This is my first writing collaboration with a work colleague for SPi Writer’s Guild’s (now-defunct) blog, Project Backspace.
The man behind Employee Number 0002 is no doubt a legacy in SPi’s history. For the past 26 years, Roger Ramos has been one of the significant few who has seen SPi grow from a humble start-up company into a global enterprise. Yet more than that, Roger is also the man who had worked alongside SPi’s founder, Alan R. Fraser, whom he considers a supportive mentor and an affectionate friend. Surprisingly enough, Roger started his career in SPi as a janitor; he’s still proud to say that, with a gleaming smile to boot! More than the stories and urban legends he shared with us during those days in Saztec and SPI Technologies, Roger’s untold stories about his life’s challenges and successes are an even worthier read.
Roger Bohol Ramos is the eldest of 3 siblings. He was born in Manila in January of 1959 but grew up in Leyte. At 15, he was working on his grandfather’s farm when his grandmother advised him to go to Manila to take his chances at finding a better job. He then started working for a bakery in San Juan. In 1978, he moved to Gabcor Janitorial Services where he was an all-around janitor.
Early on, one can safely say that Roger was destined to work with the top bosses. His first janitorial stint started in the Director’s office of Don Bosco Makati. In his almost 2 years there, he had no absences, no periods of tardiness, and no reprimands were ever issued to him. Says Roger, “My boss admired my exemplary cleaning work!”
Eventually, he transferred to the Commodore’s office at the Philippine Navy headquarters. In January of 1980, the time he was reassigned to Don Bosco, Lady Fate gave his life a twist. One of his co-workers was assigned to a company called Saztec which was then located in Buendia. Afraid of the requirement to speak English to a New Zealander boss, Roger’s friend turned down the offer. Upon hearing this, Roger, awestruck with the idea, immediately asked his supervisor to send him instead. His boss didn’t give a second thought and instantly asked Roger to take his cleaning materials with him and off they went to Buendia. It was then, at that point, that he felt scared.
Dealing with the Founder
Alan R. Fraser placed his arm over Roger’s shoulder, his sign of welcome to the man who’d turned out to be special to him later on. For Roger, he considered that moment a gift from God. Undeniably amazed with Roger’s dedication and attitude towards work, Mr. Fraser took him from the janitorial services agency to work for Saztec instead. By 1983, he was already promoted to Senior Clerk and was tasked to do administrative tasks and to supervise a new janitor who had replaced him. In 1985, he was promoted to Staff Assistant. He was one of SPi’s earliest HR employees who took care of the needs of employees by facilitating employment exams, benefits and conducting orientations.
Given many close encounters with Alan Fraser, we asked Roger how Mr. Fraser was as a boss. One thing he could describe Mr. Fraser as is that he was a “people person”. Mr. Fraser used to greet employees when he passed by them, visit the production floor after just a few hours of stay in his room, talk to his people and give them some advice. He established the Alan Fraser Foundation, Inc. which supported hospitals and charity institutions, provided educational scholarships to underprivileged children, and persuaded his employees to share in this passion.
Roger had many fond and amusing memories of Alan Fraser. One particular instance was when Mr. Fraser was trying to teach Roger to speak English. Lucky for him, Roger had the confidence to converse in English with Mr. Fraser even if he would use hand gestures to help him express what he meant. Mr. Fraser, with his distinct New Zealander drawl, was known to speak really fast that it led Roger to misunderstand him many times. Once, he asked Roger to provide him 5 photocopies of a one-page document. Roger thought that Mr. Fraser was also asking for coffee but since he wasn’t sure about what he heard (he mistook “copy” as “coffee”), he didn’t do it. Instead, he made copies of the said document but made 20, paying the bill with his own money. When he got back, Mr. Fraser asked for only 5 copies. Embarrassed, he hid the excess 15 in the restroom supply cabinet. Funny enough, Mr. Fraser found them and advised Roger to ask him again next time he didn’t understand him, and paid Roger for the excess pages.
Mr. Fraser also advised Roger about English grammar, word usage, and pronunciation. He even extended his help by sending off Roger to study English. With no chances of finding a good school near SPi, Mr. Fraser instead told him, “I’ll teach you English and you teach me Tagalog!” Roger replied, “I can do that, sir, but mine is Bisaya-style!”
When the fifth floor of the SPi building used to be an unsheltered space, Roger used to stay there. He would always look up the skies staring at the planes passing over and say to himself, “Someday, I’ll get to be on one of those…” As a man full of wishes and desires, he was eventually able to go on trips abroad, get things he liked, support his siblings in their studies and meet his family’s basic needs, build his own house and invest in a business. Just this year, he achieved the distinction of being the top investor in SPi’s Cooperative.
His secret weapon?
“Putting God as the center of my life. I used to be a janitor and messenger before, going from one Makati building to another. I’d always tell myself that I’ll get inside these beautiful buildings someday. I made it. Never be discouraged. Continue to wish and strive to achieve those dreams. Darating din tayo doon.”, Roger advises.
Despite a colorful past with Saztec and SPI Technologies, he’s also happy to observe that SPi is on the right track and he’s satisfied with the way things are. There are a lot of improvements being made under ELC’s tutelage especially in the value of the services the company offers due to the use of technology. With more exciting challenges ahead, Roger noted that the more it has become imperative for SPi people to unite, to support one another and to be dedicated.
As he recalled SPi’s culture in the past, employees used to be highly disciplined; unfortunately today, in many companies in the country, very few show gratitude and concern towards each other and towards their company. Somehow, the sense of ownership is no longer there.
“There is a need to go back to the basics,” Roger said that emphasis should be placed on the 4 As which Alan Fraser himself conceived —Attitude, Attendance, Achievement, and Accuracy. These guiding principles used to be followed during SPi’s early years but now has transformed into the core competencies of the present SPi. Roger also agrees that life today is tough, but he says that his life long ago was even tougher. The story of Papa Roge — as what his young, spirited colleagues would call him — doesn’t differ much with that of our talented and brilliant new generation of employees yet he also encourages everyone to maintain proper work ethics, which we’re oftentimes missing out today. He also added this simple advice: Show and do kind gestures to others. Smile. Go to work with a peace of mind. Manage your finances well. Save for the future.
All throughout the interview, we’ve been craving to ask Roger this question: After 26 years in SPi, why are you still staying here?
Without hesitation, he smiled and replied, “I love SPi now. It’s a gift from God to me.”
Well said, Roger. Absolutely well said.