When Xavier Marzan graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Management Engineering, he ventured on to a relatively different career in the early 2000s, the time when the Internet was on the rise.
“I have always been passionate about how technology and innovation can positively change lives and impact businesses, and consequently, drive income and economic growth,” said Marzan, CEO and managing director of F(DEV), the innovation arm of the Filinvest Group of Companies.
As a fresh degree holder, Marzan worked on an entrepreneurial pursuit that gave him a “broad-based view of the technology landscape and how it can enable different organizations,” he said.
During his stint at AOL Time Warner, when he moved to the United States to obtain his MBA and graduate degrees, he also had the opportunity to work alongside a number of tech startup founders learning how to approach growth, organizational culture, product, investors, and more, Silicon Valley-style.
When he returned to the Philippines about a decade ago, he said there was no tech startup and innovation ecosystem to speak of yet, and companies from emerging markets operate differently than what he has been used to in the US—more open cultures and a fast-paced environment.
“I wanted to continue being where technology can make an impact,” he said and joined Globe to work on strategy and strategic transactions on the consumer telco side. Later on, he became an early CEO/COO at GCash, sharing that it is his “personal mission to bring more financial services to the masses through technology.”
With nearly 20 years of industry experience in technology-driven sectors (digital media, Internet, telecom, and fintech), finance (M&A/investments, consumer financial services), consulting, and corporate venture-building, he’s taking another step, something familiar this time.
On to another path
From technology to finance, Marzan is now heading Filinvest’s F(DEV), taking with him his past experiences to positively impact more people, spread his wings, and apply innovation to different industries.
“All of these have helped shape and expand my perspectives in terms of what is possible from a technology innovation standpoint and how to make things possible,” he said.
Filinvest, through F(DEV), seeks to transform its core businesses to become digital-first and future-ready through partnerships with industry experts, startups, and tech enterprises to integrate new innovations and tech solutions. It also aims to run after new adjacent business models, getting a glimpse of future businesses, and changing mindsets and cultures.
On digital transformation
For Marzan, the time to do digital transformation is today, if not yesterday.
A business or company, according to him, should start with a specific business aspiration, objective, or problem that they want to solve and less about the technology itself.
“It is enabling a business to win/compete/operate in this accelerated digital future where revenue pools, business models, and competition are evolving rapidly, brought about by fast-changing customer behaviors and market dynamics,” he said.
However, challenges hounds the local tech industry in realizing the country’s digital transformation, and for Marzan, businesses need to start doing, even if it’s small actions instead of still being in the planning stage.
“They have to prioritize progress versus perfection,” he said.
With confidence, Marzan said that the Philippines could go toe-to-toe with advanced countries in terms of technology development and innovation, but needs better banking rails and infrastructure, better bandwidth in far-flung areas, better logistics, and for businesses to have easier access to capital to drive their products and innovations forward.
Path to self-disruption
Marzan has walked on various paths: what he’s supposed to, what he chose, and now, on to self-disruption.
At Filinvest, he plans to steer its direction toward becoming a future-ready and digital-first conglomerate. His mindset, “Better to disrupt oneself than wait for others to disrupt you,” is what he is leveraging within the group.
To him, self-disrupt means the ability to future-proof oneself by changing internally first before outside forces or the market disrupts them.
“It means being able to re-learn, experiment, evolve, tweak, and adjust constantly so that you are prepared for whatever disruption occurs,” he said.
With the digitally-driven and rapidly-changing global business landscape, combined with other disruptions in geopolitics, supply chain, customer behaviors and demographics, technology, and more, Marzan said “self-disruption” should be required.
If this mindset is achieved, Marzan said the aim to democratize innovation and enable everyone in the organization to innovate and be able to disrupt themselves through revisiting operations, business models, culture, and skillsets, is realized.
But to get to innovation and transformation within Filinvest, Marzan said his thinking or framework for those are: first, transforming people by providing them the right mindset, tools, and techniques to innovate and make sure the organization is equipped to adapt; second, encourage “lighting a lot of fires for innovation” whether big or small and finding a way to vet or pursue them; and lastly, big innovation efforts have to be both “top-down” and “bottoms-up.”
Still, Marzan admitted there will always be challenges in large organizations, such as existing successful structures and processes of an organization but not in a tech-driven environment, and people’s existing knowledge or skills related to technology.
Large conglomerate, bigger impact
Marzan’s belief is that large conglomerates, like Filinvest, can pave the way for greater innovation and digital inclusion in the country because it touches different industry sectors and has the capital to exact big changes and drive a lot of innovation.
Conglomerates, he added, not only employ thousands of employees but also serve millions of customers and work with thousands of businesses.
“There’s always an opportunity for the conglomerates to drive greater digital and financial inclusion enabled by technology across their networks of consumers and businesses,” he said.
To cement that, Filinvest leaped to new adjacent, tech-driven ventures to expand its portfolio of businesses, starting with Investree Philippines, the first Securities and Exchange Commision-licensed crowdfunding platform in the country, providing innovative, transparent, and viable financing solutions to local SMEs. In Investree’s third year, it recorded a 2,500 percent increase in the number of SMEs served since its launch in 2020.
The Group, Marzan said, also seeks to digitally transform internal core operations, products, and experiences in banking, real estate, power and utilities, hospitality, and even in agriculture.
He also shared that the Group’s people and culture transformation is underway, gathering leaders and teams for technology forums to teach methods, such as “design thinking,” “agile practices,” and new innovations.
“A lot of these were just ideas on paper during the pandemic and are now realities being employed by many people in the organization,” he said. (With interview by Edwin P. Sallan)