Not just for my Career… but for Life

Francis Del Val (1986) FAME Features: FAMEarketer

I really shouldn’t have been in ME. I applied for a different ME: Mechanical Engineering in UP. To my horror, I got accepted to that quota course! After barely passing Physics in high school, I thought I was doomed to a lifetime of failure at UP. Thankfully, I also got accepted to ME in Ateneo, but to be honest, ME was my second choice. So I was surprised when I was told by my AJSS friends to line up with them during the first day of enrollment because my name was together with theirs in the list. I was too “diyahe” to say no, so I went through the motions and ended up in ME! Thankfully, ME has been the best “fit” for my career as a marketing executive and general manager for different organizations. I don’t think I would be who I am today if I didn’t take up ME.

ME is perfect for anyone who wants to be a successful marketeer because it trains the mind to be very disciplined with quantifying the craziness out of every business problem—while still allowing students to remain in touch with the creative side of their DNA—through subjects like Marketing Management and a host of electives. And yes, by the way, that one single Management Accounting subject in that pre-SMEG year paid lifelong, handsome dividends for me as I was able to use everything I learned when I started reviewing P&Ls in Unilever, and now, with the companies I run.

Unilever was not my first job, I was already a brand assistant somewhere else. But when Unilever came calling… well, it was the dream job everyone aspires for, right? In Unilever, my ME training was at full use, not only for the management accounting, but also for the various PERT CPMs I had to do for my new product launches. (Note: we didn’t have fancy software then, everything was “IBM”: it’s better manual!) I will always look fondly at “my brands” in Unilever: Close-up, Lux, Breeze, and Surf, the latter being the phoenix my team created back in 1995. And of course, I thought Philip Kotler was going to be my “go to” guru for all the marketing stuff I needed for my role as a brand manager, but I quickly realized that FMCG marketing was very different.

Which is what motivated me to pioneer an elective: Brand Management (BM), a subject I would teach in 6 of 10 years in Ateneo. With everything I learned from Unilever, Warner Lambert, and my own direct-marketing company, I created my syllabus for my BM elective… but with a twist: Students had to implement their marketing plan! So, my classes sold t-shirts, mounted concerts, created countless food fairs for every imaginable country you could think of, and—the most memorable—held a “manghuhula festival” on campus to demonstrate they had a marketing plan worthy of an A. Those were really fun times, made even more memorable because many of those students then became management trainees in top FMCGs. Some ended up in my own Unilever brand team. Fast forward 3 decades later… I am still in touch with quite a number of them and some are already global FMCG executives and leaders of major corporations in Manila.

I spent 7 years in Unilever and that was life changing for me, followed by 6 years in banking and setting up and “flipping” my own business in between, then 17 years as a global pharmaceutical executive at GlaxoSmithkline (GSK), working and living in different countries in ASEAN and in the UK. For the past 5 years, I have been running Cobena, an all-Filipino pioneering data science company I co-founded in 2016 that is now part of Demand Science Group, a global multinational with offices in over 16 countries worldwide. And yes, I will always say that my ME training did not just prepare me for my career. It prepared me for life.

ME taught me that whenever there is a problem, quantify and analyze. Treat every problem—whether business, career or personal—as an optimization challenge. Make sure creative ideas always contribute to the bottomline. With all the pain, there is always a silver lining. Networks are invaluable and struggling through 3 years of Calculus, OR, LP, and Stat to prove to yourself that you are a worthy human being does pay off! 😊


Francis del Val (BSME 1986) is President & CEO of Cobena Business Analytics and Strategy, and President of Demand Science Team Philippines.




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