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Dr. Milagros Ong-How, Executive Vice President of Universal Harvester, Inc.

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The champion of the modern Philippine agriculture revolution, a visionary and staunch advocate of agriculture best technology and practices. This is how Dr. Milagros Ong-How is regarded by the mass media and the agriculture sector in general, she has become synonymous with pioneering initiatives aimed at uplifting the general welfare of the Filipino farmer-family.

A BS Biology student of the University of the Philippines Diliman, she has always wanted to be a medical doctor then, but fate opened a different door for her. She was only 19 when she started doing chemical trading business with her mother. Through years of hard work and perseverance, her business became the leading chemical manufacturer and distributor in the country.

For 43 years, she surrounded herself with brilliant minds, mentors and loyal colleagues. Dr. How aggressively invested her time and energy in venturing into new projects, looking at the future and leading the flock with minute details in every step.

Now, she’s the matriarch of the Universal Harvester Group of companies, owner of various industries in chemical; fiberglass; shipping; food and restaurant; and in the last 15 years where Universal Harvester, Inc. has become the flagship enterprise, the group is massively expanding in the Agriculture industry, Organic & Inorganic Fertilizer; Dairy Production of fresh milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, etc.; Livestock Feed Plant such as Total Mixed Ration (TMR and Concentrates); Rice Milling and Trading; Agriculture Information Technology Applications; Meat Processing; Agriculture Machineries; and recently, the group began exploring the Movie Film Production; Drinking Water Treatment Plant; Renewable Energy Plant on Solar, Wind and Hydropower; Activated Carbon Plant; And docks/ports.

Under the leadership of Dr. How, the chemical enterprise maintained its stature over the years, increasing its production annually as it meets the growing demand of the industry, building more facilities every year. The shipping business slowly increasing its fleet to now 17 chemical tankers, 3 dry bulk, 5 LPG tanker, 8 oil tankers and 16 tugboats. In the food and restaurant business, a new store opened recently in Laguna.

In a little over 10 years, Dr. How paved the way for Universal Harvester, Inc., to become the leader in the Fertilizer distribution in the Philippines. Creating more distribution points which now includes 12 unloading ports, 4 manufacturing plant and 38 warehouses across the country. Supplying a complete line of organic and inorganic fertilizer products in the Philippines, other Asian countries and in Latin America while maintaining a Quality Management System certified by, and compliant with ISO standards.

The love for the Filipino Farmers and her genuine concern for the agriculture industry moved Dr. How when she heeded the call of the Dairy industry last June 2015. In an unprecedented pace, Dr. How developed a 456ha. ordinary barren land in the heart of Mindanao to a state-of-the-art dairy production facility, the largest in the Philippines.

And in the past 6 months, Universal Harvester Group headed by Dr. How, forged numerous undertakings with Japanese and Chinese Business Giants on new distribution model/channels, Drinking Water Treatment Plant, Renewable Energy Plant, and Activated Carbon Plant.

Overall, the group employs around 2,000 personnel, sustained relationships with a nationwide network of more than 6,500 farmers’ cooperatives and associations, and translating that relationship to help 8.4 million farmers to maximize the benefits of the company’s products, services and assistance.

She is known to be a maverick, unorthodox and always thinking out of the box. She is comfortable working with professionals who understand her style, she wants her team to know how the business should work, how she expects them to pro-act and react in different business situation, anticipate and make good judgement at their level. One must achieve the necessary business acumen, endurance and attitude to pass her “average” standard.

Correspondingly, Dr. How maintains a unique incentive and penalty system. Generous enough to make one want to do it better next time, and if in an unfortunate circumstance of being penalized, such is clearly understood that everyone is a stakeholder, not to commit mistakes at the expense of the company. Pushing the envelope to strive for continuous improvement, “every year, we must raise the bar!”, as Dr. How always say, referring to the projects we undertake.

Dr. How always remembers her mother’s advice, “ensure that you build true stakeholders and loyal clientele while you share the fruits and blessings of your enterprise with others.” She added one dimension to this. She made sure that the business process results not just in success measured by the traditional parameters of business performance. For her, the true measure is happiness and satisfaction of her customers, partners and stakeholders. She does all this with her personal touch. Surprisingly in a gargantuan effort. Dr. How personally attends and visits to meet customers, partners and acquaintances to present gifts and token for every occasion, virtually to all that she comes across in her day to day routine. It’s literally Christmas everyday with Dr. How.

In a remarkable way, Dr. How initiated projects never seen in the agriculture industry. Beginning 2012, she led a nationwide private sector recognition system for “The Outstanding Farmers of the Philippines (tofarm.org)”, granting numerous awards to achievers in the agriculture sector. She also funded a research on cassava and maize site specific nutrition management with the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI) where harvest can easily yield at least 300% more. She is also propagating a computer application (A Farm Story) with Japan company E-supportlink, Ltd., for farmer use to improve their productivity, knowledge sharing and directly connections to buyers. After the onslaught of typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), she immediately responded to help by launching the “Back-To-Farm” project which eventually became the “Adopt-a-Farmer” program aimed at providing free farm inputs to calamity stricken or poor agriculture communities until they can become sustainable again. On its second year, the first ever TOFARM Film Festival, a festival of films about farmers, agriculture and the bounties of nature. Now for her most recent venture, the 1st TOFARM songwriting competition with a theme “planting the seeds of change”. There is more, alongside these national projects, Dr. How under the banner of the Universal Harvester Group, put in place programs and systems to help farmers improve farm productivity, protect and preserve the quality of their soils, and improve their standards of living. Among these are training programs, study tours to help them engage and learn new technologies; on-site assistance for better farm input applications; and exploring integrated farming like high value crops, dairy and new business opportunities to augment their income during lean months.

The direction for the future includes the development of more relevant products for the farmers. The company initiated market studies and preparatory development of network and business alliance to support value chain enterprises and franchise “one- stop-shops” with a Japanese International Brand/Firm. This will support the farmers’ aspiration for an integrated and complete line of reasonably-priced farm inputs, the product line is being expanded to include seeds, farm implements, crop and life insurance, and other post-harvest facilities.

To support the need for an efficient value chains, Dr. How sets her vision at implementing a Commodities Exchange Program to serve as nucleus for agricultural commodity trading and will connect producers and users of agricultural commodities through origination, processing, marketing, and distribution capabilities and services. It will give opportunities to small and medium sized farms to become commercial enterprises and subsistence farmers to enter commercial production.

In Dr. How’s appointment as the ambassador to the Philippines by the International Fertilizer Association, a global network of fertilizer manufacturers/distributors. Dr. How is already working on new opportunities for the Universal Harvester Group to expand its market and build new value chain business locally and abroad.

Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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Callum Connects

Malcolm Tan, Founder of Gravitas Holdings

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Malcolm Tan is an ICO/ITO and Cryptocurrency advisor. He sees this new era as similar to when the internet launched.

What’s your story?
I’m a lawyer entrepreneur who owns multiple businesses, and who is now stepping into the Initial Coin Offering/Initial Token Offering/Cryptocurrency space to be a thought leader, writer (How to ICO/ITO in Singapore – A Regulatory and Compliance Viewpoint on Initial Coin Offering and Initial Token Offering in Singapore), and advisor through Gravitas Holdings – an ICO Advisory company. We are also running our own ICO campaign called AEXON, and advising 2 other ICO’s on their projects.

What excites you most about your industry?
It is the start of a whole new paradigm, and it is like being at the start of the internet era all over again. We have a chance to influence and shape the industry over the next decade and beyond and lead the paradigm shift.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I’m Singaporean and most of my business revolves around the ASEAN region. Our new ICO advisory company specialises in Singaporean ICO’s and we are now building partnerships around the region as well. One of the core business offerings of our AEXON ICO/ITO is to open up co-working spaces around the region, with a target to open 25 outlets, and perhaps more thereafter.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore, since it is my hometown and most of my business contacts originate from or are located in Singapore. It is also a very open and easy place to do business.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Be careful of your clients – sometimes they can be your worst enemies. This is very true and you have to always be careful about whom you deal with. The closest people are the ones that you trust and sometimes they have other agendas or simply don’t tell you the truth or whole story and that can easily put one in a very disadvantageous position.

Who inspires you?
Leonardo Da Vinci as a polymath and genius and leader in many fields, and in today’s world, Elon Musk for being a polymath and risk taker and energetic business leader.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Early stage bitcoin investors would have made 1,000,000 times profit if they had held onto their bitcoins from the start to today – in the short space of 7 years.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Seek out good partnerships and networks from day one, and use the power of the group to grow and do things together, instead of being bogged down by operations and going it alone from start.

How do you unwind?
I hardly have any time for relaxation right now. I used to have very intense hobbies, chess when I was younger, bridge, bowling, some online real time strategy games and poker. All mentally stimulating games and requiring focus – I did all these at competitive levels and participated in national and international tournaments, winning multiple trophies, medals and awards in most of these fields.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Phuket – nature, resort life, beaches, good food and a vibrant crowd.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Richard Kiyosaki

Shameless plug for your business:
Gravitas Holdings (Pte) Limited is the premier ICO Advisory company and we can do a full service for entrepreneurs, including legal and compliance, smart contracts and token creation, marketing and PR, and business advisory and white paper writing/planning.

How can people connect with you?
Write emails to [email protected], or [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@malcolmABM

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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