FROM being a simple accounting staff, Levy Santos’ passion for cars and dedication to his work help Foton become one of the best selling truck brands in the country. | PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF LEVY SANTOS

Many people find themselves thrust into a leadership role not because they did a calculated plan to climb the corporate ladder. But because they’ve impressed certain people who became believers and have looked up to them for insight and fresh ideas.

This was the situation Levy Santos found himself in when he became the go-to person of a company that needed an individual who can see the broader perspective of the business.

In 2017, Foton Motor Philippines Inc., fresh from investing a total of P1.2 billion for the construction of an assembly plant in Clark Development Corp., needed someone who can bring in buyers for the vehicles that the plant will be able to produce (the Foton manufacturing plant is capable of churning out 12,000 units annually). And whenever chairman Rommel Sytin scouted for a name for the position of assistant vice president for sales, Santos’ name was always mentioned.

“When I joined Foton Motor Philippines Inc. in 2017, my marching order from our chairman is to impart my knowledge earned from 16 years of dealership operations. Honestly, I never imagined that I could be in a position where I am now, but what inspired me to accept the challenge is the unwavering trust and support coming from our chairman and the whole Sytin family. Of course, the opportunity to serve all my Foton co-workers made it more special,” said Santos who, last year, was promoted as the general manager of one of the country’s bestselling truck brands.

Indeed, the chairman made the right choice. Sales of Foton Motor Philippines Inc. showed a consistent, upward trajectory ever since Santos handled the post. In fact, Foton became the first Chinese automotive brand to break into the Top 10 of the Philippine market in 2020.

“Foton Motor Philippines Inc. is now on its 17th year in the industry, and has weathered all challenges a Chinese brand faced for the past 17 years. It now rests on my shoulders to keep the momentum going and make Foton a top-of-mind brand for consumers whenever they have plans to buy a vehicle for their family or business. By making sure that Foton succeeds in all its goals, it is also a way of conveying that I have not failed all the company leaders who have sacrificed a lot to make Foton what it is today,” Santos said.

8,000 target sales

Santos challenged himself to help Foton reach an annual sales average of 8,000 units (the brand is currently selling around 3,000 units). “This will be backed by my goal of expanding the Foton dealer network to 40 dealerships by the end of 2025; launching new exciting vehicle models; and presenting programs that will benefit our customers and create support from our bank partners. We are bullish that Foton will continue to be a brand to reckon with.”

He also added that Foton Motor Philippines Inc. is strengthening the logistic needs of several of its loyal partners like J&T Express, Shopee Philippines, YTO Express, Coca-Cola, Arrow Go Express, GoGo Xpress, San Jose Del Monte Transport Cooperative, and various provincial and local government units.

With such partnerships forged, Foton Motor Philippines Inc. is confident of achieving and even surpassing its annual targets.

Santos said that his career in the automotive industry wasn’t planned. “I began my career in the automotive industry as an accounting staff at Citimotors Las Piñas, way back in 1999. My plan was to be employed in a banking institution to fulfill the wish of my parents. Though my parents weren’t able to finish college, they have always dreamt of having one of their children employed in an office setting. But my passion for cars led me to this industry, and the rest as they say, is history.”

Servant leader-type

Santos considers himself as a servant leader-type. “I see to it that I build a strong relationship with the people around me and focus on enabling them to reach their full potential. By fostering employee loyalty and productivity, improving employee development and decision-making, cultivating trust and creating future leaders, that’s how I want to achieve goals,” he said.

The impressive performance of the automotive industry as well as the growing demand for electric vehicles, excite Santos. “It should be no surprise that commercial vehicles would soon follow suit.”

In celebration of Foton Motor Philippines Inc.’s 16th anniversary last year, the company decided to introduce the first-ever all-electric, light-duty truck in the country: The Tornado EV.

“As technology advances and awareness grows, we can expect a shift towards electric vehicles, but the timeline may vary depending on a number of contributing factors. Though there are a lot of inquiries of Foton EV vehicles, for them to make a dent in the industry will probably take 3-5 years from now. Hybrid vehicles will bridge that gap for now,” explained Santos.

For Santos, the electrification of the country’s commercial vehicle industry will take time. “What will influence the pace of adoption are factors such as infrastructure development, government policies and consumer acceptance.”

While not worrying about sales and other automotive-related matters like the electrification of commercial vehicles, Santos says that to keep his body fit and his mind sharp, he completes a 50 km-bike ride around Clark in Pampanga or Subic Bay.

“During weekends, I see to it that I ride a bike as it somehow gives my mind a fresh start after a week of office activities. I was influenced by no other than chairman Sytin who is a health buff himself. It all started even before the Covid-19 pandemic struck and made us all a couch potato. Cycling helped me cope physically, mentally and emotionally. So I suggest that people try riding a bike.”

Indeed, for someone with a mission to make a difference in the country’s truck industry landscape, a refreshed and refocused mindset for Santos is crucial for the coming days ahead.