Alumni, Business, Featured, People

Rodell Lacuata

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MAN WITH A VISION TO MOVE MEN

[Note: This piece was originally written in 2009. A brief update follows at the end.]

Rodell Lacuata is a tall, stocky bespectacled man with a serious yet calm demeanor. His business is the RMPC Logistics Industry Division, a personnel management business for logistics companies which forms part of a worker’s Multi-Purpose Cooperative. It provides training and management for personnel including defensive driving, rules of the road, customer service, values education and corporate rules and regulations. Rodell eventually chose this business because it was closely related to two other businesses he was involved in: the family tire recapping business which deals with trucking, bus and institutional clients and a worker’s cooperative which had been providing personnel management to manufacturing companies.

Rodell explains, “Because I wanted to create a distinction with myself and my business, I chose to enter into the field of logistics personnel management since it is a frontier industry with little to no players. Also, the kind of service I was intent on providing had never been done in this industry before.”

Rigthwat ManpowerThe concept came into being purely by accident. In late 2006, Rodell had answered a phone call of a former manager of a client of  the family’s recapping business, who was interested in availing of the recapping services for his new company, which was a logistics company. As they discussed details, the conversation moved towards personnel, and the manager had nothing good to say about his then current complement. Rodell mentioned that he was in the business of providing personnel management and gave a few suggestions. The next thing he knew he had a contract and was signing in the first client in this new industry.

Like any typical business, it was difficult starting up:  Rodell  discovered that the logistics sector environment was completely different from that of the manufacturing sector. Working at the port area was basically like working in the wild we, he thought,  and the people were equally hard to manage. During the first six months, Rodell tried to adapt a modified approach similar to what he had used in manufacturing firms, with little to no success.

Rodell recalls, “At this point, I approached the client and said that this will require drastic measures. The client only had this to say: ‘Do whatever you have to do. Just put them all in line. If I have to close the business for a while to do it, I will. Just let me know what to do. Do you need to borrow my gun?’

Rodell continued, “With this encouraging support from the client, I declined the use of his sidearm and we began to implement stricter systems of discipline. Unfortunately, some drivers had developed a very mercenary instinct – all they cared about was getting paid and with an average monthly wage of 25,000 pesos, they had a lot to look forward to. They knew that while the client had the trucks, they had the skills and if they did not drive, the trucks and the cargo would not go anywhere. This reason explained why the relationship between truckers and drivers were tempestuous at best and downright hostile at the worst. We managed to solve this problem by providing a steady pool of drivers to our clients. It ensured that while drivers were necessary, they were not expendable. But not all the changes leaned towards negative reinforcement.”

They implemented performance incentives in cooperation with the client, better living spaces and improved facilities and  also worked on improving the drivers’ self image. They gave the drivers uniforms that made them look more like engineers, gave them seminars on work ethics and helped them see their jobs as careers rather than mere occupations. They also changed their titles. Being called a Transport Specialist and Transport Associate rather than a driver and a helper helped a lot in improving their self image and in turn their work ethic and performance.  Rodell pulled off his first engagement successfully.

With other clients, Rodell observed that whereas before, when the truckers had to utilize every trick in the book to stroke the drivers’ egos and disciplinary actions were a fantasy, their clients were now able to operate smoothly with minimized personnel problems and improved productivity. The drivers, who are also cooperative members, were oriented to treat the client as their own client instead of their boss; hence customer satisfaction became a paramount concern to the drivers . And for their benefit, since they were cooperative members who are no longer limited by the six month contractual limit, they had virtual job security for as long as they perform and follow the rules.

“Clients patronized our services primarily because of one basic reason; personnel. From my numerous encounters with truckers and bus operators, whenever I ask them about what their  biggest problem was it wasn’t the cost of fuel or the mortgage payments on their trucks or busses or the high risks they shoulder during transportation of cargo and passengers. It is always their people. And whenever I ask them about their people, none of them have been able to talk about the subject without swearing or without at least one pejorative comment. Their drivers are their biggest asset but are also their biggest liability and for most prospective clients, the benefits of our service are still a little unbelievable because there had not been a solution for a very long time. Yet if you were a sensible operator faced with the constant problems of personnel in your business, wouldn’t you jump at a chance to end it all?”

Musing on his unique vision for his business, Rodell reflects, “I don’t think of us as a manpower agency. I see myself as a leader of a cooperative of members who want to find jobs in the logistics field and I help them in that regard. The members are just as important to me as my clients. We make available loans and support to our members as well as provide the qualified members with the job training they need to succeed as logistics industry professionals, whether they be drivers, helpers, mechanics or dispatchers.

1But it took some time before Rodell finally found his niche and could view his business with such clarity. “I started this business for my entrepreneurship degree and it only came into being after several other business attempts. I remember my professors shooting me down with one business after another because I was thinking like a student then who was just after the grade, and not as an entrepreneur. I was very annoyed with my professors, especially Dean Pax Lapid, but he did push me far and hard enough for me to realize that I had to start thinking like an entrepreneur.  So I went on sabbatical for two years to work in the real world and eventually discovered my entrepreneurial self and what would be my new business. Armed with that knowledge and self confidence, I went back to school and slept an average of two hours a day working on my paper and defense, since I was intent on not failing again. Three months later, I laid down my case, defended it for more than three hours before a panel.  I ended up passing the course and being awarded the Entrepreneur for Society  Award[1] during the Graduation Ceremonies. It took me a total of seven years to graduate [including a total of two years in another program and on LOA] but I would never trade those years in school and the period of soul searching for anything, for they built me up as I am today and I would not have it any other way.

Simultaneous to his logistics personnel management business, Rodell is still very active  in the tire recapping business of his father. In the recapping business, “we developed a new system, unprecedented in the industry, which in recent experience is proving to be very beneficial to the client and quite profitable for us. I have begun to diversify my business into likewise providing this service and at this point in time, we are generating a large influx of interested clients. This arrangement also benefits the family business by providing volume – a win-win situation for all parties concerned.

While I started my business into providing personnel management for logistics companies, I am now also venturing into tire management which services the logistics industry. I realize that it pays to keep an open mind and a watchful eye for new developments. You never know when an opportunity to change comes by and turns out even better than the one you had originally planned.”

Rodell’s clients were primarily trucking companies mostly located within the port area and Harbour Center Manila and eventually included the Air Freight companies in the airport area after gradual expansion. To date, he is concentrating on providing services to logistics companies in the NCR region to better focus his services to his clients and members while capitalizing on the fact that a sizable volume of logistics companies are already headquartered in Metro Manila.

From a perspective, Rodell  recounts that:  “It has now been more than three years of experience and I believe we have the necessary understanding of the environment to be able to provide the service we promise to our clients and our members better than anyone. Our clients have implicit trust in us, seeing as we have delivered what we had promised and we strive hard not to violate that trust.

Rodell has a regret, though. Unfortunately this concept is still a little bit ahead of its time. “While I have clients who are in sync with our ideals and values, there are still quite a number of truckers and bus operators who need to be able to see their personnel as people rather than robots and to learn that not all liabilities should be passed on to the workers. Because of that dreadful concept, the turnover rate becomes unmanageably high and even with a large personnel pool, it becomes difficult to find members who would be willing to provide services to those clients despite a higher monthly income average than a factory level job. So until the ideology changes, the problems that we’ve set out to try to solve will still persist in the majority of industry players.”

Mature for his years, Rodell is in the best position and place to spread his logistics personnel management concepts and advocacy.  With his energy, daring, and vision, he promises to make a difference in his chosen field.

 

Quote:

“Because I wanted to create a distinction with myself and my business, I chose to enter into the field of logistics personnel management since it is a frontier industry with little to no players. Also, the kind of service I was intent on providing had never been done in this industry before.”

 

Lessons Learned: 

  • Treat your employees as partners, not as tools, in your business’ success and development, .according them dignity and fair treatment.
  • Keep an open mind and a watchful eye for developments in your field for these could be opportunities for change and improvement.
  • Explore synergies among related and affiliated businesses because you may be able to produce something greater.
  • Don’t be afraid to be a pioneer to explore uncharted territories and horizons. Push on with your vision even if it may take some time for others to catch on to your advocacy.

 

[1] The Entrepreneur for Society Award is given to the student, who directly through his venture, and/or indirectly through personal endeavors and efforts has demonstrated a strong sense of social responsibility and has made a significant positive impact on the community and/or environment. Rodell finished his BS Entrepreneurship degree in 2008.

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UPDATE [March 2016]:

Rodell is now heavily involved in the family business and has played a key management role in expanding it into a complete tire management provider. The firm caters to mining and trucking companies and have operations in Metro Manila and Palawan.