He may have opted for a more private life after his retirement as chair of ABS-CBN Corporation in 2018, but Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez remained a guiding force behind the media giant in the years that followed—even until after Congress denied ABS-CBN a new legislative franchise last July. Today, however, Lopez announced his resignation as Chairman Emeritus and Director of ABS-CBN Corp. effective immediately; citing “personal reasons.” He also stepped down from his posts in other Lopez-owned companies.
Lopez’s last public appearance was at the congressional hearings in June where his citizenship was questioned in relation to his ownership of the media network. The appearance gave the public a glimpse of the very private man’s strong yet calm presence, and the values he adheres to.
Those who are close to him, and who worked with him over the years attest to these values and principles. A book titled EL3: In the Service of the Filipino Worldwide, published by ABS-CBN in 2012 on the occasion of his 60th birthday, is a great source of testimonies from family, friends, and colleagues on the real and essential Gabby.
A passionate visionary
Former ABS-CBN president and CEO Charo Santos Concio, who first met Gabby in 1985 when she was hired as ABS-CBN’s Production Manager, describes him in the book as “one of the savviest, most innovative, and most influential Filipino business leaders of our time.”
History would tell us that inheriting the top post in the company did not come easy for the eldest son of Geny Lopez. “His back story is straight out of an ABS-CBN teleserye or a Star Cinema movie,” Charo writes in the book’s foreword. “Rich and famous guy’s life takes a 360-degree turn when his father is wrongfully incarcerated by an oppressive political regime. He fearlessly helps his father escape prison, after which, he is forced to live an ordinary life abroad. Divine justice prevails and he returns to the Philippines with a vengeance—armed with astonishing passion, drive and vision, to embark on a new journey.”
Charo shares it was through Gabby’s leadership, “vision and relentless drive” that ABS-CBN evolved into a multi-media conglomerate seen and enjoyed by Filipinos all over the world. “He has redefined the conduct of business in our industry, by effectively merging world-standard business practices with Filipino values such as caring, compassion and love for family,” Charo writes.
Charo says Gabby is a brilliant and astute business leader, but she adds, “he is as human and as affectionate as most of us.” She says he is the only Harvard graduate she knows who liked to jumpstart meetings by asking about the latest showbiz tsismis. “He watches scary flicks on mute because he is matatakutin. Once, when I sat beside him on a plane trip, my arms almost turned black and blue from his pinches because the inflight movie was horror.”
When Freddie Garcia, president of the network from 1997 to 2003, first met Gabby, the latter was only 16 years old. “I remember thinking back then that he was a typical teenager enjoying life,” Freddie says in the book. They only met again years later, when the Lopez family came back home after Martial Law, and “it was almost like meeting another person.”
In the book, Freddie muses: “It wasn’t just the hardships his family experienced that had changed him, or the time he spent abroad. It was a culmination of several things. He had experienced hardship and loss at such a young age and it strengthened his character and made him tough. He even worked at a gas station to help sustain their family when funds were low. By the time he came back to the country, he was more mature and more ready.”
Freddie considers Gabby a visionary. “He had a dream of how he wanted to run the company and a vision of where he wanted to take it,” he says. “And eventually, when he took the reins, he worked to make that vision a reality. He envisioned taking ABS-CBN to new heights and to make it a leader in innovative programming and cutting-edge technology.”
Monchet Olives, former head of ABS-CBN’s International and Business Development admires his former boss’ openness for trying new things. “It’s always the thrill of the moment, or the chase. Be it enjoying rolling the dice on the craps table, or his food choices,” he shares. “A lot of our ‘Aha! Moments’ were made during the enjoyment of food and drink—of every kind—from bubur ayam in Jakarta, tequilas in Mexico, and building a wine cellar, to hoarding Nobu sake in New York, and the creation of the 9501 Martini (a Gabby favorite). Everywhere we went, we tried something new. The best ideas for innovation were spoken over a meal, be it the launch of TFC over a hotdog on the steps of the MOMA (and telling me to stay and figure out how to launch what is now TFC), or the choice of getting on a pan Asian satellite over dimsum in Hong Kong.”
EL3’s brand of leadership
In EL3, Gabby’s uncle and chairman/CEO of Lopez Holdings Corp. Manuel Lopez, shares that because his brother “Geny was something of a legend” whom members of the company always spoke of fondly, Gabby had to step up and prove he was worthy of being the new leader. “I think he did this admirably with grace and poise. He continued on his dad’s tradition of being a firm but compassionate leader and he put his own style and his own personality into his work”
The former Philippine Ambassador to Japan also adds, “I knew my brother put Gabby through a tough test. It was the same for him. Our father also put Geny through tough character-building tests and he became all the better for it. I think it was the correct formula for success.”
In the book, Gabby’s sister, Gina, relates not only how close Gabby was to their father, but also how Geny “was always harder on him or stricter with him”—because he was being groomed to take over the family business. Marissa, another sister, echoes the observation. “He started in Finance and I know daddy was still harder on him than he was with everyone else. Sometimes in board meetings, Daddy would even pick on him. But Gabby was strong. He passed all the tests and he did great things for the company.”
“He never faltered,” Gina notes in the book. “As his involvement with the company grew, Gabby and Daddy continued to see each other quite regularly. They both shared the same business acumen and insights. They were both very sharp and very good with numbers.”
As the eldest boy, Gabby is “a good kuya,” the “default leader,” says Raffy, who is five years younger. “In that sense, all of us respected him. He wasn’t a model citizen by any means. Many times, he would come home late at night. He would sneak in through the back door and I would see him. And sometimes, he’d sneak out to go to parties and I’d see him. I never made him sumbong. I ended up copying him, and I also got in trouble but that’s part of growing up.”
Gabby’s uncle and Chairman Emeritus of Lopez Holdings Corp., Oscar Lopez, admires him for being “cool-minded” even at a young age. During Martial Law, when Geny decided to escape from Fort Bonifacio, they asked the help of his two sons, Gabby and Raffy, to wait outside the stockade at night. “Geny was able to get out of his prison cell because he had tools. He met his two sons in a car waiting outside. From there, they went all the way to Lingayen, where they took a plane that eventually brought them to the US. Gabby had determination. He was cool-minded about the whole thing. If he had to do something, he went and did it. I also see this in the way he handles people and situations in ABS-CBN. He always handles a crisis well.”
Gabby’s cousin, Cedie Vargas, head of Lopez Group Foundation, considers him fearless—which could be gleaned in the way he did things—“always with a lot of confidence and kinetic energy.” She adds, “He is a natural and instinctive leader. He’s bold, not afraid, to take initiative but even more importantly, not afraid to take responsibility for his actions.” In the face of problems and challenges, “Gabby is always thinking, weighing, analyzing... And he’s always three steps ahead of you. Sometimes he has to wait for you to get to where he is, to where his thoughts are going.”
Current ABS-CBN president Carlo Katigbak shares, also in the book, that who he is today as a manager and leader is mainly because of what he learned from Gabby. “In the course of almost 18 years of working together, he’s taught me many things and these are the ones that I remember the most: the value of trusting and believing in people, the courage to take risks, the fortitude to stand firm in the face of adversity, but above all, the importance of being passionate about the work we do.”
Gabby’s resignation at today’s meeting with the board of directors of the corporation comes at a time when the future of the network continues to be shaped. Even if it was written 14 years ago, a message Gabby wrote for the foreword of the book on his father, Kapitan: Geny Lopez and the Making of ABS-CBN, gives hope to those who continue to believe the network’s story isn’t over just yet. “We have survived fires, floods, coup attempts, and a dictator’s henchman storming our gates. People have been trying to write our network’s epitaph for decades. But we are still here,” it said. “Our current troubles, I am sure are only a momentary blip in a much larger story of challenge and eventual triumph.”
Special thanks to Mark Yambot and ABS-CBN Publishing, publisher of the book, EL3: In the Service of the Filipino Worldwide.