Robinsons Land CEO Frederick Go: “Always be conscious that you are not building an organization that will become more bureaucratic.”
(Kai was a lifestyle and entertainment journalist and fashion stylist for 15 years; she transitioned to corporate retail in 2015. She is head of marketing for a makeup brand, single parent to a Gen Z, and an animal rescue and adoption advocate.)
Ask anyone from the real estate, hotel, and business sectors about Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC) CEO Frederick D. Go and it’s easy to come across high praises for the man. While it will be hard for you to search him on social media, it’s easy to find posted photos with him, often in a business or social event, always smiling.
He’s described by his peers and employees as “a visionary, brilliant and sensible,” “tough but a people person.”
And when we interviewed him for this story, it was easy to see why: he came on time, ready to answer our questions. He was thoughtful and sincere with every answer, mindful and conscious. He even helped our photographer fix the blinds so that we could take pictures of him after the interview, and obliged to our requests of pahabol photos.
Frederick D. Go will not call himself a “servant leader” or a “management guru,” but for a guy who’s been on the job for 28 years, it’s easy to see why words are not necessary to give him merit. Just look around Ortigas CBD and you’ll see that — deliberate or not — it’s Robinsons Land country.
THE “OG” STARTUP GUY & HIS THREE PRINCIPLES
Frederick D. Go (or FDG, as he is fondly called) joined RLC in 1992 when it was a new company, after graduating from Ateneo de Manila where he also served as editor and business reporter for The Guidon.
“It gave me the opportunity to chart my own career, so to speak, because it was new. I could build new things,” he says. “I could be — what’s the cliché? — the captain of my own destiny. I could build something from scratch. Those are the kinds of things that excite me.”
Even then, FDG had a natural knack for business development. Starting new things or new businesses excited him, making him an “original startup” guy back when the company was a startup as we would call it today.
Twenty-eight years to date, FDG is first to admit that the world is changing.
“There are a lot of new buzzwords. I think technology is the biggest change from then to today,” he says thoughtfully. But for all these changes, FDG shares three principles or buzzwords that guided him then and continue to guide him now.
“Customer obsession, finding pain points, and making life easier for people,” he says. “It’s not the secret to my success; just the three things I think are very important in an organization to keep it going. I always think that being a non-bureaucratic, non-red tape, flexible organization also matters a lot. I think it was true then and it’s even more true now that the organization is very big.”
FDG currently presides over 5,000 people, and the company is still growing.
THE LIGHTHOUSE PROJECTS
FDG is credited for The Lighthouse Projects, digital initiatives rolled out in RLC’s different companies meant to make marketing and selling easier for internal stakeholders, and also to make shopping, buying and other experiences smoother and more memorable for customers.
Enter a Robinsons mall and you’ll see a digital screen that will help identify your exact location and help you find the establishment you are looking for. Or if you’re an overseas Filipino worker looking to buy property in the Philippines, their websites are ready to give you the “tripping” experience online — without the hassle — with a system also meant to make the process easier for their agents.
“I cannot take (sole) credit for that. The principles I shared with you helped us come up with them,” FDG is quick to say. “We were looking for pain points. We were trying to see how to improve the customer experience and digital is supposed to be the way to make things easier.”
FDG is always on the lookout against bureaucracy and is in constant communication about it with his people.
“It’s our job to make life easier both for the customer and our own team,” he says. “When I talk to the staff (we call it “Pizza with FDG”), I only have one question for each of them: How can I make life easier for you? I restrict them to only one answer. I force them to think of the most important thing that matters to them.”
The digitalization he has implemented answers all three of his management principles: how to enhance customer experience, how to release pain points, and how to make life easier for the customer and his own people.
“I give a lot of credit to the digitalization team and the consultants we engaged. I think they were very helpful in coming up with these projects. They deserve most of the credit,” he says.
“My only job was to say, ‘Okay,’” he adds with a laugh.
CHANGING FROM WITHIN
FDG manages people from four generations of workforce: Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, Millennials and the new Gen Z. But according to him, transitioning from old school to new ways of working was not difficult.
“I have a very good human resource team whom I think is quite responsive to the ever-changing needs of the workforce. They have their pulse on the people,” he says.
It helps, of course, that his nature is to try new things. “I’m always exposed to what the young people do. I have teenage children and lots of friends that span all ages,” he says. “I’m quite familiar with what makes the different generations tick.”
How does he do it? “You just have to be aware of who you’re talking to; the market or the crowd you’re addressing, and try to adjust to them as much as you can,” he says. “Everybody responds to different stimuli. To be effective with people, you have to know what they want. It’s very clear that every person has different needs or levels of want for certain things.”
He continues, “Even within the same generation, no two people are alike. You just have to be conscious of that or I guess be more in tune. Be more aware of what people want. Then you can be more effective with them.”
ART, BADMINTON, AND THE BEACH
“I don’t have work-life balance. I’m 99 percent work!” FDG laughingly says, to which he is quick to add that while it was true during his younger years as a CEO, he now consciously makes more and more time for his family and self.
“For me, it’s a bit difficult,” he admits. “That’s what matters, that I’m aware of the imbalance.”
In RLC, FDG is known to be an influencer when it comes to art and sports. “I’m trying to bring more and more art into our projects, into our developments,” he says. “We’re engaging art consultants, we’re holding art exhibits, we’re holding art competitions to help encourage the young artists. We give them an avenue to display their work.”
From the contests, young artists’ works are displayed in RLC hotels, office buildings, condominiums and other properties. “I think it’s a great way to display their work and to help them become more popular,” says FDG.
Sports also gives him inspiration. “It’s a great way to de-stress,” he says excitedly, sitting more upright. “When you’re at that moment of either watching a game or playing a game, you forget about everything. The only thing you focus on is that next point. And it’s a great way to free up your mind from what occupies it 90 percent of the time, which is the office.”
FDG enjoys badminton and confesses to have converted so many people in the RLC organization into badminton players. “There are so many middle-aged men and women in our office who now play badminton because I do,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a way for me to encourage people in our office to have physical exercise.”
Badminton is also a practical choice of sport for the busy bee. “I like badminton because it’s so easy. In basketball, you need a team of 10. In badminton, you just need two people or one other person or three people and you can already play the game,” FDG says.
“You need five hours to play golf; two hours to play basketball. With badminton, you can play as little as three minutes and you’re already breaking a sweat. I think it’s a great way to exercise and to de-stress.”
TIP FOR TODAY’S YOUNG CEOS
What’s his advice to young CEOs of today who handle startups? While he admits he’s “no guru,” FDG goes back to his core principles.
“Always be conscious that you are not building an organization that will become more bureaucratic,” he says quietly. “That’s one of the biggest things that will slow you down in the future, that will make you not be able to respond to customers, that will make the organization have so many rules that will actually make life difficult for your own people and customers.”