Roberto G. Manabat: A life of second chances

In Photo: Roberto G. Manabat and wife Enriqueta

AT 25, diligence and a solid work ethic have already been deeply ingrained in the character of financial adviser Roberto G. Manabat, the same qualities that have kept him at the top of his game.

Born in Manila, not far from the Blumentritt public market, Roberto “Bert” Manabat knew early on that there were no shortcuts to get to where he wanted to go. 

Long before he was appointed as the first-ever general accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and as head of a member-firm of KPMG International, one of the world’s “Big Four” audit firms, Roberto Manabat told himself the key is just good old-fashioned hard work. 

“I believe in the old adage that success is 99-percent perspiration and 1-percent inspiration. As long as you’re productive, you’ll have time for everything else,” said Manabat, KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. chairman and CEO.

Graduating from high school as the class valedictorian, Manabat enrolled in University of the East’s (UE) Business Administration program, knowing full well that his family’s limited resources could only support a regular, four-year course. 

“In the early stages of my life, in college, not coming from a well-to-do family, I knew I can only afford a four-year course, and you wanted a course that will get you a job right away. I knew that accountants were in demand. As opposed to, say, being an engineer, which was more expensive,” Manabat said, explaining the pragmatism in choosing the accounting profession. 

In college, the executive showed the same determination and single-mindedness in academics that he would later show in his career. He gained entry into an exclusive honors society, the Beta Epsilon Sigma fraternity, and was a Dean Santiago De la Cruz scholar.  

But those college years were not only a time for scholastic development for the young Manabat, but a time to pursue his personal interest, as well: It was in UE that he met his future wife, Enriqueta  “Baby”  Figueroa,  the cofounder of his fraternity’s sister-sorority, Hiyas ng Silangan.

It was no surprise then that Manabat, at 25, was not just already a ranking officer at the renowned accounting and professional services firm SGV & Co., but a newly married man, as well. 

Manabat recalls being a senior officer in charge and handling big-name accounts at 25 and, at the same time, trying to start a family. 

“You’re concerned about the security of your family, so you’re focused on work. We were not well-to-do. I had no one to rely on, and it was [my] parents who relied on me,” Manabat explained.

As a boss, Manabat puts his employees on the same strict standard of performance as he imposes on himself. 

The executive recalled, while at SGV and at the height of the cyclical season, instructing his employees to stay until 9 p.m. to finish work and avoid the traffic during the late-hour rush, and report back to work at 6 a.m. 

“That’s how I was back then, when I was in charge of people on the field. You lose so much productivity in traffic, even back then, so might as well stay late,” he said. 

As he rose to the top of the industry, Manabat began to more strongly push for good corporate governance, as it forms part and parcel of the accounting profession.

He is a member of the Global Council of KPMG International, Asia-Pacific Board of KPMG International and the Board of Trustees of the Institute of Corporate Directors, the premier organization of professional corporate directors in the Philippines promoting good corporate governance. 

Recognizing his expertise in the area, SM Investments Corp. appointed him board adviser on corporate governance.

Manabat however, admits there are some regrets as he doggedly pursued to be at the top of his field.

“In our generation, we were more focused on doing the work, sometimes to the disadvantage of the family. You have less time for the family, so in terms of what I wish I had then, I would have wished there was better work-life balance,” Manabat said. 

“I wished then I had more training on liberal arts, I was too much focused on my college degree. I wish I had improved on communication and negotiation skills,” he said.

Now having reached the apex of his career, the audit executive is holding out hope that he may have another shot at building closer ties with his growing family—with as much, if not more, determination than he infused in work.