The Story Of First Pacific Company

Interesting (albeit somewhat promotional) recent article in the Philippine Star about the history and evolution of First Pacific as well as the decades-long friendship between Ed Tortorici and Manny Pangilinan. First Pacific was set up in 1981 in Hong Kong with an initial focus on investment banking and financial services. It was backed by the Salim family of Indonesia. Over time, it evolved into an investment holding company with interests across a wide range of sectors and geographies.

Richard Lawrence of Overlook, who worked for a HK-listed unit of First Pacific in the 1980s, once wrote that “what [the company] lacked in focus was made up for by its being a pioneer in many other aspects.” Today, First Pacific is much more focused, having divested its legacy and non-core investments. The company’s remaining investments are in the telecommunications, consumer food products, infrastructure and natural resources sectors across Indonesia and the Philippines. 

Some brief highlights from the article:

  • Pangilinan first met Anthoni Salim in 1978. At the time, he was an investment banker at the American Express Bank. Investment banking in those days consisted mostly of syndicated loans and some project finance. They arranged the first source of external financing for the Salim Group, via a US$45m syndicated loan.
  • The business landscape in Asia back then was “dominated by closely held, family-owned conglomerates” – it was difficult to even get the necessary information to close the deal because family businesses tended to be very secretive about their operations.
  • In its early years, First Pacific was very acquisitive and made a wide range of financial and strategic investments. Pangilinan met Tortorici following the company’s 1982 acquisition of Hibernia Bank. A few years later, he asked Tortorici to come out to Hong Kong and help out on another assignment. Tortorici thought he would only stay 4-5 years, but has never left.
  • While Pangilinan guides the overall direction of the company, Tortorici has taken on the role of the “enforcer,” with a particular focus on operations and execution. The relationship also works because Tortorici can say and do what Manny often can’t, owing to delicadeza (cultural sensitivity, Filipino tact). Together, it’s a good balance.
  • They say they have tried to build a values-driven organisation and promote a culture of both transparency and collaboration. Very different to the typical management model in Asia, which Pangilinan calls a very “yes-sir” type of culture.
    • In recent years, Pangilinan has spent significant time in Silicon Valley, meeting with executives at leading companies such as Facebook and Google. They are trying to bring elements of that culture back and promote a more entrepreneurial mindset at First Pacific (closer to what it was like in the early years).