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  • By : Delmar O. Cariño
  • Sep 17, 2020

Sir Gerry, the GM

It takes a tank of guts to be the general manager of an electric cooperative whose business is highly technical. Put one who is uninitiated and the system might go kaput.

GM Gerardo Verzosa fitted his role to a tee. He was a rare breed and proved he was a class by himself. He had this kind of spunk that awed no end other GMs in the country. He too had this kind of grit steeled by experience, one which he used to amazingly steer BENECO from the brink of collapse in the 1990s to the national consciousness of the country's electric cooperatives in the last decade.

A business administration graduate of the prestigious Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), Verzosa had his humble beginnings. He first worked as a detail man of the United Laboratories, Inc., then as a marketing management trainee of Pfizer Phil. and later on as a product manager of Johnson and Johnson Phil. Inc. Many may not be aware of it but he too dabbled in politics when he was named as OIC vice mayor of his hometown in Gattaran, Cagayan.

Verzosa first came to BENECO in 1988 as project manager courtesy of the National Electrification Administration (NEA). Though he is not new to the city having hurdled his secondary classes at St. Louis Boys High School, he admitted he had butterflies in his stomach when he took the helm of the electric cooperative, no thanks to being a newbie in the power industry and not being a native son of the city known for its indigenous peoples. What he had in tow was his guts, a college degree from ADMU and a master's degree From the Fordham University at the Lincoln Center in New York.

What a timing, he mused. BENECO then has been flagged for the ebb -- double digit system loss, unpaid debts, low collection efficiency and poor operational control. Then came the 1990 earthquake that dealt the EC to its knees. The infrastructure of BENECO got walloped and for months, the EC was literally buried underneath the ruins.

Verzosa then appeared like a wild card. There were members of the Board of Directors who dissented his entry. The GM he was ordered to replace also resisted. But NEA stood its ground and insisted Verzosa as its man. In 1990, the NEA officially designated him as BENECO general manager.

Verzosa, spring chicken at his 30s, wasted no time and unleashed the stuff he was made of. Braving what he then called as quite a hostile environment, the GM started to get the pieces together to raise the electric cooperative from being nil. He burned candles to learn what an electric cooperative is all about and how to run it efficiently. He solicited the help of industry experts to gain insights on the technical parameters of electric distribution. On the sides, he minced no words in firing underperforming employees and dared lawsuits filed by employees whose employment had to be compromised due to the infusion of technology aimed at improving the internal systems of BENECO. He vividly recalls those days when he had to ride those decrepit samurai vehicles to inspect where the poles and meters will be installed. He, too, had his share of mounting complaints from consumers which he has learned to take in stride. Not that he would ignore them. But he knew his breakfast would be riddled by consumers who would gripe when their electricity gets off.

As the years progressed, Verzosa cannot be denied his time. His business acumen catapulted the EC to past industry norms. Suddenly, the books of the EC became debt free, the double digit system loss became single, the collection efficiency reached the 100 % mark and the technical side got a big boost in terms of capital infusion and technology acquisition. Today, not only is the EC recognized for the leaps it took. The Triple A rating it got from NEA is miniscule compared to what the EC is all about today – engaging in other businesses, pioneer in the use of SCADA, the first EC to ink an agreement with the DICT for the provision of internet services and erecting its own mini hydro power plant, among others.

Who is the man, the manager?

These are some of the things I learned from him.

(1)Just like Stephen Curry

Being a former Ateneo playmaker himself in the UAAP, it's no surprise that Verzosa idolized Stephen Curry, the wily and hot shooting guard of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA. This love for the hoops and the game making prowess of Curry made a great impact on how our GM shaped the future of BENECO. Through the years, he showed his preference for team play. During his time, the employees got their daily dose of solicitations for comments on this and that development. He asked the suggestions of employees concerned and consulted senior officers on urgent and crucial matters. He often urged supervisors and managers to rein on their departments if need be or give them autonomy if necessary.

Just like a hardcourt guard, he does not monopolize the shooting of the ball. He respects his DMs as his alter egos and let them raze the nets if need be. We are a team and just like Stephen Curry, we should lead with vision and crystal clear directions, he often said.

(2)Go ahead, make my day.

This is one that separates him from the rest of us. He would not blink or shrink in the eye of a storm. With an immeasurable knowledge of the ABC's of the industry, he minced no words to spar with anybody who came to criticize a plan or action which he believed was good for the electric cooperative. Talk nonsense and he will just shrug his shoulders, a subtle way of him emphasizing and ridiculing the shallowness of your argument. Talk sense and he would pursue an enhanced exchange with you, whether you are in the midst of a conference, along the lobby or even in the comfort room. It was no surprise that he would often deal the cards when in the company of GMs.

(3)Knowledge is power.

GM Gerry has an appetite for continuous learning. Nine out of ten training offers he would okay and off go the employees concerned. To him, knowledge is power. BENECO has close to P11 million a year as budget for trainings alone. To him, the employees must ride with the tide of the times and gaining knowledge would remain a stable ammunition in a highly regulated industry. It is no wonder that he would greenlight any training or seminar on the calendar, be it for hard or soft skills. That's why he too reads the post seminar reports of the participants in a bid to see something useful and applicable to the EC.

(4)If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

This I heard from him and he was serious. Defying at times the NEA's prescribed policy on compensation, the GM would readily tweak the books to be able to provide a competitive salary for BENECO employees. A lot envies the way employees of the EC are paid. Owe that to GM Gerry. He believed that people working on an industry that is complicated as an EC deserve their due. They deserve a higher pay, he claimed. The NEA could simply scratch its head when it sees that the salary scale of BENECO employees are far more comfortable than the salary of employees of other ECs.

(5)When push comes to shove.

He simply meant we better be ready when the stakes go high. Calculating and aggressive, GM Gerry would boldly embark on actions that were not previously conceived or were not anticipated. Take for instance his take that the EC will now register with the CDA. The decision was met with a lot of eyebrows since we all knew the EC strongly advocated for a status quo on two previous plebiscites on the issue. Another is when he decided to sue Team Energy Phil. over what he believed was the generator's over collection for the ICERA and GRAM due to TPEC's erroneous interpretation of ERC decisions on the matter. The suit avoided for BENECO paying more than P300 million. When push comes to shove and the consumers will ask what we did about such over collection, at least ,we did something, he said.

(6)I am not a lawyer but let's be practical.

This is typical of him. With the meetings of the board or senior officers getting stalled by legal issues, he would often butt in and say "I am not a lawyer but let's be practical about it." He would then recite the merit of his contention to the point of taking a risk by sort of sidelining what a law or regulation would strictly require. His side is simple – the law or policy might be there but they serve us guides and the EC, should its resources permit, should not be prevented to pursue actions that are helpful for as long as they would not compromise due process and fairness. To him, there is always an exception to every rule.

(7)"Sorry sa istorbo."

We are amused whenever this comes to mind. Imagine being called by the GM on a weekday rest, or while on holiday, or when you have retired at home from work and the call would run to hours. Well, that's GM Gerry. When he calls you, he would apologize for disturbing you but he would say there's just this important matter he wanted to relay for fear of forgetting them. Randy would often say his ears got burned talking to GM. But that's how it is. He is the GM and he has that prerogative to call and summon even at the height of your slumber. Simply because he wants the message conveyed right away, issues clarified immediately or thoughts he would believe was worth the listener's attention. You gain his trust if you do talk to him for a long time even while you are walking, in the grocery or while taking dinner. In my case, my date got ruined since he called me while in the middle of a movie at SM. When we stopped talking, the movie already ended.

The GM, however, is also human. I saw him with a moist eye when he addressed the accident that befell Joel Esteban, a lineman who lost a limb when his teammates slipped past protocols on power restoration. The GM also laughs boisterously, rocking the entire BENECO office then at Alapang, La Trinidad and the halls of the left wing of South Drive headquarters when one could tell him stories to his liking. He, too, could not conceal his displeasure and would really get mad. But Randy Carolino, the MRBDCO, says the GM's high blood has mellowed through the years. He has learned though to rein his temper but at times, he would let it loose too. BENECO employees knew that whenever the GM would ask for a cigarette, the storm is just around the corner. Not that we detested that. But it is him, the human side of himself.

Now that he is gone, we could only cry. He has touched our lives and we will miss him more than ten times.

In January of this year, he joined the other celebrants on stage to dance the "Sissiwit," a chart topping local composition. He gamely swayed and did the native twist.

I would rather remember him that day than think he is now dead. But I can't deny, I myself owe him a lot. In fact, I was completing this article sans the fact of his demise in time for his planned tribute.

Alas, God took him first.

Sir Gerry, I will forever be grateful to you.

You are our man, our GM.