On January 14, 2009, Lexus Manila Inc. formally opened the doors to its stylish nine-car showroom in Bonifacio Global City, for which a Japanese designer named Yuji Hirata had been commissioned. Thus began the steady rise of the first-ever Lexus facility in the Philippines. Originally staffed with just 27 full-time employees and steered by company president Danny Isla, LMI took luxury-car ownership in our market to a different level, stubbornly refusing to open a second branch in the country just so its personalized customer service wouldn't get diluted.
Last week, on exactly January 14th, Lexus Manila quietly celebrated its fifth anniversary. There was actually a lot to be merry for. There was the fact that the company had hit its target each year, and that it had consistently grown its sales numbers since day one (172 units in 2009, 235 units in 2010, 264 units in 2011, 370 units in 2012, and 426 units in 2013).
Of course, there was also the fact that Lexus officially became the second-best-selling premium car brand in our market last year after overtaking Mercedes-Benz, which sold just 401 units. To say that segment leader BMW is now keeping a watchful eye on Lexus is to say Rafael Nadal is now wary of Novak Djokovic--it's already a given.
Frankly, Lexus Manila could have opted to whoop it up to mark its half decade of success. A lavish party could have been thrown in its honor. Loose change for the family of company chairman Alfred Ty, to be honest. But no, LMI marked the occasion soberly and intimately. True to Isla's corporate dictum of "understated luxury," the party (if you can even call it that) was purely internal, the lone outsider being basketball coach Chot Reyes, who was on hand to deliver an inspirational talk. "Lex High-5," they called the simple event.
"I tell the team never to revel in the numbers," Isla told TopGear.com.ph. "The goal is not to overtake a certain competitor. The goal is to fulfill our own objective, which is to satisfy the customer. I don't want to focus on the numbers."
Isla, already a living legend in the local automotive industry, is the fatherly leader who gives shape to the corporate character of Lexus Manila. This is a company president who insists on regularly gathering the entire workforce so he can treat them to some cheap breakfast and also to find out if they have personal concerns he can help address. This is a boss who once shared with us: "I tell my managers never to snap at their staff members. You don't know what each and every person is going through at home. I want our company to be a refuge for them."
Little wonder, then, that the company was not in the least inclined to gloat over its glittering accomplishments in the last five years.
Instead of tooting their horns via fancy print ads and colorful billboards, Lexus Manila bosses decided to just recognize the pillars of the company. Employees who had been with them since the beginning were each given a commemorative jacket, a no-frills badge of honor proudly worn by its devoted recipients. The smiles on their faces indicated they wouldn't have traded the modest garment with a flashy Swiss watch. Their blood, sweat and tears had been woven into every fiber of that jacket, and one could tell they intended to keep it for life.
If you ask us what makes Lexus Manila click, it's not so much that its cars are excellently engineered as the organization is run the right way. Understated, grounded, trustworthy, magnanimous. Exactly the qualities a billionaire car buyer would appreciate if he were shopping for his next limousine.
Photos from Carlo Chungunco and Leon Isla