Succeeding Success: Mike and Paul Peña
Paul Peña and his father Mike's relationship is characterized by freedom and a laid-back approach.
June 10, 2017
Interview and introduction by Sybil Layag
Photographed by Ron Mendoza
In the best interest of their sons, some dads can be strict and controlling. Luckily for Paul Peña, his father Mike is not—their relationship is characterized by freedom and a laidback approach. For Mike, the best way to teach his son is to let him learn on his own, while he, as father and “boss,” remains supportive and approachable when Paul needs him. He places emphasis on shaping Paul’s values not just in terms of career, but also in dealing with everyday and spiritual life, and giving glory back to the Great Architect.
Why did you take up Architecture?
Mike: I’m the first architect in our family. Since I was small, I’ve always been fascinated with illustrations and drawings. I sketched a lot. Then, I found out that in Architecture, you do a lot of sketching. So I was inclined to take that up, because I believe that drawing is my God-given talent and I wanted to make use of it.
Paul: Ako naman, not because of my dad. When I was young, my favorite toys were building blocks.
Paul: Yes, Lego, anything related to structures. Di ako mahilig sa action figures, gusto ko ako yung gumagawa ng structures.
So you didn’t feel pressured at all?
Paul: No. Pressure is if someone wants you to do something that you don’t want to do. Well, I really did want to take up Architecture. Also, knowing that my dad is an architect, I knew I had additional resources, help, information that I can get from him.
How did you go up the corporate ladder?
Mike: When I was still a student, I worked for an architectural firm in Makati. But when I graduated in 1983, Ninoy was assassinated. So the economy was really on a downturn. Lahat nag-sarado, and the company I worked for closed also. I had to work on my own. I started with designing kitchen cabinets, small things like that. And then, nakita ng clients yung talent ko. Eventually they referred me to friends na magpapagawa ng bahay, then mga commercial. We don’t have a marketing arm. We are really known through our projects, which other people see. Kaya ang motto ko is: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” [Galatians 6:9].
Paul: Right after college, I decided not to work for my dad. Kasi if I did, I won’t be able to experience the corporate world, I won’t be able to learn the practice and how it’s like to work in a corporation. So I decided to work for a multinational company. After I passed the board exam, I started working for my dad. My first projects were small condominium renovations, boutiques, fit-outs. Now, my dad and I work together. But I was already working for my dad since high school, ako na yung CAD operator niya [laughs]. Formally, I started working for him in 2010. It’s been four years.
I always tell Paul to choose the right projects, because we can’t accept everything. If he does, he will spread himself too thin, and the quality will be affected. The more you become known, the more projects come to you, but we don’t want to sacrifice the quality. -Mike Peña
Have you been tougher on your son than on other employees?
Mike: Not really, because I let him decide on his own. I don’t want to impose any regimen on him. From time to time, I just remind him of the basics of the design process. But mostly I just let him do his own thing, then he asks me to check his work.
Paul: There are times na no sweldo… [Laughs] But seriously, my dad’s easy to approach.
Has it been tough for you to prove yourself?
Paul: At first, of course. It’s like, if you’re a very young doctor, it’s hard for patients to trust you especially if they’re very sick. Similarly, it’s hard for clients to believe young architects, what they always tell me is, “Kaka-graduate
mo pa lang ah, kaya mo nang gawin ‘to?” It can be difficult to always explain to our clients na matagal na akong may experience, or I’ve been working for quite some time now. But it’s always good that my dad is always there to support me. I’m definitely still learning at this age.
READ MORE: Succeeding Success: Ed and Lor Calma
What do you admire most about each other?
Mike: I think he’s hardworking, and he can work independently. I don’t have to spoon-feed him.
Paul: Very relaxed. Kahit may mga problema, relaks pa rin yan [laughter]. Ako, hindi ko kaya yun eh, konting concern lang ng client, nagsi-stick na sa mind ko na hindi na matatapos yun. He also has a lot of patience in dealing with different types of clients. There are clients who are easy to talk to, and others not.
Describe your work ethic.
Mike: There’s no substitute for hard work. I study the character of the client first before I design. I find out their sleeping habits, their life patterns. The design that you do for them should be tailor-fit for them. That’s the hard part also eh, you have to analyze them, you have to psychologize them [laughs]. In the end, they’ll be the ones living in that house, not me. I have to make sure that I understand their needs, requirements and character.
Paul: Like my dad, I always consider the clients first, so once we’ve studied all their requests, concerns and issues, that’s when we start with our schematics. Kaya lang, sometimes it’s hard for me to get inspiration right away. So first I give some time to myself, and I do research on current trends in design before I start conceptualizing. There are times kasi na wala talagang lumalabas sa isip mo.
Mike: Architecture is an art eh, diba. You have to get inspiration to keep you going. And of course we don’t want naman na pare-pareho yung designs namin. That’s what makes architecture exciting.
How is your personal and professional relationship?
Mike: It’s hard to separate the professional from the personal, because he’s my son. I believe in his talents and I tend to just let him do his own thing. With my staff, I have to check their work, pero sa kanya I just let it flow, let him develop his own design process. I think that’s one way of letting him grow and become more creative.
Paul: It’s good that I was able to work in a corporate world, because right now in our company, it’s very informal. When I approach my dad, I can approach him wearing sando and slippers [laughs], unlike when I had to approach my boss at Hunter Douglas, kailangan naka-necktie, or if I needed to submit my documents, kailangan naka-Powerpoint, naka-bind. Samin pwede sketch lang, or isusulat lang on the spot…
Mike: Or while playing golf.
Paul: Anywhere! During dinner, family time, weekends. We’re more open. It’s easy for us to collaborate and brainstorm.
What is your most important legacy to your son?
Paul: Your cars. [Laughter]
Mike: It’s the principles that I’m teaching him, not only in being an architect, but also in dealing with life. The Christian values that I impart to him. During our board meetings, we start off with family devotions, based on the Bible. I impart to them how it can affect their lives, and how it can be applied to their profession. Also, the right design process and green design. Green design is very important to me, because of what’s happening to our world now. I hope he continues with that.
Any apprehensions or regrets?
Mike: There are no regrets. The Lord has been so good to us. I guess, one apprehension is, I always tell Paul to choose the right projects, because we can’t accept everything. If he does, he will spread himself too thin, and the quality will be affected. The more you become known, the more projects come to you, but we don’t want to sacrifice the quality. Some people get turned off, because we turn them down or we ask them if we can reschedule.
What is your vision for the firm?
Mike: I’m content with just a family business. I don’t think we’ll make this a global design firm. Ang aking achievement there is nabigyan ko sila ng venue for exercising their God-given talents and their creativity.
Paul: Ako naman, I want to expand. But I want to focus on mid- to high-end residential structures, and eventually to resort design, because we’re really into designing with nature and the surroundings in mind.
Why do you think there aren’t many children who follow in their father architect’s footsteps?
Mike: Well, I’ve talked to some architects whose children didn’t take up Architecture. They said their children can’t
deal with how their parents work. Especially during our time, there was no CAD yet and everything was manual, and you really have to start early and sleep late to be able to finish. And their children see that and say, “I will not put myself through that…” [Laughs]
Paul: It’s really hard to follow in your parents’ footsteps if it’s not your passion. You’ll easily get exhausted or stressed. But if you’re passionate about your work, even though you feel exhausted, after a while you’re excited to work on it again.
Mike: Also, they don’t want to live in their father’s shadow. They would rather do something different. They don’t want to hear that kaya sila sumikat dahil sa daddy nila. You want to excel on your own.
What is the importance of succession planning? What could have happened if Paul didn’t take up Architecture?
Mike: If nobody took up Architecture in my family, then probably Michael Peña is no longer existing now [laughs]. At this point in my life, I’m already semi-retired, and it’s a good thing that my children are involved here, and now we can see the legacy of the Peña firm go on.
Would you encourage your children to take up Architecture?
Paul: I don’t want to force them into Architecture, I want my daughter to be what she wants to be. Okay lang kahit hindi siya maging architect.
This story first appeared as “Mike and Paul Peña: Free Spirits” in BluPrint Special Issue 3, 2014. Minor edits have been made for Bluprint.ph.