Be Like Mike

Eric So (1996) FAME Features: FAMEarketer

If my twenty-year old self had been told that one day I would shake the hands of THE Michael Jordan (the basketball player, not the actor), I would probably have answered, “No way, Jose!” In the 90s, Michael was everyone’s hero on and off the court, and everyone wanted to “Be Like Mike,” the tagline for his sports drink. I also idolized my first-degree uncles, who were all successful, self-made businessmen in the booming Philippine economy then. Like Michael, they inspired me because of their hard work, perseverance, and shrewd creativity in the world of business. Shortly before my graduation in 1996, I started to think about what business venture I could get into, and realized that I needed to borrow money from my parents to fund my first business idea. Since I couldn’t imagine losing my parents’ hard-earned money, I decided to look for a job, and that started my corporate life as a marketeer.

Marketing piqued my interest during my junior year. Inspired by my amazing professors in courses like Marketing Management (by Mr. Raul Esteban) and Socio-Anthropology (by Dr. Ricky Abad), I went for a summer internship with JW Thompson Advertising, one of the premier advertising agencies back then. As I learned to deal with clients and creatives, I fell in love with the art and science of brand building based on consumer research. Shortly after graduation, I was lucky to be accepted into P&G, which introduced me to the world of Hair Care brands – Rejoice, Head & Shoulders, Vidal Sassoon, Pantene, Clairol, and Wella Salon. Perhaps the most exciting part of that stint was meeting Mr. Vidal Sassoon himself. I remember explaining to him our big plans for launching his hair care products in Bangkok and how we would meet the demands of sophisticated Thai women. But after almost a decade of good (and sometimes bad) hair days, I decided to leave the world of consumer goods and try something closer to my heart.

My dad was a tailor, and my mom took up sewing as a hobby. As a child, I was fascinated by the sewing they would do around our house and used to play around my mom’s sewing machine. By God’s grace, I landed a role with Levi Strauss & Co, which brought me to Greater China—living in Taipei, Beijing, and Shanghai. One thing I learned quickly in the apparel industry was that clothes sell not because of features, attributes, or even benefits. Instead, consumers buy and stay loyal because of the brand’s attitude and values. For example, Levi’s jeans embodied the youthful, rebellious spirit that came with authenticity and courage. Of course, quality was expected by consumers, so it had to look and feel good no matter what.

With Kobe and Nike Team in Guangzhou, China, 2015.

One day I got a persuasive call from an ex-Levi’s colleague who had moved to Nike. He told me about the exciting world of Nike and how he met Kobe. The same year that I joined Nike, I also met Kobe during one of his tours in China. One thing I learned from one of his sharing sessions was his constant pursuit of excellence in life. He told Chinese teenagers to always have a “Be Better” mindset. And to be the best, one needed to become the hardest-working person in the room. Even after he retired from basketball, Kobe was relentless in setting up businesses around the world. After I retire, maybe I can be an entrepreneur and “Be Better… Like Kobe.”

As I look back, I believe our Ateneo/ME education taught us to always pursue excellence no matter how old we are. I believe it is our inquisitive minds and curious hearts that make us yearn to do more and achieve more for ourselves and for others. I am humbled by the many opportunities I’ve had in my career so far, but it is the positive impact that the brands and I create (in my own small way) for the next generation of children that keeps me going.


Eric So (BSME 1996), one of the jubilarians celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, is the VP/GM of Jordan for Greater China.




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