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In 1888, the Ayala Corporation introduced the first tramcar service in the Philippines. Generations later, the company pioneered ways for Filipinos to pay bills and transfer money via their cell phone.
Along the way, some of Ayala’s top leaders trained at Harvard—including its current CEO, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala II ’81, who last week became the first Filipino to be recognized with the Harvard Business School’s highest honor for its alumni.
Zobel has focused on innovative ways to improve Ayala Corporation and the $22 million non-profit Ayala Foundation, whose goal is to strengthen Filipino culture, public education, and the leadership skills of Filipino youth. Since he became president of the corporation in 1995, Zobel has built Ayala’s ties with what V. Kasturi Rangan—an HBS professor whose work influenced Zobel—calls the “base of the pyramid” of Filipino society.
Rangan said in an e-mail that Zobel and his brother moved the family’s business “decisively in the direction of improving the lives of the millions of Filipinos who are lower income or even below the poverty line...primarily because it also makes good business sense.” For example, Rangan said, more than one million poor residents of eastern Manila now buy clean drinking water from one of Ayala’s subsidiaries.
HBS Dean Jay O. Light on Thursday presented Zobel with one of the school’s Alumni Achievement Awards, which recognize “excellence, integrity, and leadership in business and society.” Zobel’s family attended the ceremony, including his daughter Mariana B. Zobel de Ayala ’11
Jaime Zobel graduated from the Business School in 1987. He runs the Ayala Corporation with his brother Fernando Zobel de Ayala ’82, the president and COO. Their father, Jaime Zobel de Ayala ’57, retired as the company president in 1994 and stayed on as chairman until 2006. All three lived in Lowell House as undergraduates.
Jaime Zobel is the youngest recipient of the award and the first Filipino to receive it. The latter, Zobel said, mattered to him much more. “There are many interesting and accomplished Filipinos,” he wrote in an e-mail from the Philippines. “But global recognition tends to be scarce.”
The Business School has given the Alumni Achievement Award since 1968, honoring graduates as varied as Robert S. McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, and Orin C. Smith, the president and CEO of Starbucks Coffee Co.
Zobel was one of five Business School graduates to receive the award this year. The other four were Donna L. Dubinsky, who helped pioneer handheld computers; A. Malachi Mixon III ’62, who heads the world’s leading maker of home medical equipment; Sir Martin S. Sorrell, a leading advertising executive; and Hansjörg Wyss, chairman of a global medical device company.
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