For most people, finding a career and pursuing a passion aren’t always the same thing. More often than not, it’s the mind that is focused on the career while the heart stays firmly for passion. But for a select few, the blessing is finding that special something that lights them up early in life.
Such is the case of Atty. Martin Loon, or simply Martin, president and CEO of Cocolife. As the head of the biggest Filipino-owned stock life insurance company, Martin is the man steering the ship, maintaining the company’s prominent market leadership position in the insurance industry.
In legacy industries like insurance, millennials’ presence in top leadership echelons is uncommon, but in Cocolife, the set up works and functions well. Martin sits down with The Philippine STAR and talks about the law profession, his venture into insurance, and the leadership decisions he had to make in order to help clients, employees, agents and other stakeholders realize their dreams.
Inspired by grandpa
Martin believes that the law is meant to be a tool to ensure that everything we do is within the bounds of justice in a world where people with many diverging interests coexist with each other. He learned this from his grandfather, a lawyer who inspired him to take the same career path. He recalls that there were two reasons he wanted to take up Law.
“First, my grandfather was a lawyer. He was a very honest man. I felt then that I could lead a respectable and decent life with this profession. Second, I’ve witnessed a lot of injustices early in my life. I’ll probably talk about it some other time. I promised myself that as a lawyer, I will always help others especially the poor and those who cannot fight for themselves,” Martin shares.
Academic and professional background
Martin is the youngest to hold the top position at Cocolife. Previously, he held the position of director. He founded his own law firm — Aquende Yebra Aniag Loon and Associates, that in 2019, was named the best new law firm in the Philippines by the Asia Business Law Journal. He also serves as confidential assistant to a respected business leader in the country. His colorful background in the field of law and business makes him one of the most promising young millennials today.
Before his stint at Cocolife, Martin became the youngest member of the Consultative Committee tasked to review the 1987 Constitution after being appointed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte. He is also an independent director of Cyberbay Corporation.
In the academe, he served as a professorial lecturer both in International Security Studies and Politics & Governance at the Ateneo de Manila University (Ateneo) and currently in Insurance Law at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law and in the Master of Laws program of the San Beda University School of Law.
He obtained his Masters of Laws degree from Georgetown University Law Center, Washington DC. Martin studied law at the UP College of Law and earned his Juris Doctor degree. Martin was also a member of the Order of the Purple Feather (UP Law Honor Society), University Student Council and a proud member of the UP College of Law Sigma Rho Fraternity. Prior to this, he took his Bachelor of Arts Degree from Ateneo.
As the top person in management, Martin relies on his vibrant team for support. He also talks about the working relationships that help steer the ship at Cocolife.
“Having a board composed of people with deep experience, intelligence and stature was a challenge especially with some of the most respected former Justices of the Supreme Court or what we lawyers call “gods of Padre Faura” on board. But I guess when they see integrity, passion, ability to learn fast, hard work and good intentions, they appreciate that. Age never worked against me because I always treat people, young or old, with the respect they deserve. Regardless of your position in the company or in life, I treat people with importance. I consider this responsibility a mission in this chapter of my life — to help improve lives and create a positive impact in the lives of the people we serve,” Martin says.
When it comes to leadership, he admits that he is rather headstrong and follows a straightforward style.
“I trust my people 100 percent. When I trust, I trust completely. Work to me is an integral part of who we are — what we give defines us. I’d rather keep giving more, and try to not count what I give, may it be time, skills, effort. By some mysterious way, all the effort come back in a very good way. At the same time, it’s good to just keep things simple, no frills, just be who you are,” Martin explains.
“I handle things head on. I never delay in addressing problems — my team knows this. If something comes to my attention at midnight, I make phone calls that very minute to try and find solutions. I don’t wait for the morning to come when a problem can be solved before daybreak. I’m also very persistent; I never give up on a problem. I try to create roads even where there are none,” he says.
Martin admits that he never expected to land a career in the insurance industry. But nonetheless, he stepped up to face the challenge of higher leadership.
“No, I never expected to land here. But I go where I am called and just give my best. I will use this experience to prepare me for my next journey or assignment, but I plan to stay in the private sector for the long term” he explains.
Back when he was younger, Martin dreamed of joining government but now relishes the simpler things in life in the private sector.
“I’ve always wanted to be a politician or government servant. But today, I’m happy just going home, watching Netflix with a glass of wine and sleep soundly at night with a clear conscience. These are the priceless things in life,” he says.
No one left behind
The youngest president of Cocolife also vows to take care of his people, especially in difficult times like today.
“I treat our people like family. I make sure everyone is alright and no one is left behind. We live in an imperfect world and certain disagreements cannot be avoided but I always choose to look at the bright side of things and find the good in people. I take care of them the way I would my own family members,” Martin expresses.
His definition of success is also quite different from other business leaders.
“Success isn’t the size of your bank account or the paintings on your wall or the cars you drive or the properties you’ve purchased — but the lives of the people that have become better because of you. I want to see those I’ve mentored and work with reach their fullest potential and see their lives improve for the better. I just want to see the people close to me succeed and be their best selves and experience the best of life. My siblings, my students, my fraternity brothers, everyone I work with and the people I serve — I really want the best life for them. Not necessarily in terms of material things alone, but in terms of things that money cannot buy – fulfillment, happiness, peace of mind, honor, courage. If I see that in them, masaya na ako,” Martin expresses.
Messages from two senior colleagues
Cocolife chairman Justice Bienvenido Reyes attests to the youthful leadership at Cocolife.
“Young leaders like President Martin Loon have significant advantages. They exhibit boundless concepts and skills at presenting their goals. They are dynamic and have the courage to take risks. They are full of optimism about their proposals for variations. With the unrelenting progress of Cocolife, Atty. Martin Loon has proven that he is indeed a good leader. He has an open mind and takes into consideration others’ ideas and points of view. He makes good leaders as well. He initiates good example and motivates his subordinates to excel in their craft,” Justice Reyes exclaims.
The former Supreme Court associate justice also shares one important advice.
“My advice to him, never let the fear of making the wrong choice or decision hold you back. Seek other opinions and weigh them conscientiously. Value them no matter how minute or crucial. This is how you build trust and respect. And explore your young life as this will make you more in tune with the people who rely on you, on your leadership, and on our company,” Justice Reyes states.
Cocolife board member and Cocogen chairperson Justice Arturo Brion also shares the same admiration towards the top man in the company’s leadership.
“President Martin is a company president who is very young, very energetic, very imaginative, and I would say very daring. He would go into areas where his gut feeling tells him that it would be for the good of the company, and I am seeing a lot of these things right now. And I wish he would continue what he has been doing and do more. I have always likened him, his approach to things, to the approach of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom I served as secretary of Labor. President Arroyo has been a very energetic president. She calls you several times day and night, she wants answers, but yet she is very patient and she is very understanding. This is the type of trait that I am seeing now in president Martin,” Justice Brion expounds.
“I know personally president Martin Loon and he’s one guy I admire. For somebody very young, President Loon is almost half my age, but in terms of wisdom, I see a lot of wisdom in what he has been doing,” Justice Brion confides.
Driven by core values at all times
Founded in 1978, Cocolife has seen its fair share of crises: natural calamities, political unrest, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and the global financial crisis in the late 2000s. The company weathered all these, thanks to the core values of reliability, excellence, teamwork, integrity and empathy that have guided Cocolife for the past 42 years.
With a clear understanding of the plight of fellow Filipinos, the company — led by its youngblood president — continues to honor its commitment to its clients and partners during the darkest and most trying times, serving them with heart, mind and integrity at all times.