People: Francis Albalate
Small-town boy, now big-time partner
At 35, Francis Albalate is more than used to friendly jibes about how he’s too young to be where he is now. During a recent interview on corporate social responsibility, one reporter, after being introduced to Albalate, frankly commented that he looks too young to be a partner at one of the country’s largest accounting firms. Since he has become a pro at handling such knee-jerk assessments, Albalate promptly - and charmingly - countered that looks can be very deceiving.
If the San Beda alumnus looks like he doesn’t fit the part, it could be credited to the fact that he didn’t waste any time getting his career off the ground. Even before passing the CPA boards in 1991, Albalate had already found his nesting ground in Punongbayan & Araullo (P&A).
Then a fledgling accounting and tax advisory firm, P&A gave Albalate the room and the opportunities to establish himself in an industry that has long been regarded as the province of the “elder statesmen.”
Albalate started out as a staff auditor at P&A and quickly made an impression with the firm’s more seasoned partners. After only four years, he had built a solid enough track record to qualify for the firm-sponsored MBA program at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). But Albalate, with his youthful wanderlust, had other things in mind.
“I was only 25 at the time, and I really wanted to be sent on the exchange program to the US rather than stay here and get an MBA,” he admits. But P&A’s CEO Ben Punongbayan stepped in and convinced Albalate that staying home was the better option, stressing that an MBA was what he needed in order to grow with the firm.
True enough, a few years after he completed his MBA program, Albalate was admitted to the P&A partnership, the youngest to ever do so. “At that time, I wasn’t really thinking of being a partner,” he shares. “I was just a boy from the province and I was thinking that after graduation, I would go back to Bicol and live a simple life as a simple employee.”
That plan has obviously taken on a whole new form: Last year, Albalate finally got the opportunity to see the world and be one step closer to fulfilling a particular dream that has everything to do with his favorite sport - tennis.
As a member firm of Grant Thornton International, P&A was invited to send one of its partners to the International Partners Development Program (IPDP), Grant Thornton’s own mini-MBA program that allows participants to share best practice methods and network around the world. This time, it was Albalate’s turn, and his IPDP experience took him to Belgium, the US and, most importantly, London.
“I was in London the day the bombings occurred,” recalls Albalate, “and the only thing that saved me from that tragedy was fatigue from being such a tourist the day before.” He was also in the city when one of the best games in women’s tennis was played out in the center court of Wimbledon.
“I was able to watch Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams in the semifinals, and I was sending text messages to everyone I knew to watch the game on TV because they might actually see me. I was right in front of Sharapova,” he beams. Although his Russian bet lost the game, Albalate still considers it one of his wins, as he is now one tournament closer to watching all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments (he has already watched a game in the 2000 US Open).
Although Albalate is thoroughly enjoying the perks of partnership, the work and responsibility that come with it are not lost on him. “Work in an auditing firm is not for the fainthearted, especially since we are busiest during the more important holidays,” says Albalate, who has gotten used to busy seaso
ns that start around Christmas time and stretch on to Holy Week the following year.
In addition to his alre ady heavy workload managing a team of public accountants , Albalate is also overseeing other aspects of P&A’s practice. He regularly speaks before accounting students to represent the firm and the practice of accounting; he keeps his tech skills sharp by managing the firm’s website; and he is the partner in charge of P&A for a Cause, or P&AUSE, the firm’s corporate social responsibility arm. “I really work hard to prove that I deserve partnership at a very young age,” he says.
Judging by Albalate’s portfolio of engagements and the respect from his peers and his staff, there is no question that he has earned his place in the boardroom.
(As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 26, 2006)