Raymundo Martin Escalona
President, Udenna Corporation
Raymundo Martin Escalona President, Udenna Corporation

"We, at Udenna, are willing and committed to be partners in nationbuilding. We will be partners with the new government, continuing to be of service to Filipinos."

He was an investment banker for 35 years, and then politics got in the way. No, Raymundo Martin Escalona did not run for public office; he headed the 2016 presidential campaign of Sen. Mary Grace Poe.

"After discussing the matter with my family and friends from the banking community, I decided to take a sabbatical from CTBC (China Trust Commercial Bank), my employer at that time, to assist in Sen. Grace Poe's 2016 presidential bid, with the intention of going back to banking in June of that year."

Fate, however, had other plans. A friend, Davao tycoon Dennis Uy, would always find time to meet up with him for lunch or even coffee, which led to Escalona leaving the banking industry.

Get the latest news
delivered to your inbox
Sign up for The Manila Times’ daily newsletters
By signing up with an email address, I acknowledge that I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

"We continued the tradition [of meeting up] despite me being away from banking," Escalona said. "In one of those occasions, shortly after the 2016 elections, as I was about to rejoin the bank, Dennis and I discussed the possibility of me retiring from banking and explore what we can do together, instead."

Their professional relationship started when CTBC granted Uy working capital for the latter's Phoenix Petroleum.

"That relationship grew over time, extending to other subsidiaries as well such as Chelsea Shipping, for instance," Escalona said. "Over the years, our relationship grew to personal friendship as well. I would give financial advice to him from time to time. I've known Dennis for close to 14 years now."

Escalona is currently president of Uy's Udenna Corp. and he admits that the job is not without its challenges. "It has always been [about] the securing of capital and resources to fund investments," he said. "Also ... keeping all our stakeholders confident in our ability to deliver on our commitments and promises. Of course, to keep the morale high of the thousands of employees whose families depend on us for their future."

The learning years

Escalona was born and raised in Quezon City. He completed his college education at De La Salle University-Taft.

"I'd like to think that my childhood days were normal, albeit a tad more serious than the other kids I grew up with, given that my mom was from the academe," he said. "There was a huge focus on education performance and my ability to be able to have some play time largely depended on the results of my quizzes and exams."

Simple Christmas get-together with family. (From left) Miggy, son; Marty; wife, Aggie; daughter, Missy; granddaughter, Lucia; and son-in-law, Luke.
Simple Christmas get-together with family. (From left) Miggy, son; Marty; wife, Aggie; daughter, Missy; granddaughter, Lucia; and son-in-law, Luke.

Raymundo Martin Escalona satisfying his need for speed.
Raymundo Martin Escalona satisfying his need for speed.

Admiring the northern lights with wife, Aggie.
Admiring the northern lights with wife, Aggie.

"But in between study and play time, my dad exposed me at an early stage and made sure I got my hands dirty with work. All told, however, I had a wonderful time growing up. I had the opportunity to involve myself seriously with sports such basketball, soccer, competitive shooting, big biking, go-karting and motocross. My best childhood memory is growing up itself, with no particular one-time event," he added.

Escalona likewise enjoyed cooking and baking, which remain passions to this day.

His businessman-father hailed from Tarlac while his mother was a college professor from Bohol. His father passed away eight years ago. He has three other siblings.

"The youngest among us is residing in Toronto, Canada and works for George Brown University as one of their senior staff. My brother and other sister have businesses of their own," Escalona offered. "My wife manages our small family business, trading and a few 7-11 franchises. We have two grown-up children. Our eldest daughter teaches pre-school and has two children. My son has a small construction business."

"I have been a banker most of my professional career and my most respected mentor was a former boss at Deutsche Bank," he continued. "Given my age and number of years as a professional, my mentors right now are our employees. I do not have a monopoly of knowledge and I continue to learn from our people."

Prior to his leadership role at Udenna, Escalona worked at different environments that eventually prepared him for his most challenging job to date.

"I have been fortunate to have various experiences in areas of treasury, corporate institutional banking and corporate finance," he said. "I'd like to think that over the years, I have been able to establish my integrity and credibility."

Nation-building role

Like many other companies, Udenna was affected when Covid-19 reared its ugly head. "During those uncertain times, we all took stock of what we needed to do and what we needed to prioritize," Escalona said. "We came up with three critical elements: People, innovation and to fulfill our social responsibility."

"We had to make sure our people were safe and will have jobs to return to no matter what the costs. It was a struggle, especially for the shipping and logistics business, as well as our gaming and tourism investments. Yet, we are proud to say we are well on our way to recovery," he said.

"We also invested specifically on service innovations and other programs hinged on embracing a highly digitized future. We launched the telco, DITO, during a pandemic amid the lockdown. Just a little over a year, it now enjoys 11 million subscribers," Escalona continued.

"Lastly, we focused on helping whenever and wherever we can. At the height of the pandemic, we maximized synergies among our business units to create avenues for us to help our countrymen."

Uy, Escalona said, was hell-bent on partnering with the government and private enterprises to bring help to where it was most needed.

"Dennis has always believed that if we just continue to do good, if we continue with investing in the Filipino, in industries that benefit the Filipino people in general — that have a direct impact in all our lives, businesses that create wealth to share, we will always overcome."

Udenna's strategy for success, he said, boils "down to the five Hs — hungry, hardworking, honest, humble and holy. Having a firm grip on these guarantees our success."

Asked about prospects two years into a pandemic and under the new political landscape, Escalona said, "We have always taken the position that we are cautiously optimistic. We have seen, felt and experienced signs of escalated recovery in most of our business and we do wish to ride on that to ensure the security and future of Udenna."

"The group has faced challenges and continues to do so. We have overcome these before and we are confident, we will face the future stronger than ever. We, at Udenna, are willing and committed to be partners in nation-building. We will be partners with the new government, continuing to be of service to Filipinos."

"Investing in the Filipino will always be profitable, if we, as a Filipino company, continue in this belief, this commitment, then we are more than positive about the next 20 years," he also said, explaining that these includes the people who make up the Udenna group.

The main lesson Udenna learned from the pandemic, he said, was to keep its people safe and secure.

"The second lesson is that companies forever need to be agile. All of us need to embrace technology, but technology rooted in improving, not just productivity, efficiency and profits. More on being able to provide continued quality service to customers even amid crises," he added.

"Third, there is always resource enough to help and to take care of the communities where your businesses are. You may not be able to help the entire country, but at the very least, be a part, contribute, you might be able to help. Help is help."