From banker to CEO
Raymundo Martin Escalona President, Udenna Corporation
“We at Udenna are willing and committed to be partners in nation building. We will be partners with the new government, continuing to serve Filipinos.”
He was an investment banker for 35 years, and then politics intervened. No, Raymundo Martin Escalona did not stand in the public elections; he led the 2016 presidential campaign for Senator Mary Grace Poe.
“After discussing the issue with my family and friends in the banking community, I decided to take a sabbatical from CTBC (China Trust Commercial Bank), my employer at the time, to help with the presidential candidacy of Senator Grace Poe in 2016, with plans to return to the bank in June of that year.”
Fate, however, had other plans. A friend, Davao tycoon Dennis Uy, always found time to meet him for lunch or even coffee, which led Escalona to quit banking.
“We continued the tradition [of meeting up] despite my absence from the bank,” Escalona said. “On one such occasion, shortly after the 2016 election, when I was about to join the bank, Dennis and I discussed the possibility of me stepping down from the bank and exploring what we can do. TO DO. together, instead.”
Their professional relationship began when CTBC granted Uy working capital for the latter’s Phoenix Petroleum.
“This relationship has grown over time, also extending to other subsidiaries such as Chelsea Shipping, for example,” Escalona said. “Over the years, our relationship also grew into a personal friendship. I gave him financial advice from time to time. I’ve known Dennis for almost 14 years now.”
Escalona is currently president of Uy’s Udenna Corp. and he admits the job is not without its challenges. “It’s always been [about] securing capital and resources to fund investments,” he said. “Also…keep all of our stakeholders confident in our ability to deliver on our commitments and promises.” Of course, to keep the spirits of the thousands of employees whose families depend on us for their future.”
The Apprenticeship Years
Escalona was born and raised in Quezon City. He completed his college education at De La Salle-Taft University.
“I like to think my childhood was normal, although a bit more serious than the other kids I grew up with, considering my mom was from a college background,” he said. “The focus was on academic performance and my ability to get playtime was largely dependent on my quiz and exam results.”
Small family Christmas party. (Left to right) Miggy, son; Martin; wife, Aggie; daughter, Missy; granddaughter, Lucia; and his son-in-law, Luke.
Raymundo Martin Escalona satisfies his need for speed.
Watching the Northern Lights with his wife, Aggie.
“But between studying and playing time, my dad exposed me at an early stage and made sure I got my hands dirty with work. All in all, though, I had a wonderful time at growing up. I had the opportunity to get seriously involved with sports like basketball, football, competitive shooting, fat biking, go-karting and motocross. My fondest childhood memory is growing up, without any particular one-time event,” he added.
Escalona also enjoyed cooking and baking, which remain passions to this day.
His businessman-father was from Tarlac while his mother was a college professor in Bohol. Her father died eight years ago. He has three other siblings.
“The youngest of us resides in Toronto, Canada, and works for George Brown University as a senior executive. My brother and another sister have their own business,” Escalona said. “My wife runs our small family business, the trade and a few 7-11 franchises. We have two adult children. Our oldest daughter teaches preschool and has two children. My son has a small construction business.”
“I was a banker for most of my professional career and my most respected mentor was a former Deutsche Bank boss,” he continued. “Given my age and my number of years as a professional, my mentors right now are our employees. I don’t have a monopoly on knowledge and I continue to learn from our people.”
Prior to his leadership role at Udenna, Escalona worked in different environments which ultimately prepared him for his toughest job yet.
“I’ve been blessed with a variety of experience in treasury, institutional banking and corporate finance,” he said. “I like to think that over the years I’ve been able to establish my integrity and my credibility.”
Like many other businesses, Udenna was hit when Covid-19 emerged. “In these uncertain times, we all took stock of what we needed to do and what we needed to prioritize,” Escalona said. “We proposed three essential elements: people, innovation and the fulfillment of our social responsibility.”
“We needed to make sure that our people were safe and that they would find jobs, whatever the cost. It was a struggle, especially for the shipping and logistics business, as well as our investments in games and tourism. Yet we are proud to say that we are on the right track to recover,” he said.
“We have also invested specifically in service innovations and other programs focused on embracing a highly digitized future. We launched the telco, DITO, during a pandemic amid the lockdown. a year, it now has 11 million subscribers,” Escalona continued. .
“Finally, we have focused on helping when and where we can. At the height of the pandemic, we have maximized synergies between our business units to enable us to help our compatriots.”
Uy, Escalona said, was determined to partner with government and private companies to get help where it was needed most.
“Dennis has always believed that if we continue to do good, if we continue to invest in Filipinos, in industries that benefit the Filipino people in general – that directly impact all of our lives, businesses that create wealth to share, we will always win.”
Udenna’s strategy for success, he said, boils down to “the five Hs – hungry, hardworking, honest, humble and holy. Having a firm grip on these guarantees our success.”
Asked about the outlook two years after the start of a pandemic and in the new political landscape, Escalona said: “We have always taken the position that we are cautiously optimistic. We have seen, felt and experienced signs of recovery accelerated in most of our activities and we do not want to drive over it to ensure the safety and future of Udenna.”
“The group has faced challenges and continues to do so. We have overcome them before and we are confident that we will face the future stronger than ever. We at Udenna are willing and committed to be partners in the nation-building. We will be partners in the new government, continuing to serve Filipinos.”
“Investing in the Philippines will always be profitable, if we as a Filipino company continue with this belief, this commitment, then we are more than positive for the next 20 years,” he also said, explaining that this includes the people who form the Udenna group.
The main lesson Udenna learned from the pandemic, he said, was to keep his people safe.
“The second lesson is that businesses should always be agile. We all need to embrace technology, but technology rooted in improving, not just productivity, efficiency and profits. Learn more about the ability to provide continued quality service to customers even in times of crisis,” he added.
“Third, there are always enough resources to help and care for the communities where your businesses are located. You may not be able to help the whole country, but at the very least, be a part of it, contribute, you may be able to to be help. Help is help.”