Leading From Behind

Written by David Herald Felicelda, MSIB 2020 Class President

In preparing for this message, the first thing I did was to take off my speaker’s hat and start weaving a story to tell — a story of us.

Most of my time was spent in creating a slideshow video of the moments we spent together in the past one and a half years, then the past hour writing this down. Looking at our photos, I realized that the one role I played in class aside from the president is the photographer. You’ve known by now from our Kahoot! game that I’m colorblind with red-green dichromacy; which is why I’m not an artist and I don’t explore colors that much. But that made me appreciate monochrome photos more because they show you what’s going on in the photo without the distraction of color.

As a photographer, one needs to be camera-ready – not to take a selfie, but to compose a shot in a spur of the moment. I remember that one time during our innovation tour in Japan when we all came out from lunch and what I thought was a perfect shot sprang up waiting to be captured. So I called everyone who was there to make it within the frame to form an ‘Avengers, assemble’ kind of pose. After that shot, a friend insisted to take turns with me so I can be part of the photo as well, but I politely declined the offer as we only had a few minutes before the shuttle left for our afternoon trip.

I shared with him what I call the ‘photographer’s delight’ –that feeling of joy and satisfaction in taking a great photo even when it meant not seeing your face on it. I realized that that was the kind of leadership I have in leading the class as your president. You may be so used to listening to my voice in front of the class or through my email signature saying, “on behalf of the class”. I never wanted to dominate or take the spotlight, but someone had to take responsibility, and that I know is what I signed up for when I accepted this role.

In photography, there’s this thing called, ‘rule of thirds’, which is why I’ll be sharing with you three concepts in photography that summarizes everything I learned in our MSIB journey.

First is FOCUS. A portrait lens with a higher depth of field will help you focus on your subject to achieve that crisp photo. When you know what you want, you can easily shut everything off in a blur so you can pour your attention, time, and effort to that one goal you want to achieve – be it graduating with honors, getting promoted at work, a six-figure paycheck, building your network, or launching your startup, or everything altogether while keeping an active social life. That is why I’d like to commend our high distinction awardee – my friend and brother Maki who also actively serves as our class VP, my LTmates Mon (Term 2) and Raja (Term 3) – working with you guys gave that extra push I needed so we could turn into an excellent group work. My banker colleagues Ram and Camz, who were my officemates turned classmates: you guys continue to be an inspiration to me. Congratulations to you all for graduating top of the class!

Then there’s Joenil, our multiplier guy and executive classmate – always sweeping us off our feet with his wise words. There’s Philip Palafox who came in as a single guy and are now four in his household including his adorable twins. There’s Arnold who found love in challenging times in between school and work, got engaged during quarantine, and just got married yesterday! Proof that indeed love is stronger than COVID! You see, success comes in different shapes and sizes; it is also in the eye of the beholder. Then we have our MSIB parents who can effectively juggle tasks and priorities while raising their kids, and to all of us who had to work while studying at the same time. Our focus produced results, and our sacrifices were never in vain.

Second is the BIG PICTURE. When you want to take a landscape photo, you’ve got to change your lenses to make sure everything is captured. When you’re too focused on something, you tend to neglect the other things around you which also matters. This is why we also need to be grateful for the good things that we have but often overlook – like the network and friendships we formed. You are one in a million… and also worth a million literally!

Shoutout to my OG learning team – Ainah, John, Rudy, and Emil. You’re my constants who have helped make things more bearable. You were also the first ones who believed that I can lead not only our LT but the class as well. Nihonbashitei soon, please! In a bigger scale of things, the ones that bother us and wrack our nerves are merely funny memories now that we can laugh about. You have no idea how I dread all our courses that involve numbers and coding, but even those we have overcome! May this be a reminder to all of us living in this pandemic that this too shall pass, and we can always expect a brighter tomorrow ahead of us.

Last and most importantly is VISION. A photographer needs a clear vision in his mind what he wants to capture. In the same way, we as innovators need to have a vision; hence our hashtag #InnoVision. It’s funny how that portmanteau came to my mind randomly despite being the last entry in the poll and also myself being student #51. I took the exam and enrolled on February 11 and started school a week after.


It’s amazing to know that vision is what takes you to your future regardless of the circumstances. I can vividly remember in 2010 as a fresh graduate and part of a management training program, I dreamt of studying in AIM after my CEO mentor Eugene Acevedo, MBM ’87 and AIM Executive-in-Residence, told me all about it. It took a decade to happen and now it has become a reality. I was just chatting with him yesterday, asking for advice on how to write a president’s speech, which has now turned into a story from the heart, just as he advised. Vision is a picture of our future; and I’m always a firm believer that despite all the crazy happening in 2020, greater things are yet to come!

This is why leadership is pretty much like photography. Leading from the front is a given – that is why there is a title attached to your name, but leading from behind is like the rest of the iceberg hidden under. It’s about eating last just like Simon Sinek puts it or sleeping last at least in my case. We need FOCUS, BIG PICTURE, and VISION. These are what make us effective innovators who can lead, inspire, and transform.

As I close, let me share with you a quote from one of my favorite movies – The Grand Budapest Hotel. The narrator starts saying, “It is an extremely common mistake. People think the writer’s imagination is always at work, that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes; that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. The opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you. And as long as you maintain your ability to look, and to carefully listen, these stories will continue.

Indeed, everything happens for a reason. Sometimes God allows things to happen to us so we can grow to be the best in the role he has called us to play. I never dreamt of becoming president, but when the opportunity was given to me, there was peace in my heart when I prayed for it. Nobody wanted and expected that some virus will bring the world into a global pandemic and health and economic crisis while we’re trying to earn a master’s degree and building our startups. But we were born for this; hence we should do what we ought to do.

My journey wasn’t easy either, but I believe that even the struggles I experienced also happened for a reason. Twice in the program, my laptop crashed – first during the second term when we were coding python for our Artificial Intelligence course; and second, on the day of our Corporate Finance exams, a week before capstone defense. I know how it feels to be nervous about grades, that feeling of not making it.

I experienced working on my capstone alone – this thesis in the middle of a crisis while trying hard to keep sane amid chaos. At some point. I also took a mental health day while I was mourning for a family loss and for my dying capstone – which is why I wasn’t in the MSIB commercial or the pre-demo day pitch competition. I had my silent battles and only a few people knew what I was going through: Kuya Junver, Ate Lei, Emil, Madz, Mina, and JM, whom I also call ‘LifeTeam’. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I know you all have your version of that support group, too. That’s because we were never meant to fight this battle alone.

In my meditation, I was brought to the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians saying, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” First, I thank God and the people He connected to me as my support group; then to every one of you who believed in me when I stopped believing in myself. Thank you for the privilege of serving you as president. From the bottom of my heart, I will say this once again, on behalf of the Council, thank you MSIB – for choosing us, for keeping up with us, and for trusting us to lead you especially during these trying times.

Thank you, MSIB Council, for always making things happen! Good governance was never the work of a single person, but a collaborative effort of a strong and brilliant team as you are. Props to all the work you have done – from collecting funds and feedback to delivering cookies and reminders; from planning parties and surprises to organizing gift-giving initiatives; from managing your respective LTs to negotiating deadlines and terms to put forward the concerns of every single person we lead.

We don’t necessarily have the same views in politics, religion, or sports teams, but the fact that we are different is what makes us diverse and dynamic. What a team! I can’t thank you enough for your service and I’m always grateful to be the LT rep of all LT reps. We’ve gone through a lot and I’m glad that we made it!


To our ASITE Team: Ms. Aqe – despite the short period, you’ve been helpful to the class, mediating for our concerns as school head. Sir Gino, Ms. Reyn, and Ms. Rebekah – thanks for all your hard work before and during the Capstone Defense, Demo Day, ASITE Mixer, and MSIB Send-off Party to make sure the program ran smoothly.

To our Recruitment Team: Ms. Giselle & Ms. Cherrie – thanks for always checking in on us since day zero. We appreciate all the small talks and all your efforts to help us not only survive but thrive in our life at AIM.

To our MSIB Program Team: Dr. Jay-Anne, Mark Ian, Dave, and all the associates, coordinators, and interns since the program started – thank you for your support of the program and to the class. We know how challenging it is also for you to manage two cohorts running simultaneously during this pandemic. Your extended work hours and sleepless nights are always appreciated.

To our Dean and President Jikyeong – thank you for your guidance and support. We appreciate you listening to our concerns and taking action to make our stay in AIM worthwhile even as we are now alumni of this institute. Maraming Salamat Po!

To Prof. Chris Monterola, our ASITE school head – thank you for always believing in us. You’ve always seen a morphed version of ourselves even when we were struggling; and you have weaponized us with your knowledge and skills. We will never forget how you stood up for us when some viewers were trying to discredit us during our Demo Day. Prof. Luisa Delayco, our MSIB academic program director – thank you for encouraging us to be resilient and tenacious innovators in this VUCA world. Both of you have been our constant since the beginning and through ups and downs.

To my mentors, Prof. Maoi Arroyo and Prof. Jammu Francisco, and all our mentors in MSIB – thank you for believing in us when we didn’t have enough faith to believe in our ideas, for helping us make our capstone ideas not just COVID-proof, but more importantly COVID-relevant. To all our professors – we are grateful for everything we learned from you!


Much love, David.

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