Words by Lucky Chan
Photos by Karl Angelo G. delos Santos
Going through life, a lot of obstacles will attempt to hinder and stall most would-be dreamers as they struggle to achieve their ambitions and goals. Some falter and surrender under the pressure and some divert their paths entirely. However, there are those whose tenacity and resilience can overcome any barrier, turning obstacles into opportunities, in the process transforming them into progressives and innovators; people who have overcome the odds and have made a difference in the world. Sure, their paths weren’t always straight and narrow – a detour here, a roadblock there – but, in the end, their passion and strength of will have pushed them past any challenge and have turned them into the success they are today.
One such Lasallian pioneer is Gene Cariño, the founder and CEO of United Defense Manufacturing Corp. (UDMC) and, with the exception of China and South Korea, the only company in Asia-Pacific that can manufacture complete assemblies of assault rifles in the M4 (5.56 NATO) platform. UDMC also manufactures the bigger caliber rifle, the M110 (7.62 NATO) and as of date, not even China is able to produce such type of battle rifle.
With green blood running deep through his veins, Gene Cariño has been a true La Sallite through and through. He started in La Salle Taft in 1960 for his preparatory and grade school years, then moved on to La Salle Green Hills for his high school. After graduating at La Salle Green Hills in 1971, he returned to Taft and took up Industrial Engineering which did not result in a diploma in order to pursue a rather unconventional career path that would later make him into the success he is today.
Not one to be held back, Gene went into several fields and industries that provided their own unique challenges and victories. He started working at the age of 20 with a chemicals company in Pasig, the Chemical Industries of the Philippines, Inc. (Chemphil Group), and immediately moved up the ladder with his first managerial job at the age of 24 to become Personnel Manager of 3 subsidiary companies of the Chemphil Group. Here he had to deal with three separate labor unions and negotiated, and signed, a cumulative of six Collective Bargaining Agreements during his time. After which, he had worked in business development consulting for John Clements Consultants, Inc. where he was stationed in Jakarta for a year. Then started what could be one of the most memorable job experiences he has had in his life.
Moving on from consulting work in Jakarta, he found himself working as a Business Development Manager for the Zuellig Group in their pharmaceutical toll manufacturing company, Interphil Laboratories, Inc. After staying there for about five years, and getting involved in production planning as well, he was later pirated by the First Pacific Group and was assigned to Metro Drug Corp. as Director of Distribution Services, where he met and interacted with the distinguished former Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Albert del Rosario, whom he would, later on, get to cross paths and consult with at several points in his career, prior to joining a British company in 1996 and during the start-up of United Defense while Sec. del Rosario was the Philippine Ambassador to the United States.
Not want to let go, after just a year, the Zuellig Group decided to get Gene back and appointed him Assistant to the President which exposed him well in controlling the multi-billion inventory of pharmaceutical stocks of Zullig Pharma nationwide by controlling stock transfers from principals and stocking levels by introducing the concept of A-B-C inventory management system which saved millions of pesos for Zuellig Pharma in terms of inventory carrying costs and near-expiring stocks. Later, Zuellig Pharma sent him to Vietnam based in Ho Chi Minh to start their subsidiary of Zuellig Pharma Distribution there. It wasn’t an easy task, seeing as this was a new market set in a country that had a different culture and language. But Gene was not deterred by the challenges set before him as his excitement only grew when presented with the opportunity to build something from the ground up, on his own.
“I enjoy greenfield businesses!” Gene had exclaimed as he recalled his time in Vietnam.
After turning over Zuellig Pharma Vietnam to his successor, he came back to the Philippines in 1994, to be appointed as the General Manager of Centramed S.A., the marketing and promotion arm of Zuellig for all in-house principals from Europe. He was in this post for the next couple of years, until he was endorsed by Sec. Albert del Rosario to a headhunter and hired by Jardine Davies Inc. to be their General Manager for Logistics, and later, to be their General Manager for United Terminals Services Inc.; a company which he and fellow Lasallian Nick Linao later bought from Jardines in the year 2000 under a “Management Buy-Out” scheme.
From then on, he shifted gears as he started to try his hand in third-party logistics services as he grew his company by leaps and bounds. He catered to blue-chip companies such as Toyota Motor Philippines Inc., San Miguel Corp., Del Monte Philippines Inc., Universal Robina Corp., and others in warehousing and distribution services, then later in manufacturing logistics services for Asahi Glass Philippines Inc. However, Gene predicted then that the logistics services business model was only a transition into the integration of a global supply chain where multinational competitors would soon invade the Philippines. Since local companies would not last the global competition in a price war, he estimated that his company would have a shelf life of roughly only 10 milking years. As such, he set his sights on something bigger; something no one else has done before.
“Let’s prepare for the future.” Gene had said, “Let’s do something more difficult than what we’re doing now. We have barriers worth entering where others cannot easily follow and compete with us.”
With that in mind, he had incorporated an arms manufacturing company in 2006 which would later become United Defense Manufacturing Corp. or “UDMC”. His business model was to pierce the hard shell of the Philippine military and national police where the procurement of arms is dominated by the likes of Colt, Remington, SIG Arms, and other Israeli brands. He knew then that the defense industry will be several times more difficult to grow (than TPL services) but he set sail nonetheless as he knew that pistol manufacturing in the Philippines is crowded and pistol makers will have difficulty expanding into assault rifles as he assumed back in 2006. But the road to success was long and bumpy because assault rifles manufacturing, owing to the import and export restrictions for both raw materials and finished products, is closely monitored and regulated by the Philippine government in particular and the United Nations in general. The colonial mentality which is averse to buying local products added to the many obstacles. But Gene thought that the more difficult it is, the fewer competitors there will be. UDMC was in limbo for the next 3 years while Gene winds down his two logistics companies, United Terminals Services, Inc. and UTS Logistics and Distribution Corp. in order to focus on the arms industry.
As the TPL services industry in the Philippines started to wane around 2009 to 2010, Gene became more serious in growing his firearms company; starting with a co-development project for a gas-piston assault rifle with the Philippine Navy SEALs (NAVSOCOM). From here, he set out his company to undertake further R&D aimed at improving the design of conventional firearms which yielded him much fruit when they had developed an improved model of the M16 which they called the PVAR System which stands for the “Pneumatic Valve And Rod” system and was granted 3 Philippine patents for the design. Seeing the huge potential in the arms industry, Gene got more financially invested in UDMC where he now spends almost all of his working time making UDMC the only company in the entire Asia-Pacific region (except for China and South Korea) to gain the capability of producing M4 and M16 rifles, both in the conventional “direct gas impingement system” (DGIS) and the PVAR gas-piston design. Now, UDMC is also producing the bigger caliber M110 battle rifle in caliber 7.62 NATO.
When confronted with the questions of why not produce pistols and ammunition, Gene says, “There are several companies doing it already. I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, not because I want to be different per se but because I aim to have less competition on my back so that I can focus on quality and end-user satisfaction rather than engaging in a price war like what it was before in the logistics services industry. That is my business model!” In order to complement the military rifles of UDMC, it represents a U.S. company in Georgia, Carson Industries, Inc., manufacturer and supplier to the U.S. military of night vision goggles, laser aiming devices, and thermal imaging equipment. UDMC is also the only non-U.S. registered company that has a Technical Assistance Agreement approved by the U.S. State Department to operate a repair and assembly of highly-regulated night fighting systems. It has also a Co-Development Agreement with Barnow Arms of Turkey. And for several years now, UDMC is producing match rifle barrels using cylindrical bars supplied by Dikar-Bergara S. Coop of Spain which appointed UDMC as its sole distributor of all their products, which includes bolt action rifles, in the entire Asia-Pacific region.
Aside from the fact that the AFP and the PNP are now starting to use UDMC rifles, international maritime security forces also use them in securing commercial merchant vessels and in protecting its Filipino crews against pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Infinite Security Solutions Ltd. composed of retired British Navy SEALs and Trident Group LLC composed of retired U.S. Navy SEALs have chosen to deploy UDMC rifles in the high seas against pirates.
Beyond this, UDMC rifles have also been recognized in Myanmar when their Army chief mentioned his satisfaction with the quality of UDMC rifles to President Duterte’s delegation in Myanmar a few years ago. And in the President’s official trip to South Korea in 2019, two South Korean arms companies, Dasan Machineries, Inc. and S&T Motiv, Inc. signed up UDMC as their Philippine representative in arms procurement programs.
Gene Carino’s career had been met with a lot of challenges, and from those challenges, he has grown into the Lasallian pioneer he is today. Although, despite his victories, there is no rest as challenges will always come his way; with the latest one coming in the form of a U.S. legislation called, “The Philippines Human Rights Accountability and Counter Narcotics Act of 2017”, a bipartisan bill calling for a block on arms export to the Philippines in light of the country’s record for human right’s violation. Although this offers a grand opportunity for Gene and UDMC to become the main arms provider for the country, this also means more investments poured into more equipment, raw materials, and qualified personnel that Gene is currently addressing.
Despite all of these, however, Gene is confident that he and his company can pull through given all of the challenges he has faced and overcome thus far. Breaking through barriers is something Gene has become familiar with and this is just another shield he will surely pierce through despite the odds.