By James A. Loyola
From humble beginnings, Uldarico “Rico” Brizuela rose to found one of the country’s most comprehensive logistics operations, a group of companies that defines the industry’s standard of a total logistics provider.
The second child in a brood of 11 children, Brizuela knew early on that he had to share in the task of providing for the family. He followed his elder brother’s footsteps and started working right after graduating from High School at Ateneo de Naga in 1962, so he could help his parents provide for the family.
Even as he struggled to help put food on the table, he nurtured an ambition to rise above being a salaried man and become a business owner. Working part time, he put himself through college at the Mapua Institute of Technology, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering.
“It took me six and a half years to finish my course because I was also working to put myself through college,” Brizuela recalled noting that “my father was just a worker at Shell and, while he did the best he could to provide, there simply was not enough left over to afford my college education.”
Right after college, Brizuela landed a job as a manager at Philippine Airlines (PAL) where, after a couple of years, he earned a reputation for diligence and professionalism that prompted the Delgado Brothers to recruit him to be the general manager of Delgado Air Cargo.
But, even as he rose as the top man of the company, he knew that one could only go so far up and the only way to pursue further advancement was to become the owner of his own company.
“As an entrepreneur and owner of a business, I believe I would be in a better position to help not only my colleagues in management but also the workers of the company,” Brizuela says.
In 1980, Airlift Asia, Inc. was formed by Saturnino Belen – a successful businessman in semiconductor design and manufacturing, hotelier, educator, industrial estate owner and flying school owner in Clark – and was operating out of Parañaque. Belen wasn’t satisfied with the performance of the company, prompting a search for a competent manager he could partner with.
It was then that people from Price-Waterhouse, a company that had gone into a joint venture with the Delgados, recommended Brizuela to Belen.
Starting on his own
Seeing the opportunity to have his own company, Brizuela sought the help of Gary Miller — a freight forwarder in San Francisco — to raise the needed capital for the joint venture, and together they partnered with Belen.
From then on, AAI grew by leaps and bounds not only in terms of the volume of business but also in terms of the diverse logistics activities it specialized in.
AAI: From single mover to an industry shaker
AAI was incorporated with the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission on December 29, 1978. It began operating as an international and domestic airfreight forwarder on January 1, 1981 after securing its license from the Philippine Civil Aeronautics Board on January 1, 1981.
The company was based in Parañaque but, in the years after its incorporation and licensing, it opened branch offices in Cebu City; Rosario and Dasmariñas in Cavite; Clark, Pampanga: Subic, Olongapo City: and in Batino, Calamba Laguna.
It likewise expanded its activities to include sea freight, Customs brokerage, and Customs bonded trading warehouse.
Growing the group
These developments later gave way to the establishment of companies under the AAI Group of Companies and Brizuela as Chairman of the Board:
lAAI Worldwide Logistics, Inc. – Provides third party logistics services; b2b (business to business) logistics solutions; air, sea, land cargo handling and movement; Freight forwarding; warehousing; distribution.
lA2Z logistics, Inc – Provides vendor managed inventory solutions and services; just in time logistics – for the manufacturing sector.
lAAI+Peers – Provides services for heavy movement with large scale equipment such as specialty rigging and cranes; project cargo including moving large equipment and shipments such as disassembled whole factories for reassembly to alternate sites.
Black Arrow Express – is the “last mile” in the logistics solutions provision, includes but is not limited to retail and courier express delivery services both as delivery and distribution for institutional marketers to consumers as well as retail express delivery for individuals; with special emphasis in technology-based logistics solutions for e-commerce fulfillment.
AAI Charity – The corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm of the group, providing scholarships, philanthropy and advocacy for the community.
The AAI group of companies may not ring a bell to most people yet, but companies that demand the highest quality of service when it comes to logistics have come to rely only on AAI.
FedEx, Amkor, PLDT-SMART, Hilti, and B Braun are serviced under AAI Worldwide. A2Z takes care of Peak Plastics and Sun Power. Asia Brewery and Analog Devices relies on AAI + Peers. Black Arrow Express is the backbone of fulfillment for Shopee, ABS-CBN, Quantium, and Bench/Suyen.
Building a culture of excellence: Management by example
In the first two decades of AAI, Brizuela was very much hands on in the day-to-day operations of the company.
“People who worked with me know that I can do whatever it is I may ask them to do. There is hardly any work in the company that I do not know how to perform perfectly and I don’t let anyone get away with mediocrity,” he said.
Because AAI was dealing with world class semi-conductor manufacturing companies from Japan and the US, Brizuela said the company had to perform according to the same high standards.
This is what compelled Brizuela to take a hands-on approach in leading the company with a management principle and business philosophy of setting the quality standards and being the example of what that standard was, thus creating a reputation for excellence.
AAI Worldwide Logistics carved a historical landmark as the first logistics and freight forwarding company to have applied for and to be granted the PQA’s (Philippine Quality Award) Recognition for Commitment to Quality Management, the highest honor given by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to companies in the private and public sectors for exemplary organizational performance. It is a template for global competitiveness based on the principle of Total Quality Management.
“The award distinguishes our company as the only freight forwarding company in the Philippines to get the award. The chief benefit that we got from going through the process in preparing for assessment to get the award is that our people acquired the discipline of performance excellence,” Brizuela explained.
The PQA, created by Executive Order 448 in 1997 and enacted into law as RA 9013, is an adaptation of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award of the United States.
The award criteria include seven categories: Leadership; strategic planning, customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management; and results.
“Early on, my philosophy has been to lead the industry. If I want to survive and grow and be successful in this industry, we might as well be the leader. There are bigger players but as far as performance excellence and quality are concerned, we can say that we are there. Our friends in the industry look at AAI as a model and we are an employer of choice in this industry,” said Brizuela.
AAI also holds the record of being the first 100 percent Filipino-owned freight forwarder to have been certified and recognized for quality service in international freight forwarding, customs brokerage, and warehousing when Yarsely International Certification Services of the United Kingdom awarded it an ISO 9002 Certificate in 1997.
On February 2009, the same certifying body upgraded AAI’s quality seal to ISO 9001:2008. AAI was certified OHSAS 18001:2007 and ISO 14001:2004 on December 2010 and January 2011 respectively.
“AAI’s reputation has reached a point where the common pressures and temptations in dealing with some people in customs do not apply to us. They know that when they’re dealing with Brizuela, they can expect everything to be in perfect order,” he said.
Since 2005, AAI has been implementing its Code of Business Conduct and Ethics. The code makes it clear to all employees that AAI seeks to comply with all laws and regulations applicable to its core businesses. It also advocates equal employment as well as seeks to provide a workplace that is devoid of harassment and discrimination.
With AAI’s employees, Brizuela has sought to provide competitive salaries with all the perks and benefits. “Logistics as a business is nothing without people and AAI has made it a point to reward excellent performance at work,” he noted.
AAI does this by focusing on performance improvement that includes organizational learning through a systematic evaluation and improvement method using the PCDA (or Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle or Deming Cycle.
The company uses the Corporate Balanced Scorecard as a performance management tool. This is used to deploy goals and monitor progress on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis.
Beyond its own employees, Brizuela also led AAI to create a foundation which provides scholarships as well as partners with the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) and Gawad Kalinga (GK).
With GK, AAI constructed a village in Sitio Eldorado, Brgy. Don Bosco in Better Living Subdivision, Parañaque. The company shouldered the construction of a multi-purpose hall as well as a section of a two level residential building for 96 families.
Fitness as a daily routine
Brizuela confesses to being an avid tennis player in his younger years, up until the time one of his knees gave out.
These days, a lean and energetic 72-year-old Brizuela maintains a daily physical training regimen, alternating running and cycling.
“You cannot get this far in this industry if you’re not physically fit. It isn’t just your body that stays in shape, but also your mind when you make a disciplined fitness routine part of your daily life,” he pointed out.