16 Aug 2018

Working with a Giver’s Spirit

In the Philippines, an entrepreneur helps other business leaders have economic and social impact
Re: Cindy Ko (MBA 2005)
by Constantine von Hoffman


Photo by Louie Aguinaldo

If you were looking for the perfect candidate to run a nonprofit that fights poverty through entrepreneurship, Manny Ayala (MBA 1992) is just the person you’d want.

That was the opinion of Cindy Ko (MBA 2005) in 2013 when she was Asia-Pacific head for Endeavor, the global peer-to-peer network of business owners that promotes economic growth by mentoring and supporting high-impact entrepreneurs. Ko was looking for a new managing director of the Philippine chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, and Ayala’s name kept surfacing.

At the time, Ayala was—and still is—chairman of Hatchd Digital, the Philippine tech incubator behind a number of remarkable companies, including Ayannah, which uses social media and mobile platforms to provide digital commerce and payment services to the world’s unbanked; PawnHero, an online pawnshop that allows people to borrow against belongings at interest rates half that of traditional pawnshops; and Rappler, the Philippines’ last independent news outlet and where Ayala also serves as chairman of the board.

“At Hatchd, it’s kind of like we’re professional cofounders,” he says.

Ko, who is now Asia lead for Zipline International, which makes and operates small robotic aircraft to deliver essential medical products, first asked Ayala to help her assemble and vet the board for Endeavor Philippines, and he happily agreed.

“That then turned into, ‘Well, can you help me find somebody to run this?’” he recounts. “So I would send her resumes and she would look at them and see something interesting, and then she’d say, ‘They’re OK, but the person I’m looking for is you.’”

This exchange continued, genially, for a year and a half, until several of Hatchd’s board members told Ayala that his taking the reins of Endeavor Philippines would help their country.

“The mission statement of Endeavor is to create an economic multiplier effect in markets where it’s difficult for small entrepreneurs to become really large and successful,” says Ayala. “And the way they create this multiplier effect is by helping to scale up a very special kind of entrepreneur that we call the ‘high-impact entrepreneur.’”

There are three things that define high-impact to Endeavor. First is having the commercial skills to create something that’s large and successful, creating a lot of jobs and revenue. Second is doing something that’s disruptive and transformative and that will both help people and inspire other entrepreneurs.

“The last way you’re high-impact—and frankly this is the reason I decided to do this—is when you pay it forward as an entrepreneur,” he says. “Once you’re successful, you re-invest your success in the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

In fact, re-investment has been the hallmark of his entire career.

“When I applied to HBS, I was a TV reporter,” Ayala says. “I wanted to figure out how media can generate more profit and then therefore plow more money back into really useful things. My passion is unleashing human capital, which means helping people unlock their potential. At the time, for me, the key to this was using the media to educate and inform.”

As much as Ayala appreciates the technical skills he learned at HBS, he thinks that the “softer” skills have turned out to be even more important.

“You learn the art of intelligent debate and how not to be bound to your own mental models,” he says. “It’s the skill of being able to debate intelligently and defend the premises you put forward, while engaging with people with very different viewpoints. It’s a skill that we seem to need now more than ever, right?”

After HBS, Ayala held top management positions at several media companies—including TNT and Cartoon Network Asia, where he was deputy general manager, and Discovery Networks Asia, before becoming managing director at IRG Ltd., a Hong Kong–based, boutique M&A firm focused on the telecom, media, and tech industries.

In each of these he found the key to true, measurable, bottom-line success was helping others.

“There’s a spectrum of behavior,” says Ayala. “On the one extreme are the givers and on the other extreme are the takers. A taker will try to maximize every encounter for themselves. The question they ask is, What’s in it for me? whereas givers will ask, How can I help this person?—not for any gain, but just because it’s the right thing to do. Givers become successful because of the long tail of good will they created. And the spirit of Endeavor is very much a giver’s spirit.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1992, Section A

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