An interview by Skycable’s Glynda T. Descuatan with Victor Vicente ‘Dean’ G. Sinco, chairman of Foundation University.
GTD: Reliable information has reached us that there is a challenge to the leadership of Foundation University and this group claims that they are legally correct and that they are the majority. I understand there was a meeting on July 7 where there was an attempt to question your leadership. We heard that you are an overstaying chair and that there is an attempt by your side of the family to continue the leadership here at Foundation University even if there already is a serious challenge to your leadership. So tell us, Dean, what is happening here at Foundation University?
VVGS: At the July 7 meeting, there really wasn’t anything presented challenging my position. What was presented on July 7 was the need to examine the terms of certain trustees. At that time we didn’t have information so we called for a recess. Everyone agreed, including the lawyers who represented the family members. So we scheduled the next meeting for July 29 but two or three days before that, we sent a letter that we wanted to postpone it because we were in the midst of accreditation. Based on what happened on those 3 days of accreditation, it was looking very, very positive and we wanted to focus on that and not be distracted by other things. Now, the other members claimed that they never got to see the notice. We have affidavits stipulating that one of the members opened the letter, called his lawyer, and his lawyer told him not to receive it and give the letter back to us. Okay, so basically he received it. In our eyes they were informed. We weren’t on campus because we were busy addressing the accreditors. So what I heard is they attempted to come in at first.
GTD: were they prevented from coming in?
DGS: Yes, because the two lawyers that came in on the 7th brought in armed guards.
GTD: Armed? Were they publicly displaying their firearms?
DGS: There was a bulge and one of our security forces saw the butt of a gun when the bodyguard shifted. So, CHED has a policy [against the bringing of guns in campus] and we were just following security for our students and our employees to not allow the bodyguards in.
So on July 7th there was a little bit of exchange in the front. The lawyers insisted that the bodyguards accompany them into the board room and I said, “no way” because that’s just against the policy and CHED regulations. So, that was settled and the guards stayed outside on the July 7th meeting. On the 29th, they appeared again, this time, with four guards, but they were a little bit more careful…the guards stood across the street. But they were not supposed to be here because the meeting was cancelled, so as far as I know, they held their own meeting.
GTD: Foundation University is a family corporation, is that correct?
VVGS: Well, not necessarily. It’s composed of family members but first and foremost it’s a non-stock, non-profit. We’ve had non-family members in the corporation before. It is predominantly family but it isn’t a family corporation.
GTD: The stock holders now are all family members? You don’t have an outsider?
VVGS: Presently, we have six outsiders.
GTD: What exactly is the conflict all about? I know that in corporations, there are always challenges to the leadership and as the public sees Foundation now, it seems to be doing really very well. Is this the first that there is an attempt like this by the other members of the board and stockholders?
DGS: No, not really. This is not the first. You know, when it’s time to plant the rice, there are very few volunteers. When it’s time to harvest, everybody wants to come and harvest. And that’s in essence the problem we have.
My grandfather started this school in 1949 that would basically bring equality to all. Today–61 years later–we feel that that dream has been achieved. We are there!
And that is why the accreditation was very important to us. We had to pay attention to the accreditors because we were getting a feeling that we would get a confirmation from them. Basically, on exit interview, they confirmed that there are many things that this institution provides the students that don’t even exist in some of the prestigious institutions in Manila. And most of these accreditors were mostly from Manila–two from CEU. So we were really quite happy we heard that.
Going back to history, my father was involved from day 1 of the institution and we stayed until 1968. You can look back in history the way education was before–it wasn’t high tech. We had classrooms, we had books, we had teachers, and I feel that we were doing okay. We were not yet at that time a premiere institution. We could not even consider ourselves a premiere institution but we had good quality education. We left in 1968 and basically, my father was absent between 1968 and 1995.
GTD: For the reason that…
VVGS: More family problems…
GTD: So the family problem actually started way back then…
VVGS: It’s been going on for a long time. So anyway, between ’68 and ’95, I just have to say one thing–what happened?
Before 1995, I was living in Hawaii and my parents were living in Washington. My father was still working for the University of Washington and he would still attend the annual meetings for the corporations here. My mom told me of several telephone calls in 1994 or 1993 that really upset my father. He had read the financials and basically it read that the family corporations – including Foundation University–was bankrupt. So from 1968 to 1993, 94, 95…what happened?
I know the family doesn’t want to hear this, but in 1994, 1995, the family members decided to liquidate because it was that far gone and there wasn’t anyone interested in working to bring back the assets to where they should have been. So my father elected to take early retirement from the University of Washington. They all agreed that he would come and work on the school, spend a little bit and bring it up to speed, which is what he did.
In 1995, when he finally was able to stabilize the finances, he had asked me…I was in Hawaii I had my own office…he had asked me to…
GTD: To take over?
VVGS: No, no, no. See, that’s the thing. Everyone thinks that we always had it in mind that we will return and take over. That’s not so. I had my own firm in Hawaii. I had started in Hawaii in 1980. And by 91, I had my own firm. And by the time my father asked me to help out, he said, “just come over here, once or twice and year and design something for me.” And that’s what I did. The first project is the library over here. It was a really small project–it’s two gates–I designed two gates. (laughs).
He just wanted things to look better so that whoever was interested in purchasing the property would feel that the value was there.
GTD: And he didn’t have to pay you to do that?
VVGS: No, just the plane ticket and a couple of weeks of my time and that was it. I was self employed and I was basically able to do that.
My second project is the social garden, that used to be the volleyball courts. And so one project led to another. And none of this had anything to do with me coming back because my wife is Japanese-American, my kids are all American, we lived in Hawaii all these years, basically that’s our life.
And so I just went back and forth just to help–just design this, design that, but never had any idea of coming back–never. In ’98, it was me that came up with the idea because I could see the difference.
We left in 68. I came back in 75 and I was wondering, “what’s happening here?” And my grandfather died in 1988 and I came back in 88 and I asked, “what is really happening here? There’s something wrong.”
When then when I came back in 95, I just couldn’t believe the state of the school. You could say I got the bug. I wanted to be part of the institution, and not because life is better here or anything like that. There’s definitely a big sacrifice that we made. I had a talk with my wife and it took us one year to decide to transfer here. I closed up my office which was doing really well. I had eight employees. I can tell you now, I’m not bragging but I was earning ten thousand dollars a month and I went from ten thousand to five hundred a month. That’s insanity to do something like that (laughs).
But the mission was here. I felt that my presence here was more important than my presence in Hawaii. So we all agreed and came out here and we supported my father. So from 95 until now, there were basically three people. First was my father, then there was me, then there’s my mother. And what we like to present is, “you judge for yourself–15 years from today up to 1995–what has happened in this place? And you judge for yourself what has happened between 95 and 68. And you can judge for yourself what happened between 68 and 49.
GTD: So why can’t they appreciate that? We heard that you actually, with premeditation that your family, your mother, yourself, probably even your father, had orchestrated so that eventually you will be on top of the school?
VVGS: Well, (laughs), you have to ask them that question because I never get a straight answer. You can construe just about anything you want from certain situations but I never get a straight answer as to why these issues keep cropping up.
GTD: Are they planning to sell this?
VVGS: No, it’s impossible to sell it because it is stipulated in the by-laws that if it is sold, the proceeds go to a scholarship. So you can’t take from it as an individual as you would with a stock corporation.
GTD: Are you and your mom making money here in this school?
VVGS: We’re earning salaries that are comparable to other institutions in the country. But I don’t have any assets here in the country, I do not own a home in Hawaii. I’m renting. I don’t make enough money to even think about buying a home in Hawaii. I’m comfortable. But am I making hand over fist? I wish. (laughs).
GTD: So how do you look at all these Dean? Do you consider this a serious threat?
VVGS: I can answer that in several ways. As an architect, you have good clients, you have bad clients. You can’t pick them. You try as best as you can but when you end up with the bad clients, you don’t just walk away. You can’t. You have to finish the project. And in the end, it’s always the hope that you turn this bad client by having him appreciate what you’ve done for him. It’s the same philosophy here. You just have an environment that at times is not totally conducive to work. But on the other side of the token, we have graduation every year and we are constantly reminded as to why this institution must remain viable. That was the fervent wish of the founder and I see it happen year after year. And so for me, that pretty much alleviates the frustrations every year because I may not be making money but people are happy!
GTD: There’s this group that is looking at the legal side and they have their battery of lawyers. How are you answering that?
VVGS: We have our own battery of lawyers also and we’ve pretty much come up with a strong defense. We’re confident. We have examined the by-laws, we have examined the corporate laws and we feel that we’re covered.
GTD: You’re saying that when the postponed meeting was postponed, it was not deliberate? That it wasn’t a ploy by Dean to avoid answering questions that the other trustees would like to throw to you during the meeting?
VVGS: No, actually not. There are some things that forced us to look again, like the question about the terms of certain trustees. It has helped us in administering the institution because even though this is not a family corporation this was run like a family corporation and I have to say that on the legal side it has created a lot of problems. To answer your question, it wasn’t concocted. We were applying for level three five years ago. And because of one simple mistake that we committed, here we are five years later! And it’s frustrating for me because level three is semi- autonomous. That means as an institution, we can come up with our own programs without being handcuffed by government agencies. We have so many ideas we have so many ways to service our clientele. But without that level three, we can’t do it. We have to go through a process and everybody knows that that process is so drawn out. So this is very very important to the institution.
GTD: So how would you want this issue to end?
VVGS: I believe that the mission of the founder, my grandfather, was that this eventually is to be an institution that will be guided by its own constituents. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always family. I believe that family should maybe at some sort of administrative level, either as a corporate member or as a trustee. I have no ambitions for my children or my wife to take over if I die. If any of my children want to do something else, I’m fine with that. We are on a path to professionalize the administration. It’s in our by-laws that the administration doesn’t require a family member. That was already put together by my grandfather. He already had the vision that it doesn’t have to be a family member to see that this institution succeeds. And that’s the direction I want to go in. If I go out and none of my children or even my brother’s children take over, I’d be happy with a professional academician that for as long as the school sticks to its mission.
GTD: so, the information that they have the numbers, meaning they’re more than the numbers that you have–is that relevant?
VVGS: that depends on the math that you use.
GTD: The other side will probably have a different story to tell. How is this problem going to affect you as the person who’s at the helm of this university?
VVGS: well, it’s always in my mind everyday. But, you know, we need to get on with life. And there are bigger fish to fry. I’m not trying to make light of other people’s situations. We’ve achieved in the last fifteen years what the founder had wished many years ago, but we have a long way to go.
You know, our biggest challenge right now is because our funds come from tuition fees. We want to do more but who’s going to pay for it? How are we going to pay for it? These are some of the things I’m working on daily to resolve. Everyone thinks that the school has moved quickly but for me, I think 15 years is too slow. I wanted to achieve this, let’s say, half the time. But I’m still impatient. I want it to move faster. And so, we need to focus on the things that will help the institution and eventually help our students, help the community, help the country. That’s our mission.
GTD: so, what is the philosophy of financial management that you have? I know that Foundation University’s one of the schools that do not increase tuition as much as you would want. And, in comparison with the other private schools, basically, your tuition is a lot lower. So, how do you address the increasing needs for resources, and payments of teachers and so on?
VVGS: well, on the increase of resources, this is why the accreditation was also very important because it put us on the map. It made us viable for philanthropists who have the funds and who want to support the program. Now we can show them, “look, we’ve got it! You can trust us. You give us one million, two million, whatever… you’ll get results.”
As far as everything else, just ask yourself, “how does a poor man manage from day to day?” You just have to do what you can do. And sometimes, you just have to ask people to trust you.
GTD: Can you still call for a board meeting for them to come?
VVGS: well, actually, there are two meetings. We have the membership-slash-corporation meeting and then we have the board of trustee meetings. We just concluded the Board of Trustees meeting this morning because it is the third quarter, and we hold meetings every quarter. And the continuation of the membership meeting requires, I believe, 10 days. But I’m already departing, so we’ll probably continue in September when I return.
GTD: Are you going out of the country, Dean?
VVGS: (nods) That’s another thing that people don’t know. I’m not always here. See, what happened six years after we moved here, my wife’s family also needed some attention. My father-in-law suffers from Dementia and my mother-in-law is getting old. So my wife felt that it was her duty to be there and take care of them. So, again, we transplanted the family, after bringing them here, we’re bringing them back to Hawaii. Now, because of my commitment here to the institution, I couldn’t just say, “Sayonara.” So, a compromise is I commute back and forth. So I spend four weeks there, four weeks here. And this is my fifth year in doing this. And, you know, for those people who say, “wow, you must be really rich to travel”– it isn’t that. My salary here in Foundation covers my plane fare. The school doesn’t pay for my plane fare, this is out of my own pocket. And for the expenses in the U.S., my wife works, and my income supplements her income. Not her income supplements my income — I supplement hers. So, I’m an add-on.
GTD: But you’re happy here, Dean? Are you happy with what you’re doing?
VVGS: As much as frustrations can crop up from time to time, I’m happy and most importantly, my family is happy. Without their support, I really would have been gone a long time ago. And they also understand the mission. It’s vital. It really has to be attended to.
GTD: What else would you want to do, finally, here at Foundation University that you haven’t done yet? I mean, in relation, your understanding of the original mission of your grandfather?
VVGS: I have this really wild dream to open up a 20-hectare campus in Valencia. But I know it’s takes billions of pesos to do that. But I think I could maybe achieve a small piece of that before I go because we’ve done so many things here. If you asked my father in 1999 if you could put 15 to 20 million for the gym extension, he would say, “Forget it!” As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” Just take a bite at a time. That’s all we did. I think Valencia is doable. All I have to do is take many bites at a time.
GTD: Have you taken some bites already?
VVGS: Yeah, yeah, tastes bad. (laughs)
GTD: What message you would like to tell to the family of Foundation University students and families?
VVGS: Well, we owe it to the community. Since day one of the institution, we’ve had many generations of families sending their grandchildren, their cousins, their nephews to this institution. So we owe it to them to keep this place running because there is that level of trust. How you achieve that level of trust, I have to thank my father and my grandfather because they probably went through the same frustrations I’m going through. It takes a lot of dedication and we are dedicated to the community. We will be here through thick or thin, we will be here to serve your generation and subsequent generation. That is our mission. We will be here and we will provide you the best that we can at that moment.