Photos by Karl Angelo G. delos Santos
Words by Lucky Chan
Growing up along the seashores of a small fishing village called “Tabing Dagat” in Bacoor, Cavite, young Ed Chua must have played with sea shells and dreamt big of his future as he looked out to sea. Little did he know, that his destiny would be involve shells some day.
And for over 10 years now, Ed Chua has been at the helm Shell Philippines, one of the most respected organization in the country today. A look into the impressive portfolio of Shell in the Philippines gives you an idea how excellent this Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) 2013 Management Man of the Year awardee is doing his job as country chairman.
A Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering graduate of DLSU in 1978, Ed Chua is tasked with overseeing the entire Shell operations, helping the businesses look for opportunities to grow, ensuring a good reputation and developing talent.
Shell Philippines has grown to more than 4,200 employees, within Ed’s tenure as country chair. In addition, he also heads 3,000 employees in the largest BPO contingent of the company, in the world. Under his leadership, Shell has also become the only active operator and producer for upstream business, through Malampaya in Palawan (which supplies around 30 percent of the country’s fuel for power). Last, but certainly not least, Shell enjoys the reputation of being the most preferred fuel brand among consumers, based on a number of consumer studies by independent bodies.
Despite all these achievements, the man that steers the wheel for Shell Philippines has remained grounded – as grounded as on the first day of his journey to the company.
This journey to the Shell for Ed started in that small fishing village in Bacoor. Grade and High school was at St. Andrews High School in Parañaque where he excelled as a student. Cardinal Antonio Tagle was a classmate.
After high school, his plan was to take up medicine in U.P. “And \I applied in only two schools, UP for pre-med and La Salle” recalls Ed. “I was accepted by UP and I was very happy, because pre-med was a quota degree but then my father suffered a heart attack and he became bed-ridden and so, wala kaming breadwinner. I didn’t even know how I could (afford to) study”.
“Of course, UP had a lower tuition compared to La Salle pero malayo – Cavite to Quezon City. I had to consider the cost of transportation. And more importantly to me then was to start making money for my family. It would take ten years in medicine for that to happen. Four years in pre-med and another 5 years in proper. Then a few more years for internship and then the board exams. So, I said to myself, saan ako papasok, yung matatapos ka agad” ponder Ed then.
He also had to worry about how he was to finance his education. They were very poor, not even middle class. His grandfather was a sea salt vendor and a musikero in a band that marched the streets during the town fiesta, holy week and at the opera.
For Ed, the opportunity came by way of his relatives (aunts and uncles), who promised to fund his education at De La Salle. “Education is the great equalizer. It gives everyone a shot to a fairly brighter future,” says Ed.
“The La Salle education reinforced the values I learned from my family. I guess it reassured the consistency and then reinforced the values I learned from the CICM (Belgian) missionaries. So when I went to La Salle, parang walang culture shock. It was really reinforcing everything there. And of course it was a critical period for me then. Kasi pag teenager ka, you start to question a lot of things. If I ended up at UP, I would be a totally different person. Actually may pagka-aktibista ako kaya ayaw ng parents ko na mag UP ako, so kahit mahal ang tuition sa La Salle and they were worried that I would go underground. I graduated high school in 1973, Martial Law was just declared, so they were worried I would go become radical, aktibista ako nung 4th year high school. They were worried about the tipping point and so they said sa La Salle ka at pagtutulungan ka na lang naming” Ed recalls.
“So off I went to La Salle. I was initially thinking of taking Industrial Management Engineering, pero mayroon akong kinakapatid noon. He was 3 years ahead of me and he advised me to take up Mechanical Engineering or Chemical Engineering. I was inclined to take up mechanical engineering pero mahihirapan yata ako sa drawing. This kinakapatid told me to take up Chen kasi mas kaunti ang kumukuha ng Chen at mas mahirap. So I was challenged. Hindi ako mahilig sa chemistry! sabi ko, pero sabi niya “Hindi!! Kunin mo yan!”
“So I took Chemical engineering and he actually helped me a lot. And many of the books I used were hand me downs of the books he used and that helped me also. So that’s how I ended up taking Chemical engineering” Ed fondly remembers with a smile on his boyish looking face.
He adds, “at that time the first two years were general subjects. You don’t really have to make a decision yet on what major to take, recalls Ed. Hans Sy of SM, Nestor Tan of BDO and Ernie Mascenon of Nestle, were his batchmates. Lahat Calculus 1 and Differential calculus, Integrated Calculus. Pare-pareho lahat kaya in the first two years lahat kilala mo. And in those first two years, the total student population of the Engineering class was still a lot. And as the months passed, pa-liit ng paliit. In fact our graduating class was less than 20. The norm was a class of about 12 to 15 graduates per batch”
Ed vividly recalls that “to get to school from Cavite mag-bu-bus ako. Minsan punta akong Binakayan para mag Saulog. Kasi hindi dumadaan sa kalye naming. Aguinaldo Highway palaging dinadaanan namin. So then bababa ako sa La Salle na — if I am lucky. Or minsan pupunta ako sa Zapote, minsan tatlong sakay. Bacoor to Zapote, Zapote to Baclaran and Baclaran to Taft. So sinabi ko sa sarili ko,”Ang hirap hirap na pasabit sabit ako. Traffic was as bad, during those times in 1978. Of course wala pang LRT noon”.
After college, Ed’s first step in his journey to Shell, took him to Procter and Gamble and “I was processed and given an offer in just one day and I was so flattered. I was like ‘Oh one day tapos lahat ng interview and then an offer was made within the day’. Ok naman yung sweldo so yeah I said I’ll work!
And for the next 2 weeks, Ed worked as a van salesman of DariCreme (a brand of margarine of P&G then). But after 2 weeks, I said to myself “ Ganito lang ba ito?” as Ed tried to rationalize his career path.
A couple of days later, Ed resigns from Procter & Gamble and in no time at all, transfers to Unilever as a technical management trainee where he dabbled into shampoos and soaps for 11 months. He thought that this would be a chance for him to apply what he learned as a chemical engineering student in a plant setting. However, Unilever then had a German expat who came up with a recommendation which was adopted that if you are working in the plant, it was imperative that everyone, including the managers should be involved in the shift schedule. Ed then tried to figure it out. Since only the more senior ranked officials are exempted from the shifting schedule, it will take him 10 years to get out of the shifting duties. He was prepared to do shifts for 4-5 years or so, but 10 years might be just too much. The option given to him to move out of the plant was to move into research and development or technical services.
Just as he was thinking of his next move, the offer from Shell came about. It was again a job as a salesman but with a car plan! “So sabi ko hindi na ako sasabit sa bus! The salary was lower than the salary in Unilever. I guess people will laugh when they hear this. My salary at Unilever then was P1,650 a month. Shell was offering me P850 which will eventually increase to P1,100 plus a car and the car plan, they also gave me P730 to amortize the brand new car which was worth P40,000 then. So anyway, what attracted me really were two things. First I really didn’t have to do shifts, and secondly, there was a car, and honestly I think it was the car that clinched the deal. And when I computed, the salary plus the car… P1,800 — pwede na.” Ed beams as he recalls this incident.
But upon joining Shell as a sales representative, he knew that he had made the right choice. It was a position he held for five years, until the company challenged him by assigning him to the finance department. Later, he made the rounds in audits, trading, operations and others.
“I thought I’d stay for a few years, but I really enjoyed what I was doing. I enjoyed the work, the company, the people I was working with. Many multinationals tried to pirate me, but in the end, I always decided to stay”Ed Chua of Pilipinas Shell
He further adds, “This is my 3rd job. I’ve stayed in the company for 36 years. I joined Shell in 1979 – 36 years already so effectively, a lifer. I’ve been here for almost a lifetime. But I never expected that and people say or ask me ‘Why did you stay in Shell for so long?’ I never really realized that I’ve been in the company long enough. There were many times I would receive a job offer. I think I was in the job for 5 years and I got an offer, double the salary from a German company. But then I thought about it and in the end, I had no regrets. Sabi ko nga if I had joined that company, I would not have met my wife Veronica, because I met my wife after I turned down that offer. “Back then, she was engaged in supply trading with another petroleum firm,” he recalls fondly. “There’s a lot of cooperation that goes on between supply traders. Outside, we’re competition, but we also work hard together to ensure the overall quality of petroleum supply and strengthen our industry” stressed Ed. They have been married for over 25 years and after 10 years at Caltex, she resigned when I was posted overseas.
Meanwhile at Shell, Ed perfected his brand of management within his decades with the company. This country chair is known for giving his people a lot of space and encouraging them not to be afraid of committing mistakes. “I believe in getting the best people, training them, motivating them, and then making sure that they are allowed to make their own decisions. What’s the point of getting these experts if you’re bent on simply dictating upon them? I’m a light touch, in terms of that division, I think,” he says with a boyish smile.
And almost 35 years later, the journey at Shell still continues. But to this day, Ed brings his kids to the old house near the shore for them to see for themselves the culture and to immerse themselves in the neighborhood that he grew up in. Ed laments, “many of the people there are my friends and many of them have not really improved in life. They were not able to study and if at all, not in a good school. So I think La Salle also enabled me to be exposed to different levels of society and that way you also gain confidence.“
“When I entered college, I was initially intimidated by my rich classmates, however, that did not last long. In the end, you are all classmates and batchmates and later on they become your important network, which is important for your business. This is probably one of the many advantages of a Lasallian education. For me, it’s the values, the network and the confidence that was instilled in me by the Lasallian brothers.”
Mr. Edgar Ocava Chua serves as Managing Director of Shell Exploration B.V. Mr. Chua serves as President of the Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc. He joined the Shell companies in the Philippines in 1979. Mr. Chua has had many years of experience in the business fields of chemicals, auditing, supply planning and trading, marketing and sales, lubricants, corporate affairs and general management. He held senior positions outside the Philippines as Transport Analyst in Group Planning in the UK and as General Manager of the Shell Company of Cambodia. He also held various positions in Shell Oil Products East including GM for Consumer Lubricants covering all countries East of the Suez Canal, including Saudi Arabia, China, India, Korea, ASEAN, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Mr. Chua serves as Chairman of the Philippine Business for the Environment and Chairman of the Philippine Institute of Petroleum, Inc. He has been an Independent Director of Energy Development Corporation since July 2010. Mr. Chua is also the Country Chairman of the Shell Companies in the Philippines, Guam, Palau and Saipan. Mr. Chua earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from De La Salle University and attended various international seminars and courses including the senior management course in INSEAD in Fountainbleau, France.
This story originally published in 2016.