ANOTHER day at the office for Ford Philippines managing director Mike Breen. | photograph by Marc Anthony Reyes for the Daily Tribune

In a big gathering of automotive media, a poolside cocktail held at his Ayala Alabang home, Mike Breen mixed this writer an ice-cold gin and tonic. Served with sliced green and black olives. On a wide-brimmed cocktail glass.

Perfect balance of sourness and alcohol bite. Now had it been any less delightful, I’d still gulp it down.

Heck, it came from the host of the afternoon. No less than the Ford Philippines managing director himself.

Certainly, Breen knows how to make people feel special. And that’s even before I finished the first glass. I ended up having three, by the way.

Fast-forward to the sit-down interview at the Ford headquarters in Filinvest City, Breen was being briefed about the tone of the DAILY TRIBUNE Portraits interview.

Settling down on the long conference table of the Ranger Room (each room in the office is named after Ford cars), I told him about the four-page special section that comes out every Monday.

“Oh, so you need all my four personalities?” he joked.

I quipped: No, just pick the best one.

Maybe it’s his background in theater. Or the fact that he’s the youngest of nine children. But he has the knack to make people feel comfortable enough to listen to what he has to say.


“I wasn’t the best student, but I love life,” said the 59-year-old Breen, recalling his college days at Oakland University in Michigan.

For somebody of such stature, that was quite an odd thing to start the interview. But then again it provided chronological guide and touch points that practically allowed his profile story to write itself.

Simply brilliant.

“But I’ve always been more like enjoying life, and enjoying activity and enjoying the adventure.”

“I did theater. I love that it was a kind of source of entertainment. Great way to making friends. Meeting people. I started on stage but found out I preferred directing, choreography and also a little bit of stage managing. So that period in between I was a manual laborer also.”

Back in Rochester Hills, Breen’s father taught during winter. And in summer he ran a house-painting business that employed all of the children. To help get them through college.

“I came from a big family. Very loving. We didn’t have a lot of resources but I never didn’t have what we needed,” he said.

That planted a seed in him to aspire to build a family and provide them a comfortable life. In that strict order.

But that’s getting ahead of his story which took a turn for the better when he met Diane, his wife of 34 years.

“In the evenings I do community theater, and I was directing a play, a musical, and my wife (Diane) auditioned. That’s how we met.”

“At the end of every audition I ask the cast and crew, ‘ok do you have any questions for me?’ And she said ‘yes how old are you and are you single?’’’

That got his attention, all right. His friends said: “That’s it, he’s gonna marry her.”

From the time they met it was less than 10 months before they tied the knot. At that point, Breen felt he should be taking life more seriously and took a proper job as a realtor which he held for almost two years.

“She was doing work for a temporary service company and they had an opportunity at Ford Motor Company to work at customer assistance center.”

“My first job at Ford was as a temporary employee, working for a temporary agency. Just as a call center person. Learned a ton. Probably the most valuable experience you’ll ever gonna have as far as working in customer satisfaction.”

That ability to listen and understand customers’ frustrations and try to work through them formed the backbone of his career at Ford.

“That’s what I do now. I talk to customers all the time. And to me if we can’t listen to and hear what the customer is saying we should not be doing what we’re doing. It’s kind of that simple.”

He allowed himself to get involved with customers through clubs which he described as Ford’s best advocates and brand protector.

Breen makes himself available to all the customers “with the idea that if someone has an idea or concern we should be able to provide an answer. I don’t know if we always have the answer, but at the least am here.”

“It’s important to kind of have a process, that helps us get where we need to but in the first couple of years, here’s what I thought: It’s important that I hear what they’re saying,” said Breen of his mantra since getting assigned here June 2021.

“That’s how I learned about Filipino customers, how respectful Filipino customers are even when they’re frustrated. (They’re) so kind.”

He also has nice words to the dealers who accepted him with open arms.

He said: “Dealers are so focused on doing the right thing. We just have to figure out how to make things easier for them to do the right thing, how to help them do it.”

Their new parts distribution center helps sweeten the relations between the dealers and the customers with parts and supply readily available for them.

“The (Ford) team here is amazing. Everybody just kind of help me manage and keep the balance. It’s a blast.”

That helped him navigate through the “internal Ford processes” here in the context of what he used to do back in the United States and his earlier Asian assignments in Shanghai and Bangkok.

“In the Philippines, this team can always find a way. We want to make things easy,” he said.

Hitting the ground running, he formed a core of seven managers tinkering the tedious process of bringing the vehicles to the country, passing through the customs and solving all the “logistical pieces of the puzzle.”

“In the US its contiguous, meaning everyone is connected. You drive your vehicles from where it’s built to where it ends up. Not here.

‘It feels like I’m home.’

“What the team here brings to the table is the willingness to always find a way. It’s not as easy as basic processes.”

Of course, it helps that his style of management is hinged on positive reinforcement.

“People are much more responsive, much more helpful if you encourage them. None of us has the same baseline as far as expertise, capabilities. Everyone has a capacity to deliver beyond their capabilities and I find that what makes it different in that space is encouragement.”

Breen said that’s something he got from his parents.

“I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. Am not the smartest guy in the room, ever. But there is usually a positive way to go.”

That validated what his predecessors said about him being “the perfect fit for the Philippine market.”

The Filipino trait that struck him most was “kindness.” And he felt it everywhere from his own team here down to his household staff like helper Cora and driver Arvie.

That also made him fall in love with Pagsanjan Falls and admire the hard work put in by the “happy and pleasant boatmen.” He would take his team there once in a while.

And this Easter break, he will also be taking there his sister and brother who are visiting from the US. He wanted them to have that experience, too.

“(Here) everybody looks out for us. They’re all nodding and smiling, you don’t get that anywhere. I wouldn’t trade it about being here.

“It feels like I’m home.”

Exactly like what he makes people feel about themselves.