> People and Places > The Leading Man: Attorney Felipe Gozon

The Leading Man: Attorney Felipe Gozon

The tenets of billiards require an appreciation of the bigger picture and having the foresight to know when to make a ball or strike a setup shot. Attorney Felipe Gozon has these skills, on and off the table – they’re what make him a winner and mainstay in the broadcasting industry.

How do you prepare to meet someone of such distinction? What can you bring to the table that can “wow” someone who regularly walks the same corridors that the greatest and most well-known personalities in the entertainment industry have walked? How do you create rapport with someone who was educated at UP and

Yale, who sits as the chairman and board member of innumerable committees and organizations, and who continues to cultivate his company in ways its founders could only dream of?

Whatever I’d done to mentally psyche myself in preparation for this interview and shoot was about to go out the two-story bay window of Atty. Gozon’s beautiful home in Forbes Park. Up the grey cobbled driveway, through the heavy double doors, across the white marble threshold of the Gozon’s modern-style home, and looking up at the high ceiling of the foyer, I couldn’t help but feel even more miniscule just steps away from meeting the stereotyped larger-than-life corporate exec seen in movies who’s feared by all and loved by none.

“Oh, Angel,” he says to his assistant who escorts us into the formal dining room, “you’re still here.” A previous publication was there earlier that day. “Or did you come back for more snacks?” They laugh heartily as we take our seats. I calm my nerves as I sip on cold iced tea and he peruses through the magazines we laid beside his stack of newspapers.

He sets his cup down on its saucer and looks over the rim of his glasses, “So what do you want to do today? We can take the photos anywhere. Except the bedroom.” Before I have time to respond he quips, “Because my wife’s still sleeping.” Another round of laughs ensues.

Law School Days in U.P. and Yale Atty. Gozon’s down-to-earth candor hearkens back to his days as a wayward college silent. During his pre-law years at the University of the Philippines, Atty.Gozon spent all his free time playing and becoming proficient at billiards. So much so that even upon entering the College of Law, he continued, to spend more time in the billiard hall. “You know that billiards, you have to play every day. It’s a matter of feeling. The champions now, they play almost all day, every day. Gumaling talaga ako doon.

His day of reckoning came in the form of his father’s stern reaction to catching him in the billiard hall one morning. I neglected my studies and got very poor grades in my first two years at the College of Law,” he recalls. “While he did not scold me, he treated me as if I did not exist for about two months.

This made me realize that i was being very irresponsible and wasting my future.” Like many of life’s humbling lessons, it was through paternal love, albeit tough, which brought about necessary change. Atty. Gozon was able to turn his performance around. He graduated among the first 10 of the 1962 graduating class and qualified to be admitted to the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society, and to the Order of Purple Feather.

I guess it helps to know your calling early on. For Atty. Gozon, finishing pre-law then pursuing a law degree just seemed to be the natural flow of things. “I was very argumentative. All my classmates, including my family thought, well, I didn’t even have to think. It’s just like, I will be taking law all the time. There was no question for me what I would pursue.”

After graduating from the UP College of Law, Atty. Gozon then went on to Yale for his post-graduate studies. It was there that the learning from each

institution further honed the deftness of an already consummate lawyer. “In UP, i learned that there’s no substitute for study and preparation in getting high grades. An in Yale, I learned how to think, that there’s more than one solution to a given problem and the trick is to choose the best solution, and to be completely on my own.”

Specializing in aviation law was another natural step in Atty. Gozon’s career path. He joined Philippine Airlines and eventually became the VP for legal. “Of course, i specialized in aviation law, as head of the legal department, I had to.” His experience there garnered him the title of being one of the leading experts in this field by the Asia Pacific Legal 500.

Success begets Success
With more success came more recognition. Atty. Gozon was awarded the Gintong Parangal Award in the Field of Business and Community Service, and the Outstanding Citizen of Malabon Award for Legal and Business Management by Kapisanan ng mga Samahan sa Malabon in 1993 and 2005, respectively. The two are his most treasured awards of many. “Because they say that no one is a hero in his own hometown, and because that is where I grew up I assume that all of those who voted to give me that award really knew me.”

Then in 2005, SGV/Ernst & Young selected Atty. Gozon as the Master Entrepreneur of the Year,
an award given to those who have maintained management excellence over a sustained period of time. “This one meant a lot to me because it is a recognition of my achievement in a field outside of the profession which I studied and practice.”

The latter award, of course, is in reference to his role as President and CEO of the GMA Network. However, his involvement in the company was a self-proclaimed accident. “It was a necessary consequence of my investment in the equity of the Network that I reluctantly made in 1973 or ’74,” says Atty. Gozon. “If Bob and Mrs. Stewart did not nag me to buy the treasury shares of the Network, I would not have bought part of those treasury shares.” GMA had to buy back shares from the American Broadcasting Company after the 1971 Constitution required the ownership of mass media to be 100 percent Filipino. The rest, as they say, is history.

Now, he finds the work at GMA to be more exciting. Between his law firm and the network, he no longer feels the need to devote as much time practicing law because the partners and associates have become, in his words, “competent to the point that they don’t really need me to be there.”

As a matter of fact, he’s eager to take on the challenges in unfamiliar territory. “In GMA-7, there are no precedents and jurisprudence you can refer to in determining who among the talents and what programs will appeal most to the viewers. Also, you get to personally meet and know the popular actresses and actors you only got to see in the movies and TV before. You have to always observe the trends, what’s in vogue, and the results of your efforts and work are more promptly known.”

And his efforts have paid off. At the heart of this organization since October of 2000, he’s even made a fan out of President Benigno Aquino III along the way. At GMA Network’s 60th Anniversary Celebration this past August, President Noynoy was reported as saying, “I’m not just a viewer. As your President, I am your partner.”

But the President isn’t the only fan and the numbers show it. In 2003, the network’s ratings surpassed that of ABS-CBN’s in Mega Manila, a key area which comprises 55 percent of the total urban television households nationwide. Success, however, hasn’t been without its challenges. “What I found to be the most difficult challenges were to initially change the culture and orientation of the people in the Network and to let go of the executives that I determined to be the stumbling blocks to the pursuit of the Network’s objectives,” Atty. Gozon asserts. “Nobody then believed that we could succeed in overtaking ABS-CBN in ratings and profitability. But when we started to show substantial improved results, all of us proceeded to go in the same direction.”

The Family Man
The apple hasn’t landed far from the tree, with his charisma and passion for both professions cascading down to his children. Eldest daughter Anna-Teresa and son Philip are partners at his law firm Belo Gozon Elma PareL Asuncion & Lucila. Anna-Teresa, the eldest is also the President of GMA Films. He speaks so fondly of his children that his speech begins to take an air of nostalgia. He recounts in great detail Philip’s years at Harvard and how the first question he’d always ask when he phoned home was whether their Siberian husky was doing well. He rattles off the achievements and placement of each child from elementary through grad school and proudly names each of his grandchildren, the youngest of which is nursing upstairs.

In fact, all of his children and their families live together under one roof – just the way he and his wife Tessie, who has just come to join us, would like. Despite the busy schedule befitting a multi-billion-peso enterprise president, he still manages to squeeze in a two- or three-week vacation each year with the entire family, including grandchildren.

Above all else, Atty. Gozon is a family man. A family man in the sense that it took his wife’s constant reminders to have his blood sugar checked that eventually led to a diagnosis from Dr. Litonjua, a good friend of his. “I was already seeing Dr. Litonjua, but for something entirely different from diabetes. It was her nagging,” he jokingly points in Mrs. Gozon’s direction “that finally made me agree to be tested. Tapos ‘Wow!’ taas pala ng blood sugar ko. Two years ago lang yan. But if it were not for her, I would never have known, kahit na I feel fine hanggang ngayon.”

He knows better now. “It has to be handled very early, because of the lifestyle of people now, eh nung araw paano magkaka-diabetes yung mga tao, walang makain,” he jests. “Ngayon ang problema how to diet.” Under Atty. Gozon’s leadership, GMA has long partnered up with diabetes awareness programs to educate the masses of this serious disease. At the recent Diabetes Expo, Atty. Gozon was interviewed saying, “Media tayo eh. We can help in making people aware of this disease.”

Surprisingly, Atty. Gozon confides that he hasn’t changed his lifestyle much. Just that he’s more in tune with the signals his body gives him and that he religiously takes his prescribed medications as Dr. Litonjua instructs. Between exercise and laughter, it’s clearly apparent which activity he’s more apt to participate in. “Unfortunately, because I do the more serious work that needs my full concentration in the early mornings before I go to the office, I’ve never gotten around to using my golf club memberships. But laughter, ay siya, of course, pag yan ang nawala…,” he shakes his head without uttering another word as if the simple thought of life without laughter is itself abominable.

Well, do you have a billiard table at least? “Wala na, wala na. I stopped playing a long time ago, after that second year in college. Di ko naman bisyo eh. You know why I enjoyed it? I was winning.” And it’s this benevolent quality that truly sets Atty. Gozon in a league above all others. From billiards to billboards, his charisma and fervor for the important things in life are nothing short of contagious. So much so, that as we walked back to the van, I felt my worst fears going into the interview, like the hopes of an opponent watching the eight ball drop into the corner pocket, evaporate in the afternoon sun – I felt like he did all those years ago, and still does, even today – a winner.

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