. As the kids grew older, we made sure that we gave them enough room to make their own choices. We wanted them to grow up knowing and understanding the choices available to them and eventually making the right decisions. I believe that allowing children to learn how to make the right choices early on makes them more capable of making the right decisions when they become adults.

What were the similarities between running the company and bringing up your kids?

Running a company like Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines is pretty much like being a father but this time not just to a handful of kids but to close to 500 hardworking, intelligent, driven and committed individuals who share the vision of a better society by providing the best start in life for children.

Having been in this country for the past four years and spending a considerable amount of time with my team, I can truly say that we are more than just an organization trying to meet our bottom line, we are a family - all committed to working for the good of everybody.

Being a father is never easy. Not even if you only have two kids to worry about. You want what is best for them. You want them to reach their full potential and lead truly meaningful and happy lives. How do you ensure that? Well sometimes you need to really be the grown up and lay down the rules. Kids may not always like it or understand it and you would have to deal with some growing pains here and there -- but that is the way it should be. Sometimes you have to be the shoulder to cry on, or the sounding board for ideas, or the bank manager financing those ideas, so the similarities are huge.

To my associates at Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines I try to be the cool dad that they can run to for anything. My door is always open to hear out their concerns, sometimes even for the smallest of things. The way I see it, the most important component of any relationship is trust - if you trust the person you work with, you will have a truly productive and enriching interaction. And to me trust is about doing what you say you are going to do and doing it well.

What is the most difficult part of being the head of a big company here in the Philippines and at the same time a father to two grown up kids?

The challenges of running a company and a household, to me are the same. The difference is in the size and scale of things. One of the most difficult part would have to be managing your own expectations. Things will not always fall into place and when these things happen you need to be able to keep a level head because the children/your associates will be looking to you for guidance and reassurance.

On top of this, one of the biggest challenges for me is managing the business in the Philippines and raising two kids in the UK at the same time. All that distance and time difference make it a bit difficult to stay in touch. But we did manage to work it out. Modern technology helped a lot, and, although this is a Father's Day article, I have to give enormous credit to my wife for being the real glue in keeping the family together.

How would you compare your role as a father to your kids and as a father of Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines?

I want to provide both with leadership that inspires; support that they can depend on; and a human being that will provide a balance of strong guidance and gentle counselling and the wisdom to know when to use each.

When your children were still young, what were the dreams you have for them then and what are your dreams for them today?

Before, all I wanted is for my kids to be happy and healthy; for them to grow up and reach their full potential. Now that I am also a bit wiser, in addition to my original dreams for them, I want my children to be able to do what they love and for them to make a positive impact on other people.

What are your future plans for your family and your plans for Mead Johnson Nutrition Philippines?

I am committed to giving my best to my kids, my family and likewise I want to see our business in the Philippines really take off and help Mead Johnson realize its vision of becoming the leading nutrition company for infants and children.

My son, William, is currently doing his internship here in the Philippines and is set to graduate from college in 2014. Hopefully he lands a job immediately and succeeds in business and in life. As for Charlotte, she is starting college this year and will graduate by 2016. She intends to take up social work, so I hope she will choose a field where she can have an impact that her large heart deserves. My wife and I, as we have always been, will be behind them all the way.

As for the company, my team and I stay focused on constant innovation and improvement in everything we do so that the Philippines can really be a driving force for Mead Johnson. Right now a number of our business processes are considered best practices by our global community and the senior leaders of the company have recognized the country as a source of highly competent talent for international posting. Our corporate social responsibility programs are in place and they continue to make a difference in the lives of children in need and their families.

Everything that I do as a father to my kids and to my employees is focused at helping us all get to a better place in the future.