The Politics of Having a Professional Career

When we start in our professional careers, we begin by focusing on being “professional” more than having a “career.”  This means doing our best in carrying out the tasks given to us without regard to our personal preferences or views. After all, that is what being “professional” is about. Yet, as one gets older, many of us realize that the concept of being “professional” becomes blurred and hazy in order to move up the corporate ladder of our chosen career. Terms like being a “badass,” or having to “kiss ass” pop-up like a jack-in-the-box in our careers, forcing many of us to sacrifice the “professional” part, in order to advance the “career” part.

Being a “professional” is indeed how I started out my days as an analyst at the Private Development Corporation of the Philippines (PDCP) up to my days as Managing Director of the Northern Mindanao Development Bank (NMDB). After a while though, one gets to be introduced to the politics of the corporate jungle and the nasty complexities that go with it. I always say I grew old when I was young — I learned the bitter truth that things are not always what they seem to be very early on.  Such a realization can lead to discouragement, of course. For me, however, I took them as lessons upon which, I could build a strategy for my own professional and more importantly, my personal development.

As a PDCP analyst, I would work on the 16-column yellow pads for days and endure sleepless nights just to complete my financial projections on time. This was the time we had to prepare everything on our own, and the most difficult part was doing the financial projections “spreadsheet.”

At that time, a “spreadsheet” meant the 16-inch yellow columnar pad where we used a Mongol pencil to do the multi-year projections. For us, financial analysts, doing the spreadsheet meant doing the calculations manually– using the calculator to calculate the numbers one would place in every cell; adding the column numbers and proceeding to the next column.  And this was just for the profit-and-loss (P&L) projections.  We then had to simultaneously do the cash flow and balance sheet projections. Nothing was more frustrating than finding out at the end of the calculations that the total assets would not square with the total liabilities and equity.

“spreadsheet”. A 16-column yellow pad that kept me awake for most nights back then.
Photo taken from Amazon

That kept me busy most evenings, which almost ruined my social life as I was always up in the evenings working when my contemporaries would be spending their time in folk houses (the trend in Davao City then.) Added to this task, was the travel to Dadiangas (now “Gen. Santos City”), Kidapawan, Mati, and other Mindanao towns and municipalities for project evaluations and mortgage evaluations and registration. These travels were made at the height of the MNLF and NPA activities in Mindanao. Finally, after all, these, we had to write a “Project Evaluation Report” (PER) and present to the “Staff Investment Committee” (SIC) in Manila.

What I have just said cannot be more “professional” in the strictest sense of the word. In spite of the dangers, I went to municipalities to evaluate projects and many times to foreclose on a mortgage in the middle of Sultan Kudarat.  I went through NPA checkpoints, MNLF checkpoints, and other police “cashpoints” so called because they did not accept checks, but only cash. Without any regard for my personal safety, I did my job for the company.  I was, in my opinion, a professional. And I was good in my job — very high collection rates on my loan accounts, successful foreclosures, and expanding the portfolio.

But that early, in retrospect, I was aware that to succeed, I needed to do more than just “a good professional job.” Among the difficult things, I had to do then was to foreclose on mortgages of clients in the rural areas. My heart was always heavy when I had to bring a sheriff to auction off chattel and real assets. This was the livelihood of clients that I was auctioning off, and not just a car or some hardware.

It’s not enough to have the documents in order to do a foreclosure successfully– you also need the sheriff on your side. And to have the sheriff “on your side,” you had to be on his good side, as well.  You had to know his likes and dislikes and you had to essentially “lick his ass.” This part, certainly goes beyond being a “professional” in the books of many people.

And the argument is simple: why do I need to cozy up to the sheriff?  He is a government employee and he is paid to do his job.  As such, he should perform his job as professionally as I do with mine!

If you hold on to this argument, then truly you are a professional in my book. You, of course, will be an ineffective professional, but you will not be alone. Many “professionals” will take this view.

I, of course, am of the opposite view. To be able to do my job professionally well, I needed to have the sheriff on my side. I needed him to walk the extra mile for me, and to be able to do that, I had to call on my ability to have EMPATHY. I put that in capital letters because I realized very early on in life, that many of us do not have this ability.  According to Wikipedia: Empathy is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference; like the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes.

Drawing from empathy, I could see why the sheriff will hesitate to walk an extra mile for anyone.  Given his salary, he will have to face angry people who may resort to violence in the process of a foreclosure. The sheriff may have to take a bullet in enforcing a judicial order, as I had personally experienced in more than one occasion.  From this perspective, therefore, it will not be easy for a “professional” banker to impose on the sheriff to do his job.

How then do we manage our professional career in this situation? How do we draw on our sacred moral code and professional ethical standards in this situation? This is an example where one has to look into the politics of having a professional career.

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