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P&A celebrates 18 amazing years

P&A celebrates 18 amazing years


A lot can happen in 18 years. It’s called change.

In 1988, a couple of guys named Ben and Joe decided to set up an accounting firm. Exactly on Valentine’s Day of that year, the Manila Bulletin published an announcement that Punongbayan & Araullo would formally start operations the next day. Ben Punongbayan just retired as Managing Director of a CPA firm while Joe Araullo was senior vice president of Metrobank and president of Unibancard. Ben and Joe were joined by four managers and one secretary, for a grand total workforce of just seven people. And from Day One, the Firm, P&A, was the Philippine member firm of Arthur Young, which later became Ernst & Young.

A launch dinner was held on February 14, which was not only Valentine’s Day but also a few days before the Chinese New Year. You couldn’t get any redder than that.

Chinese tradition sees it as a good omen to start a business in the Year of the Dragon, like 1988, which did turn out to be an auspicious start year for P&A.

As an early guiding principle, Ben and Joe said, "There is nothing that we cannot accomplish if we put together good minds, a willingness to work hard, and a can-do attitude." In our first year of operations, we hired our first batch of CPA board topnotchers, 16 in all, a feat that competitors did not expect a rookie firm could pull off. Since then, P&A has kept that track record and consistently gotten a good share of CPA topnotchers and other exceptional graduates through the years.

Also in 1988, our first batch of secondees were sent to the United States --- among them, Jessie Carpio and Jun Cuaresma, who flew to the U.S. months after Gringo Honasan’s tanks and rogue military men paraded up Ayala Avenue. This international secondment continues to be an excellent training ground for future P&A leaders.

In 1991, we opened an office in Davao City and, one year later, in Cebu City. The Cavite office started its operations in 1997.

In 1993, we fought and won a remarkable battle. In the most dramatic against-all-odds contest in the history of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants, or PICPA, Ben was elected president of the institute, and led PICPA through a year of still-talked-about outstanding achievements.

Then, in 1998 and 1999, Ben was elected president of the Association of Certified Public Accountants in Public Practice (ACPAPP). Greg Navarro held that same post in 2005, a year after he was appointed Managing Partner & Chief Operating Officer of P&A. Lily Linsangan became president of the Philippine chapter of the Institute of Internal Auditors or IIA-P in 2003, shortly after her designation as head of our audit and assurance division.

Ramil Nanola and Trixie Yu were among the founders of IIA-P provincial chapters in Davao and Cebu and served as charter presidents of IIA-P Davao and IIA-P Cebu, respectively. Tax partner Dick Du-Baladad was president of the Tax Management Association of the Philippines in 2005, when it hosted the hugely successful conference of the Asia-Oceania Tax Consultants Association.

In 1994, we started acquiring Acer computers, setting the stage for our “1 laptop per staff” policy, the foundation of our technological edge o ver the competition. That year, the exchange rate was 25 pesos to a dollar. In 2001, the exchange rate doubled to 50 pesos to a dollar. We could have suspended our technology expe nditures at that point, but we didn’t. And that decision paid off handsomely. Five y ears later, we are one of the most technologically-capable accounting organizations in this part of the world.

In addition to our technological resources, our soft skills training sessions also give P&Aers a distinct edge over the competition. Early on, we commissioned a team of English PhDs to design an English course—the three-part “Culture, Philosophy and the Arts: Workshop on Organizing and Writing” or CPA -WOW —which every new-hire is required to complete. Modules on people management and interpersonal skills were embedded in various training sessions. As Ben has repeatedly said, in a sea of technically superior staff members, communication and interpersonal skills will spell all the difference.

A lot can really happen in 18 years.

In 1998, we performed the due diligence audit and acted as tax and accounting consultants for the biggest privatization initiative ever in the Philippines—that of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, or MWSS. The MWSS engagement team’s superlative performance merited the first P&A Founders Award for Team Excellence. In one way or another, P&A was also involved in other big-ticket privatization work: Philippine Airlines, Petron Corporation, National Power Corporation, Philippine National Construction Corporation.

We had gained momentum in a relatively short time, thanks to our success in recruiting the best people, together with our proven ability to deliver high-quality, responsible and responsive work. We were working hard, but we were also having fun while on our way to become a major player in public practice.

In 1991, we held our first sportsfest on the same day that Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Ben Punongbayan was delivering his famous “We work hard, but we also play hard” speech probably at the same moment that Mt. Pinatubo was spewing out its biggest load of lava and lahar. P&Aers were shooting hoops, blocking spikes, and cheering in the sidelines, while Pinatubo was showering the streets with her ashes. After the sportsfest, everyone was shocked to see cars blanketed in gray powder.

We work hard, we play hard, we party hard. There are the Christmas parties, of course, which started out as small get-togethers and soon became grand celebrations. Christmas party themes have ranged from outdoorsy to sporty, colorful reality to fantastic fantasy.

Then there’s the annual managers’ conference, which was introduced in 1992 and reformatted in 1997 to become a joint executive conference for partners and managers. Past venues include Boracay and Davao.

And of course there were the summer outings. Quezon, Batangas, Mindoro, Boracay, Pangasinan, Ilocos. Name a province in Luzon, and you can bet your money that a group of P&A revelers had already once left its mark on it sometime in the past.

In 1999, we finally moved to an Ayala address. We left six floors of office space at Vernida, our home for 11 years, and were beamed up to the 19th and 20th floors of the brand-new Enterprise Center.

Two years after we settled in our high-rise home, two famous skyscrapers an ocean away were razed to the ground. That was September 11, 2001, a number of P&Aers were working or living in Manhattan. That same day, our HR staff was frantically burning the phone wires trying to get in touch with Jojo Agot, Ernie Guevarra, Beth Pascua, Vince Santos, and Michelle Punongbayan. No e-mail, no phone calls for a couple of suspenseful days…until an e-mail from Ernie arrived, saying that they were safe and that, thanks to their experience running after jeepneys and buses in Manila, they were even among the first to leave the office and clamber on-board the re-commissioned subway back to the comfort of their apartments.

A lot can happen in 18 years.

In 2002, Enron collapsed and its auditor, Arthur Andersen, folded up. SGV wanted to join Ernst & Young. We entered in to merger talks with SGV, but we concluded that it wouldn’t be in the best interest of our people to merge, and withdrew from negotiations. After 14 years marked by excellent service, P&A parted ways with Ernst & Young.

In January 2003, we were admitted as a member of Grant Thornton International, just in time for our 15th anniversary celebration on February 15. Grant Thornton executives from Southeast Asia and the President of the Philippines herself graced the occasion.

Our crystal anniversary was also the perfect time to look at our achievements, take stock of ourselves and introduce a new tagline, “Partnership Redefined,” which spoke of our commitment to forge a dynamic partnership to explore fully our people and our clients’ growth potential in these changing, challenging climes.

In our first year of membership, Grant Thornton invited us to participate in its global secondment program, continuing the international exchange program we have been sponsoring since our early days. In late 2003, we fielded three audit managers to the U.S.: Nelson Dinio, Christopher Ferareza and Christian Rola. As of today, there are ten P&Aers completing their assignment in Grant Thornton offices all over the U.S.

Also in celebration of our 15th birthday, we launched the P&A Foundation to formally organize our corporate social responsibility activities. As one of its first projects, the Foundation inaugurated the Jose G. Araullo Distinguished Professorial Chair in Auditing at San Beda to mark Joe’s retirement in June 2003.

Also now housed under the Foundation is P&A for a Cause, or PAUSE, organized and managed by P&A staff themselves with full support from the Firm. Past projects of PAUSE include a feeding program for children in Cavite, a trip to Enchanted Kingdom for disadvantaged kids, a medical assistance project and renovation of the pediatric intensive care unit of Ospital ng Maynila, house-building activities in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity, a medical mission in Manila, and a Christmas celebration with special children.

The good fortune that we have been enjoying, we credit mostly to the hard work of our people. (Diligence, after all, is the mother of good luck.) And to recognize individual excellence, we inaugurated in 2003 the Primus Award. Mr. Yutaka Yamada-san, director of the Japanese Business Group, was the first awardee.

Things got even better in June 2003. Ben Punongbayan was honored by the City of Manila as one of the Outstanding Manilans, and Joe Araullo was chosen by his alma mater, San Beda College, as one of the Outstanding Bedans of the Century that same year.

A lot can happen in 18 years…

We’ve also had reason to celebrate this year. Our medal count at the Southeast Asian Games and Manny Pacquiao’s dramatic TKO win in Las Vegas changed the mood of the nation. Closer to home, another Filipino also made the country proud. A royal welcome greeted our very own Duchess Cruz, who was crowned queen of the world after she placed #1 in the worldwide Certified Internal Auditor licensure exams. Besting 21,000 other examinees from 55 countries, Duch is only the second Filipino to top this worldwide exam. Could there be a better way to greet our 18th birthday?

Change has been constant, and we have been cruising along, surviving busy season after busy season with the same kind of finesse that we have been known for. As of to day (this day that marks our coming of age), 3,092 people have crossed our doors, joined our family, and experienced the P&A difference.  It has been a heart-stopping roller coaster ride, scary for some, thrilling for others. For many, the roller coaster ride was the most fun part, an exciting learning experience that they wouldn’t have missed for the world. Each loop, each drop, each stomach-turning steeple, spelled satisfaction, exhilaration, and fulfillment!

The last 18 years have shown us that there is only one thing we can count on: change. Lots of it. We cannot even begin to imagine the challenges that the next 18 busy seasons will bring. But one thing’s for sure: we’ll be ready.

A lot can happen in 18 years.