When we talk about working at a cooperative, it almost always happens that the question would be “Ano ang ginagawa nyo doon?” or “What do you do in a cooperative or what does it do?”
According to a blog from cooperativesfirst.com¹, “Every business is different and reflects the concerns and interests of their shareholders. Plus, corporations come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, from non-profits to global conglomerates. In fact, cooperatives are corporations, but with a specific structure that has a lot of applications.
This versatile structure can produce a coop that looks a lot like a large, investor-driven corporation — or one that is very much like a small, charitable non-profit organization that provides community service.”
In our Corporate to Coop Story series, we would like to hear it from people who have been working in a Cooperative setting and let them share their own story about their shift from corporate to cooperative.
Transition from Corporate to Coop
Rafael Alvaran, Independent Sales Services Provider Group Head
I am Rafael Alvaran or as many call me, “Paeng”, the current head of Independent Sales Services Provider (ISSP) Group of Asiapro Cooperative. I am a graduate of Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas and would describe my younger self as shy and timid. No one might have ever thought of me ending up in the sales industry, albeit running a large-scale sales operation for multiple clients onward to my more mature years. I began my career in the pharmaceutical industry as a medical representative of Zuellig Pharma, now Asia’s leading healthcare services provider. This is where I started building my confidence while dealing with a diversity of customers and co-workers, worked my way up to eventually become a National Sales Manager from my twelfth to fourteenth years.
Thereafter, I had a series of stints with other multi-national healthcare companies namely Abbott Laboratories, Schering-Plough, 3M Phils., to name a few, where assignments in marketing, training, business development and country-level business management, complemented my years of experience in sales. I continued with this path for 30 years until my last engagement as a Business Development Manager/National Sales Manager for a start-up regional pharmaceutical company.
Coming from the fast-paced corporate work environment and having established a notable career in the pharmaceutical industry, I was initially hesitant to move to the cooperative. I thought that cooperatives are not yet well-known in the country in terms of delivering services in various industries such as construction, manufacturing, hotel and management, and the like. At the top of my mind when I was offered a job in the cooperative was, “Will there be a worthwhile career for me here?” When I first entered the office for my interview, I even had the impression that the people were not professionals as I saw some of the members in the lobby wearing only shorts and sandals. Fortunately, by then, I already reached that point where I had been searching for deeper meaning and fulfillment in what I do, something uncommon in the corporate workplace whose numbers-driven culture often implies that “You’re only as good as your last sale.” With nothing much to lose, I joined the cooperative as the Head of Plans, Programs, and Initiatives Department. Humbly enough, with the trust of management and the cooperative’s membership, I received adequate support to succeed in the special projects assigned to me, then climbed up the executive ladder just as I did in the corporate world.
The Cooperative World
Plans, Programs, and Initiatives Department Head Highlights
I started in the cooperative in 2013 as a one-man team of the department. Right as I began my engagement, I was immediately assigned the pioneering project to lead the transformation of the cooperative in accordance with Cooperative Development Authority’s Memorandum Circular 2012-12. This circular mandated the regionalization of labor-service cooperatives in the country, where operations shall be registered and restricted in the region where the workers are deployed. I collaborated with the cooperative’s various leaders and departments to develop a strategy on how to best communicate the transformation to its members. I also partnered with working committees in implementing such strategies and conducted change management seminars for members to fully understand and support the cooperative’s transformation program. Towards the end of 2014, our already team secured from the Cooperative Development Authority the registration approval for 8 regional cooperatives throughout the country.
Transition to Independent Sales Services Provider Group
In 2015, the cooperative incubated the Independent Sales Services Provider (ISSP) business platform. Spinning off from its long-standing engagement with the crop protection business unit of one client in the Agri-Chemical industry, the coop agreed to an output-based type of operations for the first time. Instead of receiving a fixed admin fee on billings of actual operating costs, the coop gets compensated by way of a variable commission on monthly sales generated for the client. I was assigned to lead the business partnership which piloted the deployment of 2 Technical Sales Representatives in Luzon tobacco and sugar plantations. By the 3rd quarter of 2015, the client assigned its Mindanao general trade business to the coop which resulted to an additional 30 members. By end of 2015, the team generated Php92M in sales.
Despite the gap in 2015 sales, the client’s growing confidence in partnering with ISSP led to the addition of the Luzon general trade team in the 1st quarter of 2016. Our management team had the technical know-how in sales and marketing services alongside the cooperative’s financial stability and more responsive operational support to drive this expansion. By yearend 2016, ISSP produced Php 601M in sales to far exceed its Php 529M annual sales target.
In 2017, our group continued growing to deliver annual sales of Php 820M, achieved with a lean field force of only 55 people in Luzon and Mindanao. 2018 became a breakthrough year for ISSP as the client merged with another corporate giant in agriculture to eventually emerge as one of the industry’s 3 biggest firms worldwide. By this time, ISSP’s headcount has grown to more than 250 people and encompassed a six-fold increase in full year sales to Php 5.2B.
This has not stopped us, and ISSP continued to expand in the succeeding years, adding more clients to our portfolio.
Realizations about the cooperative
Being in the cooperative industry for more than 7 years now, I have come to appreciate the way this business model works. As a co-owner of the cooperative, just like everyone else, I enjoy the diversity of roles that are given to the people. This is affirmed through the varying roles that I have so far performed for the cooperative. Unlike in the corporate world where one’s work is already ‘boxed’ within programmed processes and techniques, working in the cooperative has given me ample space to freely execute assigned tasks in the way I see appropriate, putting into practice my expertise and holding myself accountable for the results. I have found a greater sense of purpose in my work with the constant reassurance that I can give even more. I feel confident of leaving behind someday a strong legacy with these contributions and influence built through years of serving the cooperative.
Vision for ISSP
As the business landscape evolves with constant change in the regulatory environment, setbacks and challenges in business operations are inevitable. What would have inspired ISSP’s success through the uncertainties that often leave us anxious? For me, unceasing faith - in the team to always deliver beyond expectations, and in God to guide and bless every business decision; and vision - to see beyond the difficulties of the present and appreciate how even the smallest but proper actions done as a discipline will eventually lead our business to a tipping point or breakthrough. I have also been constantly reminded of the importance of getting my team assured and affirmed, that we can always find a solution to deep-seated problems or recover from serious setbacks. Aiming for continuous improvement, we as a team are learning to keep challenging the status quo, with low tolerance for mediocrity but determination to excel and give more in return for what has been entrusted to us.
1st Workers Center, No.70 San Rafael St.
Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig City, Metro Manila Philippines