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An absent voice, an echo yonder

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IT’S HARD not to miss a certain, familiar voice in this time of crisis, albeit an existential one. That voice belongs to the late Levy P. Laus. What a difference he would have made as everyone from all walks of life is gripped, if not overwhelmed, by the angst the new corona virus has spawned all over the place.

There’s a sense that, somehow, he’s in many people’s mind, particularly in the business community and even the realm of public leadership today. He’s an icon for pragmatism and realism at the same time. He’s an anchor in many ways, a steady hand to keep the ship on even keel while waves batter the ship. He gets across like a cool, collected and measured voice that tells you everything will be alright.

He showed this uncommon grit – uncommon sense, he would simply define it – during the Pinatubo crisis. He was unfazed by the Asian financial crisis. I’m sure he confronted other crises before and after, both personal and corporate, private and public. In all, he perhaps emerged with a few scars, as all humans do, but a better person, businessman and leader. Luctor et emergo, he would say with deep pride, citing the slogan of his favorite alma mater.

This, too, will pass, he would say, as had all other tough and rough times before. He would see through the mist of chaos and confusion, fear and fractured sense. The situation will only get worse if we allow it to by not doing the right thing. There’s always a silver lining in every adversity. While most people would see a horizon warped by the crisis, he would find instead a wider one with new opportunities.

Only a man of this character could come up with simple but encompassing slogan like “the future in Clark is so bright you have to wear eyeglasses.” He was a man not bothered at all by raised eyebrows and muffled incredulities because he saw something where others didn’t. And he had a high batting average.

But one has to act, not react, plan, not panic.

He knows whereof he would speak: he rolled the dice on the path of his dream business decades ago when it seemed just plain foolhardy, if not insane, to do so. It seemed like a template. Many companies in his eponymous business group rose from the ashes of critical, risky circumstances. You ride a crisis, so goes his doctrine, not after the adversity is gone but before, conjuring an image of a surfer on top of a huge wave before it breaks apart into rivulets.

How did he do it? Plan according to a concrete vision of how things will look like after the storm. Unfortunately, there are only a few of his kind. That explains partly, apart from luck, why he was phenomenal. Of course, he believed that luck comes to those who are prepared for it.

He probably would wear the prescribed face mask today; only it should fit rightly to his corporate image. And that’s not a mere suggestion to people in his sphere of influence, especially in his little kingdom along JASA. To him, protocol is as good as decorum and decorum is protocol.

Would he agree to a lockdown? Expect him to come up with more sober option. His likely argument: life is business and lockdown means putting life on a stand still. There is a lifetime of experience and insight to back up his alternative idea in managing adversity with less cost and unintended consequences. Unfortunately, he left only a sketchy business playbook behind.

The other week a memo from PAMCHAM (Pampanga Chamber of Commerce and Industry) cascaded into my email box. It gave guidelines to its stakeholders on what to do and what-not in the face COVID 19. They’re basic steps meant to keep the virus at bay. Laus would probably go beyond that in a more reassuring, palpable way, it’s almost real like you could slice it with a knife.

Shortly after his death last year, people in his inner circle extolled his legacy as if it were apart from the man. He is the legacy. The whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. That’s why nostalgia is embraced like a lost gem. You can replace a chairman of the board or a CEO, you cannot replace the person.

He’s greatly, and sorely, missed, for all the things he left behind. There’s nothing like him here in the NOW.

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