UnionBank Chairman and CEO receives honorary degree from UST

Banking and Financial Services

UnionBank Chairman and CEO receives honorary degree from UST

UnionBank Chairman and CEO Justo A. Ortiz has become the newest member of the Claustro de Profesores of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) as he was conferred with a Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa degree. The honor was granted unto Ortiz by the esteemed educational institution in recognition of his extraordinary achievements in the fields of nation building, education, values formation, and youth development.

The degree is granted to individuals who have made major contributions to the academic community. Among its past recipients are former President Manuel Roxas, former President Corazon Aquino, General Douglas McArthur, and Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin.

UST Prefect of Libraries Fr. Angel A. Aparicio recommended for the degree to be conferred to Ortiz given his efforts in enabling the University to preserve the Filipino heritage housed in its Miguel de Benavides

Heritage Library. The Lumina Pandit: Continuum project has resulted in the production of several catalogues of the library’s rare book collection, a book carrying the project’s name that features the highlights of the library’s collection, and ultimately the preservation, restoration, and digitization of over 30,000 books containing the history of not only the Philippines but also the world.

Ortiz, in his acceptance speech, emphasized that the honor is not his alone: “My personal motto is Labor Omnia Vincit: Work Conquers All”. I do realize, however, that I am not my work, instead, who I am is the sum of the people I have learned to love and who share my life with me–my friends, my spouse, my family, my communities I serve,” he said.

He also shared his focus on sustainable development and more importantly, inclusion–an advocacy that is deeply intertwined with UnionBank’s purpose of elevating lives and fulfilling dreams.

The solemn investiture was held at the Medicine Auditorium of the University last December 11, 2015. The ceremony was presided over by UST Board of Regents Secretary-General Fr. Winston Cabading, OP.

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“I urge you all to go forth, touch a heart, inspire a soul, make a difference, enable communities, and bring humanity back to capitalism. This is the right path. This is our self-interest”


Acceptance Speech by UnionBank Chairman and CEO Justo A. Ortiz

Upon receiving his Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa degree from the University of Santo Tomas

February 11, 2016

In God’s grace and with an abundance of humility, I accept this degree, Doctor of Humanities, Honoris Causa, conferred upon me by the Royal and Pontifical University of Santo Tomas. This is such a distinct honor, and finally, I am now a Thomasian and proud to be one!

My personal motto is “Labor Omnia Vincit, Work Conquers All”. I do realize, however, that I am not my work, instead, who I am is the sum of the people I have learned to love and who share my life with me – my friends, my spouse, my family, my communities I serve. As such, I would like to share this honor with a few such people who make me seem better than I really am. To Maria Goolsby, thank you for believing in me and having the temerity to make this nomination; to Rev. Fr. Aparicio and his team at the Miguel de Benavides Library, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve; to my parents, Maria Antonia and Justo, thank you for giving me the right Christian values by your example; to my siblings, Teresa and Ines, thank you for covering my back and chairing the fan’s club; to my children, Katarina and Antonio, thank you for swelling my chest with pride; to my UnionBank family, thank you for allowing me to climb onto your collective shoulders so that I can stand tall; to my dearest wife, Rina without whom my light would not shine as bright, thank you for giving purpose and meaning to my life; and, finally, to my friends, relatives and the UST community here present, thank you all for giving me your wholehearted support.  Today is a great day!

The topic du jour among leaders in global conversations, aside from geopolitics, is about sustainable development and inclusion. Of the two, inclusion interests me most because it presents, if achieved, a real opportunity for shared prosperity by not only growing the economic pie but more importantly, by actively engaging in the spreading of economic benefits amongst all. As it is today, with income growth among the economies of the world, the higher GDP per capita has lifted the proportion of people able to meet their basic needs, but at the same time, the proportion of people with far more than they need is unprecedented. However, data-based research by Richard Wilkinson, a social epidemiologist, shows that among the richest countries — he studied 23 — it is the most unequal ones that do worse according to almost every quality of life indicator. He argues that inequality causes deterioration in social relations, health, and human capital — not only for the poor but for society at large, which includes the rich — because unequal societies are more socially competitive to live in. This results in what Wilkinson calls “social evaluative anxiety and stress” which, in turn, impacts health and well-being as it threatens self-esteem, social status, and creates a fear of negative judgments. Rich unequal societies have more violence, more obesity, lower levels of child health, higher teenage birth rates, lower life expectancy, more mental illness, lower levels of trust, more people in prison. Community life is weaker.

Most leaders attribute the inequality to deregulation, globalization, technology and its impact on jobs, ironically, the same competitive frameworks our capitalistic philosophy embraces as the engine for growing the economic pie. In part, this may be true, but all countries in the world are subject to these same forces, and yet, those countries with higher Gini coefficients have more social and quality of life problems than those with lower, even in cases where they are richer on a GDP per capita basis. Simply, above a certain income threshold, less rich but more equal produces better social outcomes than richer but less equal. So most global leaders agree, that tackling this problem of inequality is a common endeavor we need to take on with some urgency and determination so that no one is left behind and all of us are better of.

As such, thought leadership and government approaches of investment in health and education, progressive taxation, financial inclusion, better social safety nets and distribution of welfare benefits, and other such interventions that seek to democratize opportunity are all welcome and promising. But this is hardly enough because, for the most part, governments legislate, regulate, go into command and control mode which, in turn, can be insensitive to people; and, besides, we all know that it is not the government officials teaching our kids, modeling our values. Most social cultural political groundswell, such as non-discrimination as to race, gender or religion, or social media and mobile communications, or even the internet do not gain traction with a few government ministers getting together and mandating it. I believe that if shared prosperity is our purpose then it has to emanate from each of us spontaneously as a movement from the accumulation of creative interactions amongst us with shared values, feeding off each other in an iterative process until these values, these behaviors are integrated into the fabric of our culture, our ethos. We are the change, and the change starts from inside each one of us.

I would like, therefore, to explore a complementary path to government, that of strengthening our sense of community and spreading the understanding and belief that our own self-interest, which is what drives us all, is better served if our community is vibrant and healthy. Interestingly, Herbert A. Simon, Nobel laureate, estimated that social capital is responsible for at least 90% of what people earn in wealthy societies. As Warren Buffett put it in his witty folksy manner, “If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru, you’ll find out how little this talent of mine is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil”.

And so I am reminded of this story which has inspired me since I first heard it, and never tire of repeating. A western socio-anthropologist was in Zululand conducting an experiment. A basket of goodies was placed at the base of a far-away tree, and a bunch of village kids was gathered and asked to race toward the tree. The first one to get to the tree would keep the goodies. One, Two, Three, Go! What the kids did was a surprise. They all held hands and run together in one horizontal line toward the tree, got there at the same time, and shared the goodies with each other. The socio-anthropologist asked why? The kids answered that there was more than enough goodies for all, and if only one got it, that one kid would be so unhappy overridden with guilt enjoying the goodies alone, while everyone else just watched with sadness and longing. After all, they said, we all belong to the same village. This is a story of Ubuntu, which means a person is only a person in relation to others, a person only if he/she belongs. It is a very fundamental value from a primitive society, which we should embrace if we are to generate the social capital so fundamental to sustainable economic progress and well-being, and dare I say, to discovering purpose and meaning of life anchored on universal human connection the hunger for which is so manifest in today’s frenzy on social networks.

We need not look too far to Africa for inspiration. Right here in the University of Santo Tomas – Miguel de Benavides Library, we have a documented repository of 400 years of our history as a people. In these archives we will find the kind of stories that make up our ethos: stories of pakikisama, of Bayanihan, of utang na loob, of pakikipagkapwa, stories that together make up our pagkataong Filipino. It is in our nature as Filipinos to be kind, compassionate, to share and to care. We build strong communities. We are the caregivers to the world. We just need to remember who we are by constantly reconnecting to these values as we integrate with the modern diverse world so that we can be the best of who we can be and extend our reach beyond our family or village to the nation and to all of the humanity. The world is a better place because of us Filipinos.

How do we stay connected to Ubuntu, to Pakikipagkapwa? I suggest we need to overcome conditioning by firmly rooting our behavior on universal values.

Let me start by describing an experiment conducted by Robert Frank, an economist. At the beginning of the semester, students from each an economic and astronomy class were asked whether they would return a found envelope with USD100? Most said yes. At the end of the semester, the same question was asked. Majority of students in the economics course shifted away from returning the envelope while the majority of students who took astronomy would return the envelope as in the beginning of the semester. He concluded that the economics students were taught that, in economic theory, given complete information the best social outcomes would result if humans acted rationally in their self-interest and, as such, these students were conditioned to behave accordingly because they wanted to belong and live up to the norm.

Our conditioning all starts with the father of modern economics, Adam Smith, who in his 1776 masterwork, The Wealth of Nations, wrote this passage: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own interest”. This seeded the “invisible hand” metaphor, which as the philosophical foundation of capitalism and market fundamentalism proposes that socially beneficial outcomes result from the self-interested actions of individuals. While we appreciate the value of the market to allocate scarce resources, to increase efficiency and productivity, to advance our standard of living, and to encourage innovation and progress, it is now being argued that the market claims too much space in our lives, too much significance. And if the market defines what gets our attention, it ends up driving our everyday behavior and interactions with one another, acquiring omniscience usually reserved only for the divine. Yet, the 2008 Great Recession shows us that the markets and self-interest as the primary instruments for achieving the common good are in doubt. “The Maestro”, Alan Greenspan, a rabid defender of Darwinian capitalism humbly admitted to the US Congress that the market does not have all the answers and that the endless pursuit of self-interest, the “invisible hand”, is not a holistic approach to human progress and prosperity.

There is no doubt that a market economy is still the best economic system, but let us not grant it omniscience, otherwise the “invisible hand” becomes about beating and besting others, and survival comes only by embracing social Darwinism. Instead, let us give balanced cognisance to ecological, social and ethical issues in the context of generations still to come. We need to believe that the common good is our own good and that the best thing for all of us is what is just for the least of us. As the American cartoonist, Tom Wilson wrote: “Many of us are more capable than some of us, but none of us is as capable as all of us”. A strong sense of community, of Ubuntu, I believe, is essential to sustainable human progress. After all, for reasons unknown, it has been forgotten that 17 years before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith in 1759 wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments in which he said, “To feel much for others and little for ourselves that is the perfection of human nature”.  And so, over time, we must have confused self-interest with selfishness and greed, and we have exchanged values with price. But Adam Smith, in fact, knew all along that we would serve our self-interest best by building our community.

In the end, we must understand that we all need a higher purpose as individuals and as a society. As Antoine de St. Exupery said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t gather people together to collect wood and assign them tasks and work, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea”. Or take inspiration from the janitor in Cape Canaveral who when asked by President Kennedy, “What do you do?” answered, “I am helping put a man on the moon”.

In 2002, Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist won the Nobel Economic prize and behavioral economics entered our belief system. It turns out that the best social outcomes, human progress and development is not only about utility and rationality, but also about value and emotion. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and his Theory of Moral Sentiments are reunited as one.

I am thus cautiously optimistic that capitalism will self-correct inequality, possibly, in its creation of a shared economy which could democratise economic opportunity as it disrupts economies of scale attained through vertical integration in a corporate structure as we are organised today, and substitute it with horizontal networks, the examples of which are Uber — the largest taxi service with no fleet, Facebook — the largest media company with no content, AirBnb — the largest accommodations company with no real estate, or Alibaba — the largest retail company with no inventory. With economic activity organized horizontally rather than vertically across interoperable networks, a new age is dawning where opportunities will be open to more micro units of people or individuals outside a corporate structure. But that is a whole other topic for another day. In the meantime, I encourage all to teach young people by example and model our behavior on the truth that connection and community are the paths to human progress and well-being, that if we hold justness at par with profit we gain back what is most valuable: our humanity. And so, I urge you all to go forth, touch a heart, inspire a soul, make a difference, enable communities, and bring humanity back into capitalism. This is the right path. This is our self-interest.

So let me end with one more story, this time about that famous scene from Act II of the play, A Man for All Seasons. Thomas More refused to swear to the Oath of Succession and repudiate the authority of the Pope, so he was thrown in jail by Henry VIII. His daughter, Margaret, urged him to save himself: “Say the words of the Oath and just think otherwise!”. More refuses. In disbelief, Margaret cries out: “But in reason, haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?” Thomas More responds: “Well, finally, it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it is a matter of love”.

It is said that a perfect day is one where you go to sleep with a dream and wake up with a purpose. May you all have a perfect day. Thank you and may God bless us all.