It was by getting into UP that Filemon berba Jr. gave himself the chance to fulfill his father’s thwarted dreams of becoming an engineer. But Berba would also become much more than an engineer, using his expertise to not only improve systems but also work with the people and make their lives better.
He knew that being a UP student was going to be hard, so he studied well. At the end of the first semester of his freshman year, he was a University Scholar, and it seems he never let up from then on, as he graduated magna cum laude. He joined the Beta Epsilon Fraternity, becoming one of the Most Exalted Brothers. He was also a member of the Engineer Student Council.
After graduation, he turned out lucrative offers from bigger companies so that he could practice his profession the way he wanted it to be. He worked at the General Electric as a technical service engineer where he did not get paid as much as he could have been in other firms, but he loved what he was doing.
He also earned a scholarship to study his masters in Electrical Engineering, but he instead decided to pursue an MBA from Wharton’s Business School. This background would provide the material for his success. He went from being an engineer to becoming a professional manager. He says, “The way to handle people isn in the analysis of the process productivity,” and in that sense “engineering is about understanding people and transforming their mindset.”
In 1973, Berba faced his greatest challenge when United Laboratories had a problem with its manufacturing and the company asked Berba to step in and solve their problem. The problem turned out to be a matter of leadership. Without replacing anyone, he revamped the system by restructuring management, motivating people, and increasing productivity through good leadership.
Another example of Berba’s management skill was his work with Philippine Electric, a transformer manufacturing plant which he helped establish in 1969. After serving as president for two-and-a-half years, the company recovered from its financial woes. He solved their problem with the labor organization, the Kilusang Mayo-Uno by talking to them, giving them benefits and bonuses. Berba’s outstanding achievement as an executive is best seen in the success of the companies that he was at the helm as president - Westinghouse, PHILEC, IMI, GLobe, and Manila Water.
Berba served as the president of the Philippine Foundation for Science and Technology, its current operations being the Science Centrum and Traveling Interactive Science Exhibits. The idea of travelling exhibits came to him when, realizing that the country is an archipelago, and not everyone in the country has access to the same opportunities as those who live in the metropolitan areas.
Berba is a people person and he continues to help people, whether its is through improving the systems around them , making their work environments better, or bringing knowledge to people around the country.