An Inspiring Evening with Harvard Business School Professor Meg Rithmire

Written by Kayleen Cheng

On February 27, 2017, at the new upscale brasserie-style French restaurant, Mirèio Salon, in Raffles Hotel, Makati City, the night was set once the pristine white linens were crisp to perfection, the silver dinnerware laid out to exactness, and the lights were set to a calming degree. All that was left was the arrival of the event’s guests — Professor Meg Rithmire and several prominent leaders of the business community in the Philippines.

Professor Rithmire is an Assistant Professor and Hellman Faculty Fellow at Harvard Business School, where she teaches at the Business, Government, and International Economy (BGIE) unit. Currently, her main research involves looking into both the political and economic aspects of Asia, which led to her interest in conducting a case study on the Philippines.

With the Philippines being acclaimed as the “rising tiger of the Southeast Asian region,” the country bears much potential from the viewpoints of intellectual individuals in both the public and private sector. However, this year, the country faces a dilemma in dealing with the battle between the two hegemonic states, the United States and China, in their attempts at economic and political leadership in Southeast Asia, leading to the difficult decisions the ASEAN countries are yet to encounter towards achieving globalization.

Seeing this issue resulted in the interest of Professor Rithmire — along with Dawn Lau, a Harvard Business School Asia Pacific Center Senior Researcher — to visit the tropical country to obtain firsthand information on the Philippine’s broad economic and political landscape. They focused on gathering information about the insights of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) workers and human capital; the labor export and role of Overseas Foreign Workers (OFW) in the Philippines and abroad; the policies of the Duterte administration, including infrastructure, fiscal management, Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), social welfare (health and poverty relief), drugs and rule of law, and intergovernmental relations (decentralization); and the country’s relations with China, the United States, and the leadership of ASEAN.

Hence, this called for the collaboration of Filipino Harvard graduates, along with leading members of private and public sectors, to share their insights on the country’s economic and political landscape. Each individual who attended the event all shared the same goal: getting the Philippines on the map — to have it globally recognized as a compelling country with significant contributions.

Among the Harvard graduates who attended were prominent figures, such as Anthony Abad, Chief Executive Officer of Trade Advisors; Luis Andres Abad, Public Sector Manager and Economic Policy Professional; Winston Chan, Head of Advisory Services of Ernst & Young firm; Ramon Del Rosario, President and Chief Executive Officer of Philippine Investment Management, Inc. and PHINMA Corporation; Carol Dominguez, President and Chief Executive Officer of John Clements Consultants, Inc.; Ginbee Go, Senior Vice President, Retail Loans Business of the Bank of the Philippine Islands; Alicia Morales, partner and business development consultant of John Clements Consultants, Inc.; and Sylvette Tankiang, co-managing partner and Chief Finance Officer of Angangco law office (CVCLAW).

Other notable figures included Rizalina Mantaring, Director/ Chairman of the Board of nine Sun Life Prosperity Funds; Tully Moss, President of The Magellan Alliance; Emilio Neri Jr., leading economist at Bank of the Philippine Islands; and Marife Zamora, Chairman of Convergys Philippines Services Corporation.

As the group of leaders dined over exquisite French cuisine, the discussion shared was far beyond your usual dinner time chit chat. There was definitely no dead air in the room as each member, given diverse backgrounds in their own fields of work, helped piece together the information Professor Rithmire travelled over 8,000 miles for. From the basic answers to the question of, “How do you assess the previous years?” alone, drove the discussion to countless topics.

Having a room filled with leading individuals of the Philippines like this definitely left the night ending on a high note. An event like this signifies that the Philippines can be what it claims to be: the rising tiger of the Southeast Asian region.

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About the author:

Kayleen Cheng is a graduate of De La Salle University- Manila with a bachelor of arts degree in Development Studies. Currently she is working as the club administrator of the Harvard Business School Club of the Philippines, where she coordinates among the alumni.