Alby Xerez - Burgos
As a place that cherishes, immortalizes, and celebrates generations of family memories, Forest Lake has made steadfast presence in its communities with a rich history spanning over 25 years. Having set a benchmark as the leading developer of memorial parks in the country, offering comprehensive memorial care services, Forest Lake’s mission is to provide accessible and affordable memorial parks and services, managed by a dedicated professional team committed to delivering value, innovation, and personalized service. Under the guidance of Alby Xerez-Burgos, Managing Director, today, Forest Lake Development is nationally recognized and maintains the highest standards in every aspect of their operations. As the preferred memorial park name in the Philippines, Forest Lake is committed to maintaining its position as a comprehensive death care provider in the country. Alby Xerez shares more in this one on one interaction, let’s read.
Give a brief account of your professional background and experiences. What drives you today?
My professional journey is far from the conventional tale of innate talent and academic excellence. I'm not the person who had a string of accolades or remarkable achievements from the get-go. Rather, I consider myself an ordinary individual who, at an early age, recognized that there were people around me who seemed smarter, more athletic, funnier, and more talented than I was. I didn't excel in academics or possess any extraordinary skills. However, I've always had a positive outlook and recognized that the support and opportunities provided by my family and friends were invaluable.
My educational journey began with a degree in Industrial (Management) Engineering, with a Minor in Chemical Engineering, at De La Salle University. It wasn't an easy path. While I excelled in subjects like English, Religion, Literature, and Philosophy, my struggles became evident when it came to Mathematics, Physics, and Sciences. Yet, I pressed on, determined to build a foundation with an engineer's discipline and mindset, with the long-term goal of applying these skills to business. I never intended to practice engineering, but I saw it as a means to an end. Graduating with grades slightly above average, I emerged from this experience with newfound confidence, knowing I could thrive in challenging environments by leveraging my strengths in the arts while mitigating my weaknesses in math and science.
Before officially graduating, my father invited me to work for his startup business, Landco. I began my career as a desk clerk, typing case studies for training modules. Eventually, my background in Industrial Engineering led me to write manuals for shopping mall operations and delve into market research and business planning. I was later entrusted with managing development projects. Then, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis hit, impacting companies across the region. While many struggled, I decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Management (MM) at the Asian Institute of Management, despite being married with a newborn child.
The MM program was tailored for seasoned executives, which meant I was often the youngest and least experienced in my class. It was a challenging period, with a 35 percent class mortality rate. I had to work tirelessly, seek guidance from classmates and professors, and prove myself as a valuable team player. Despite not graduating with honors, this experience accelerated my growth by a decade and bolstered my confidence.
Returning to work, I put my MM thesis into action, leading to the creation of Leisure Farms, a project that revitalized the leisure real estate category in the Philippines. However, this endeavor required me to secure seed capital from friends, and it wasn't until October 2001 that I received the green light to proceed. Remarkably, the project sold out in 18 months, generating substantial sales and net income, ultimately eliminating Landco's debt by 2003.
In the years that followed, I assumed the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Landco, a period marked by intense competition from well-funded rivals. Despite our limited advertising budget, we excelled by focusing on public relations and storytelling, earning recognition in the form of an Agora Award from the Philippine Marketing Association in 2007.
My next challenge came during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis when I was appointed President and CEO of Landco. The company faced financial turmoil due to excessive debt and overcommitment to projects. I had to make tough decisions, selling non-core assets, reducing overhead, and securing additional funding to stabilize the company. Although it was a demanding role, it taught me invaluable lessons and prepared me for future challenges.
Upon retiring from Landco in 2015, I continued as the President and CEO of Alexcy Corporation, the mother company of Landco. We implemented a strategic plan focused on generating recurring income, selling Landco, and expanding our memorial park development business through FLDI. This plan led to substantial growth, with FLDI becoming the market leader and reporting impressive financial results.
I’ve learned that success often comes from seizing opportunities, leveraging strengths, and mitigating weaknesses. Today, what drives me is the pursuit of new challenges and the opportunity to make a positive impact in the business world.
Define Forest Lake Development as an organization and its current position in the market.
With a presence in 36 locations throughout the country and two more soon to open, FLDI offers flexibility to its customers. In the event of a need for relocation, customers may exchange their memorial lots from one site to another, subject to certain conditions. Additionally, in areas where FLDI has established memorial chapels, their interment (burial) services include a range of complimentary services such as body retrieval, embalming and preparation, provision of a coffin, and three viewing nights.
Recognizing the significant unmet demand for memorial products and services across the Philippines, FLDI has ambitious plans to expand its operations into five major regions. This expansion will involve decentralizing head office functions to grant these regions greater agility and autonomy. As the preferred brand for memorial parks in the Philippines, FLDI is committed to setting and maintaining the industry standard as a comprehensive provider of death care services in the country.
Please share your leadership approach with us. What principles or methodologies do you adhere to as a leader?
My leadership philosophy is rooted in simplicity and family values. As a family corporation, our primary purpose is to serve not only the current generation but also the generations to come. Central to our leadership approach is the importance of maintaining family unity. We have established a family constitution that guides our actions, and we strive to keep politics out of our organization.
Within our family-oriented leadership structure, open and constructive communication is highly valued. We believe in the power of healthy debate and constructive criticism. It is our belief that no single individual possesses a monopoly on all the best ideas. Therefore, we actively encourage and celebrate ideas, particularly those that emerge from our team members at all levels of the organization.
Moreover, we recognize the importance of maintaining a sense of enjoyment and humor in our work. In our line of business, it's crucial to find joy in what we do. This not only fosters a positive work environment but also enhances creativity and resilience.
In essence, our leadership approach centers on family, open communication, inclusivity, and the belief that work should be both meaningful and enjoyable.
How do you monitor the company's progress, and are there specific methods or metrics you employ for this purpose?
Our primary measure of progress revolves around a sense of purpose, and we continually assess ourselves against that purpose. It's important to note that this purpose goes beyond self-serving or materialistic goals, as these are never-ending pursuits. Instead, our purpose is grounded in a broader vision of making the world a better place.
In our industry, there are unfortunately instances where certain players resort to predatory pricing, taking advantage of families during their moments of grief. Our commitment is to challenge and change this narrative. We are dedicated to honoring, celebrating, and immortalizing the memories of our clients' loved ones. We recognize that our clients seek both value and dignity in their investments and services. Our unwavering determination is to ensure that every Filipino receives the respect and dignity they deserve when the time comes. This commitment is encapsulated in our mantra: 'To make Forest Lake A Better Place' in every branch throughout the country.
In summary, our approach to monitoring progress is centered on our purpose, which is to create a positive impact on the world and redefine the standards in our industry.
Given your extensive experience in the industry, what guidance would you offer to emerging leaders in the field?
Drawing from my own journey, my advice is to resist the pressure to conform to preconceived notions of what is considered the norm or the conventional way of doing things. It's often a formidable challenge to excel when the rules have already been set by others. If you strive to keep up with everyone else, the best outcome you can hope for is to become just like everyone else.
Recognize that not all opportunities are suited for you, for various reasons. Be content with pursuing endeavors that align with your strengths. Once you've mastered these, they will serve as your foundation for exploring new prospects. Address your weaknesses, but only to a degree that allows you to survive and continue playing the game. It's akin to peeling onions in the kitchen – it might not be your favorite task, but it's necessary to complete the dish.
Our success has consistently revolved around being a prominent figure in a smaller, more manageable sphere. We created that sphere during our time at Landco by becoming leaders in leisure property development. However, when the environment became overcrowded and uncomfortable, we ventured out to create a new space. Our passion was evident then, but today, our commitment is even stronger, and our sense of purpose is more profound than ever before.
Alby Xerez - Burgos, CEO, Alexcy Corporation
Alby Xerez-Burgos, a visionary leader and CEO of Alexcy Corporation, is a driving force in the Philippines' business landscape. With a background in Industrial Engineering and Management, Alby's journey from Landco to Forest Lake showcases resilience and strategic acumen. Under his guidance, Forest Lake has become a national leader in memorial park development, offering comprehensive death care services. Alby's leadership is rooted in family values, open communication, and a commitment to making a positive impact in the industry.