PAL board appoints veteran in BPO management and corporate turnarounds as president and COO

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo

PIONEERING flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) has a new chief pilot on the seat.

PAL made the formal announcement of its new leader at 3 pm, saying the 15-man PAL Board had “unanimously approved” the choice of Gilbert Santa Maria, a “handpicked nominee of PAL Chairman and CEO Dr. Lucio C. Tan,”
as president and chief operating officer.

Earlier, two separate sources on the PAL board of directors confirmed that Santa Maria, a veteran in establishing and managing business process outsource (BPOs) companies, is the new president and chief operating officer of the airline.

“[He starts work] today,” said one source who requested not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter. Another source, who requested anonymity, said “there were other candidates [but Santa Maria seems] more experienced in management. He came highly recommended. And he looks more confident.”

Both sources declined to say who were, and how many other candidates were considered by the board. But one source underscored, “it’s a 10-man Corporate Governance Committee [who went over the candidates’ qualifications], to ensure maximum compliance.”

Other sources also averred that Santa Maria was recommended by a headhunter with a note on his massive “corporate turnaround experiences from PepsiCo [which he used to manage in the Philippines], and other companies. He also has extensive experience in corporate communications/marketing.”

Prior to joining PAL, Santa Maria was in the information technology and services industry, having been COO of the US-based Ibex Global Solutions, and was also responsible for driving business of eTelecare, both BPOs.


The board of directors of Philippine Airlines (PAL) today (July 29, 2019) confirmed the appointment of Gilbert F. Santa Maria as the flag carrier’s new President and Chief Operating Officer.

The 15-man PAL board, in its regular meeting at the Century Park Hotel – Manila unanimously approved Santa Maria, a handpicked nominee of PAL Chairman and CEO Dr. Lucio C. Tan.

In a brief message, Dr. Tan enjoined the PAL team to support Santa Maria as he embarks on his new role as president and COO.

“I call on all PAL executives and staff to support Gilbert Santa Maria. Let’s work together and help him face PAL’s many challenges,” the taipan said.

For his part, Santa Maria said he considers it a privilege to serve the country’s flag carrier. He urged his fellow PAL workers to help him achieve Dr. Tan’s vision of making Philippine Airlines the airline of choice across all markets it serves.

“PAL is the airline that meets the needs of local and global travelers by showcasing our brand’s main strength — the passion for safety and service. Maintaining the current level of service is important and of course, profitability. Let us do our share to make PAL reach greater heights. I will be with you every step of the way,” he added.

PAL EVP and Chief Administrative Officer Vivienne K. Tan said, “It is important for my father’s vision to be translated into PAL providing consistent quality service to our customers and also, the flag carrier serving as a means to contribute to nation-building. With this new leadership, we will accomplish this further.” 

The new airline President has three decades of executive management and leadership experience gained across multiple industries in companies around the world.

For the last 15 years, he was a key leader and contributor in the Philippines’ highly successful BPO industry. Until early 2018 he was COO of Washington, DC-based BPO company Ibex Global and was responsible for its 18,000 employees around the World.  Before IBEX, he was COO and CFO of IQ BackOffice, a California-based Finance & Accounting outsourcer that was an investee company of LiveIt Investments, Ayala Corporation’s BPO holding company.

He supported the governance of LiveIt’s investee companies as a member of the boards of IQ BackOffice; Integreon, a London-based KPO; and Stream, a leading Massachusetts-based global Call Center company. Before this, he led Corporate Development for Stream, having joined its leadership after its 2009 merger with Arizona-based eTelecare Global Solutions, where he led Corporate Development and eTelecare’s 11,000-employee Philippine Operations through the integration of the two companies. He joined the startup eTelecare in 2004.

Prior to joining the BPO industry, Santa Maria helped lead a Singapore-based internet 1.0 startup called He was Executive Director of Argosy Partners, which was organized by Filipino business leaders in the wake of the Asian Currency Crisis in 1998 to be the Philippine affiliate of global Private Equity funds like Warburg Pincus, Chase Capital and GE Investments. He was one of the youngest General Managers of Pepsi Cola Products Philippines’ Manila Operations.

He was also a management consultant at Booz Allen & Hamilton in New York where he led various strategy and operations consulting engagements for global clients like P&G, J&J, BOC of the UK and BHP of Australia. He started his career as a management trainee in production and engineering at Unilever in Manila.

Santa Maria is leaving his Los Angeles-based advisory firm to join Philippine Airlines in Manila. He has a Master’s in Public and Private Management from the Yale University School of Management and a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He was born and raised in Mindanao.

With a report from Lorenz S. Marasigan

Image Credits: Nonie Reyes