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Making a Mark

In Focus
NAME:Charles Ong
COMPANY:Innoland Development Corporation
LOCATION: Cebu City, Philippines
As its buildings become landmarks across Cebu City, the sky’s the limit for Innoland Development Corporation, says COO Charles Ong.

For Charles Ong, COO at Innoland Development Corporation, the ability to clearly define a strategy is what gives it the leading edge in the Filipino real estate development market. “We work in three- to five-year blocks, knowing that’s the usual length of a business cycle,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “We communicate that strategy to the entire organisation and constantly work with them and monitor where we are in the process.”

It’s something he says the company excels in – and the strategy has played a key role in the success of its many mixed-use, residential and commercial projects that have risen up across Cebu City’s skyline, including the 15-storey TGU Tower in Cebu IT Park, where its headquarters are located.

But it’s Innoland’s first development, the 26-storey Calyx Centre completed in 2012, that remains its landmark construction. Labelled the “first green, hybrid condominium in Cebu”, the building is distinct for its curved design and mixes retail, office and residential space across a total area approaching 30,000 square metres. “It’s an iconic building that makes a mark in the city,” Charles says.

We have always made sure our projects are green, revolutionary and innovative. This is enhanced by an excellent service initiative that allows our clients to thrive with us.”

Beyond standing tall in the Cebu IT Park, Calyx Centre is also tangible evidence of the company’s brand identity and pillars. “We have always made sure our projects are green, revolutionary and innovative,” Charles explains. “This is enhanced by an excellent service initiative that allows our clients to thrive with us.”

Innoland’s roots trace back to a scrap material trading business established 70 years ago by Charles’s grandfather. Foreseeing the growth of the real estate business in Cebu, his father, Joy Anthony ‘Jojo’ Ong, founded Innoland in 2005, leasing out office spaces before moving into construction. Charles joined the family business in 2007, after graduating from De La Salle University in Manila with a degree in mechanical engineering. His father remains CEO and his sister, Chloe, is Internal Vice President for Sales and Marketing.

Charles says there was no pressure to enter the family fold, but the business is clearly in his blood. “During my college days, I had the opportunity to go abroad for work experience,” he says. “Working for NatSteel in Singapore allowed me to understand and appreciate how big organisations are structured and the type of operational excellence they aspire to.”

It was knowledge he hungrily brought back home. “Those experiences in Singapore opened my mind to how big corporations are effectively run. We incorporated them into our existing family values to connect with our employees for a more successful corporate culture.”

Learning still plays a core role in Innoland’s culture, as the next generation of leaders is nurtured. “Part of our program is a mentoring circle project, where we select people with potential and encourage them to learn as a group with select mentors,” he explains. “The program is designed to allow them to interact with different mentors to pick up lessons that are relevant to both work and life.”

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He understands that, no matter the industry, looking after employees is one of the main responsibilities of the C-suite. “Especially with the current health situation – their welfare and safety are paramount,” he stresses. 

To ensure all employees and their families can be vaccinated against COVID-19, the company has purchased its own stock of vaccines, to complement what the government has made available. “Knowing that everyone in our office is vaccinated gives a huge confidence boost,” he says. “We have also ensured that all leaders are empowered to closely monitor their teams and that communication from the ground up is well-coordinated, to take care of both the mental and physical health of everyone at Innoland.”

“There’s a certain comfort level in working with longtime partners and suppliers.

Emphasis has also been placed on ensuring communication channels with suppliers remain clear and open during this unprecedented period, and flexibility is given where needed. “Like us, they too have challenges. So if it’s advancing certain payments, or tweaking an original agreement, we are open to amendments that will improve the situation,” he explains.

The company can count on a large pool of suppliers that it partners with on multiple projects, such as Pasture Group. “There’s a certain comfort level in working with longtime partners and suppliers,” he says. Issues have been addressed and glitches have been ironed out. “Once you’ve done several projects together, it’s very seamless and there are very few concerns going forward. That close relationship really matters.”

With the completion of its largest program to date – the futuristic 29-storey One Montage commercial complex in Cebu City – drawing close, Charles knows that the sky’s the limit for Innoland, if he dares. “Being bold and taking some risks in our plans and programs is a requirement to continue to innovate to stay relevant,” he reflects. “Before, the dynamic of competition was: big fish eat small fish. Now it is: fast fish will eat the slow fish, regardless of size.”

Laws of Leadership

Charles says that a combination of working with key people and consultants in the industry and reading books has helped shape his leadership style. “I have also learned the importance of welcoming people with different perspectives and backgrounds, so that you can learn and collaborate, from my father, who is my mentor,” he says. An open-minded approach, which values input from customers, stakeholders and colleagues, is his greatest strength as a leader. “I’m also a learner – something that’s critical in this world of disruption and volatility.”

“Working with Innoland is always a pleasurable experience. The company maintains a professional relationship with its clientele and suppliers, backed by a friendly and attentive team. Its corporate name, Innoland, speaks for itself: it’s run by people who are highly innovative.” – Bryan S Chona, Director, Geo-Transport & Construction
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