The language of wealth

Posted at 11/14/12 12:02 AM

Anyone’s first glimpse of Ayala Tower One will reveal that wealth lives there. The iconic building houses the Makati trading floor of the Philippine Stock Exchange for one. It is also where brothers Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala rule the family’s huge businesses.

As the elevator swooshed up to the 35th floor where I was to have a very brief interview with Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala, I couldn’t help but notice that the Ayala language of wealth is distinctive. It is subdued, but can never be mistaken for anything but affluence. A bias for understated elegance. Clean. The Apple Macintosh of Philippine business. Top quality, but never ever “screaming” money.

The higher you go, the more courteous and warm the staff get, leaving the cold business environment that permeates the ground floor. As I transferred for the third time to a separate set of elevators that brought me to the Ayala Corp. boardroom on the top floor, I couldn’t help but wonder: how would it feel to have everything you want?

On different levels, people think it’s always better for those higher up on the financial ladder. And the Ayalas are right there at the top--7th in Forbes’ 2012 list of Filipino billionaires. But one thing I’ve learned in my years of studying people’s behavior on their road to wealth and financial independence is that money doesn’t make the man (or person).

I’ll repeat that. Money doesn’t make the man. Just being on top doesn’t make life easier or make people automatically better than others. Rather, it’s the man that makes that position matter.

Jaza, as he is called, makes being a billionaire seem less about the money but more about building values, culture, and doing the right thing. At least, that’s the impression I got from a 20-plus-minute interview.

Jaza came in very much prepared for my questions. I learned that he takes time to study well for every meeting and interview. He was on time, gracious, and focused. During a light moment while trying to set up the cameras, he smilingly joked that it was useless to attempt to button up his suit. It’s Fernando who loves sports and running, he's more relaxed with life, he says.

Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala with author at the Ayala Corp. boardroom

Relaxed is hardly the word I would use for someone who runs a conglomerate, with brands that are in every Filipino household. His schedule is not something that most of us working girls and boys can handle, but one thing particularly struck me. By dinner time, Jaza is with his family. There are no media interviews, not even via phone.

When in Glorietta on weekends, Jaza and his family line up to pay for whatever it is they are buying. I even heard that he lined up to withdraw from a Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) ATM and declined when somebody offered that he goes first.

When you cut through the clutter, the language of wealth is defined not by the peso or dollar sign. A musician named Thomas Dorsey said, “Some people have money, and some people are rich.”

As ANC’s new show called “On The Money” (where I have a regular segment called “Salve Says”) is just about to finish its first season, I hope that our viewers decide not just to have money, but instead to be rich. To have the language of wealth that speaks through the soul, not just the wallet.

Both will have to happen for more of our countrymen to have financial independence, and this will take more than a day. But this cultural revolution needs to catch fire, and ANC will be here every step to help that happen.

This blog will hopefully deepen the conversation. So here’s an open invitation to all of you to jump in. I will listen. I will tell your stories. I will join you all in your journey to be and to stay financially fit. Hopefully, the Jaza way.