Jim Ayala, Chief Executive, Ayala Land

The business of building communities with "soul" in Asia.

There’s something unexpected about Jaime “Jim” Ayala, chief
executive of Ayala Land, the Philippines’ largest and oldest real estate company: he’s not an Ayala. He doesn’t hail from the nation’s long-standing, leading business family (Jaime Zobel Ayala is chairman of Ayala Group). Never mind: this is an Ayala who has thought deeply about the company’s mission. The Ayala Group has won admirers for its ability to build transparent businesses with strategies that reward minority shareholders as well as the family. Jim Ayala studied engineering at Princeton University and management at Harvard Business School. He worked for McKinsey, helping to set up its offices throughout Asia. As a consultant, he advised Filipino administrations on energy development, tourism, and building outsourcing centers. Today, he sees his role in Ayala Land as giving him the “scale” to help improve the country’s economic and social conditions.

After developing the high-end Makati business
district and Cebu Business Park, Ayala
Land seems to be going downmarket. Why?

We see this as the way to support and capture — in terms
of business strategy — the next phase of development in
the Philippines. We’re now targeting residential communities
and “mixed-use” communities — a mixture of
businesses and neighborhoods, where tenants might be
business process outsourcing (BPO) facilities and call
centers. We parallel city management in many respects,
forming associations of tenants that share payments for
roads which we own, for example. City management often
doesn’t have the wherewithal, the budgets, and maybe the
internal integrity to make the right things happen.

Are you in a position to do this?

We’ve worked over many decades in building townships
and cities. We’ve learned how to master-plan it
properly, to ensure safety, security, and traffic management.
We know how to work with local governments
to build real communities.

What’s a “real” community?

Where is the soul of a city? People talk about Singapore
being antiseptic and sterile. Singapore has improved,
but it’s still different from other cities which have an
authenticity to them, like New York or Hong Kong. In
places like Fort Bonifacio, we’re building communities
with access to arts. We encourage and help install art
installations and areas for performance. We’ve set up a
linear park that functions as a high street, and relocated
vendors from Chinatown and Manila’s flower market,
so everyone — all incomes — can shop there.

You’re also building communities around the
Philippines’ off-shoring industry.

We have three product lines. One is a central business
district, which involves a traditional office headquarters.
Another is to build around a call-center BPO, but more
on the outskirts of a city. We also build large campuses,
and we’ve been pushing our campus product in the outlying
areas — in what we term “next wave cities.” We have
projects in Baguio, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro.

Discuss

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