Recently the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) was celebrating its Alumni Get-Together for the College of Arts and Sciences’ 25th Anniversary celebration and decided to have as among its many speakers some of its earlier alumni who have made their mark in the business world. One of these speakers who caught my attention was David Leechiu.
David is today one of 300 International Directors in Jones Lang LaSalle worldwide. He is Managing Director of its operation in the Philippines. Jones Lang LaSalle is a professional services and investment management company specializing in real estate.
The company’s real estate services include agency leasing, capital markets, tenant representation, property management, facilities management, hotel advisory, project and development management, energy and sustainability services, valuations, consulting, and research.
(Wow! Quite a mouthfull!) I decided to add the preceding paragraph to give you a better appreciation of what David has attained since leaving school in 1994. But I think I am getting ahead of myself! As the song goes: “Let’s start at the very beginning.”
Who is David Leechiu?
He is a Filipino who comes from a middle income family. His father made it a point to get him into one of the finest schools in existence then, Xavier in San Juan. But by the time he got to 2nd year high-school, he found himself outside looking in — he was expelled! (His words not mine.) He didn’t bother to even sugarcoat his dismissal! He calls it the way it is. That’s very evident when you talk to David — his sincerity!
David ended up graduating from Children’s House Montessori Lane! For college he tried out with La Salle, Ateneo, and UP to no avail. He didn’t pass his entrance exams! Then some friend told him about a new school in Pasig, the well-known Center of Research and Communications (CRC) College of Arts and Sciences — now known as University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P). He feels that the only reason he made it there is because he impressed them during his interview! (I feel it must have been his candidness, rather than anything else.) When you talk to David you get no sugar-coated replies. In talking to me for this interview he could have very well have skipped his being expelled, or avoid talking about it, but he readily brought it up. He made it a point to say and I quote “CRC/UA&P had a reputation for being a school for rich kids but there were many of us there who took the jeep or bus…”
At UA&P, he signed up for a course which was still unknown in Manila then: “Entrepreneurial Management.” No other university offered such a course. Only 60 were finally allowed to enroll. The enrollees were split into classes of 30 each. Only 19 made it to their 4th year and only five of them graduated on time (the other 15 spent one more year finishing their back subjects).
David was one of the five. The other four were part of a study group which he formed during their sophomore year! He could already foresee that he needed this as a “crutch” to really buckle-up and study. The four were Rico Ricafort, now a Pastor; Vinay Daswani (who shifted courses mid-term to Philosophy… to avoid Math) who is now a CFO of a restaurant chain in the US; LeeJay Tiotuico, a very successful entrepreneur; and Raymond Reyes, who now works for a shared-service operation of a US-based company. A common thread among them is that all come from middle class families. In fact, today they have set up a scholarship for students who, like them, come from the same income class. Their initial donations are now augmented by their tenacious pursuit of donations from multinational corporations.
His new-found dedication, he feels, came from the University’s Mentoring Program. The University assigns a mentor to each student, a professor or administrator who plays a crucial role in the student’s pursuit of meaning and truth. No student should feel he walks alone in UA&P and it is precisely his mentor who serves as a grounded anchor, helping him weather the storms and tough seas in student life. The essence of mentoring lies in a relationship built on sincere affection and friendship for each individual student. The student has a one-on-one meeting with his mentor as often as he feels he needs it, but at least once a month. He can discuss personal matters, academic matters, his love-life, problems with his family — you name it, he can discuss this with his mentor. There is a bond established between mentor and mentee. What is taken up between them is kept strictly between themselves. If the mentor wants to invoke the help of the mentee’s parents, he can do so provided he clears it first with the mentee!
It’s this type of coaching David found most invaluable while at UA&P.
With his diploma in hand, he went to work for Fuller O’Brien Paints as a salesman. At this stage he had a girlfriend but couldn’t afford to marry yet, so he decided to break off with her so as not to be an encumbrance to her.
Soon after he also left Fuller O’Brien and went into buying and selling anything and everything, from T-shirts to sports shoes and a myriad of small priced items. He was going to try and build a small business. As luck would have it, he found himself in the UA&P Cafeteria and ran into Ramon “Ramoncito” Cuervo III. In their short encounter, Ramoncito told him about the great potential of real estate and invited him to visit the offices at Cuervo Far East. One thing led to another and David ended up working for the company, with Ramon Cuervo Jr., Ramoncito, Josemari Cuervo, and Marc Townsend, an expatriate, as his teachers/mentors. The company underwent a change in that period and formed a loose partnership with Richard Ellis. Soon after, David’s world took a new turn and he ended up working for Lindsay Orr, who became his new mentor.
Orr was tasked to form a new company by First Pacific Davies, which had Savills as its corporate name, and asked David to be part of the new team. David readily accepted! It was a big promotion and this gave him a great opportunity to get back the “Love of his Life,” Carmela Camus, the lady he had to release because he didn’t have enough to buy her a proper engagement ring!
In 2003, Davies/Savills found operating in the Philippines too messy, too high risk, and too small. They decided to sell the operations to David at very friendly terms! By then David was married and offered his father-in-law, Jose Fernando Camus, and another business associate, Angela Hollander-Padilla, an opportunity to be his partners as he formed Leechiu and Associates. From a small business of 25 people, the company grew over the next five years and was acquired by Jones Lang LaSalle. In their agreement, Jones Lang LaSalle group agreed to rebrand to Jones Lang LaSalle Leechiu in the Philippines, to capitalize on the impeccable reputation which David had in the business community.
Today the company has reverted to its original name of Jones Lang LaSalle, but still has David Leechiu as Country Head and as one of 300 International Directors. They have a presence in more than 70 different countries worldwide.
As for the love of his life, Carmela Camus, they now have six children, ages 14 years old to 10 months!
As I look back to the day I heard David talk with the undergrads at UA&P, I realize how a good solid education can affect an individual!
ARTICLE BY JAVIER CALERO ON BUSINESS WORLD ONLINE.