The Culture of Unilab That Changed My Leadership

Written by Joel Cacanindin, MBA

Can you imagine a group of fish that can swim with the sharks without being eaten alive? What kind of guts do they have to co-exist with the monsters of the sea? What will happen if, afterward, these miniature creatures suddenly reverse the trend and become the masters of the sea in both the red and the blue ocean?

From a small corner drugstore, United Laboratories Inc has grown to be the country’s top pharmaceutical company with over 20% market share in an industry dominated by the world’s biggest pharmaceutical multinationals. The reasons that made this a reality remain to be a mystery to its competitors. This secret can only be revealed when you’re within the zone, working with heroes that made the impossible possible.

I was fortunate enough to join this company in March of 1999. It allowed me to discover the 3 secrets that transformed this company from good to great. Do you want to know the secrets? Here are our 3 ingredients: First is the Vision of our Founder, Jose Y. Campos. Second is the Bayanihan Way of Life in UNILAB, and third is our people.

Allow me to connect these 3 points in a very simplified way based on the stories that I’ve heard from the veterans of this company. I somehow visualized a young Jose Y. Campos peddling supplies and medicines on his ever-reliable bicycle in the streets of Manila. He envisioned establishing a store to make more drugs available at more reasonable prices.

And so, in his mind, he formed a new management philosophy that is truly Filipino in nature, one based on Bayanihan or working together. Our Filipino values of pakikisama, hiya and utang na loob enriched the management style he created.

Thus, the Bayanihan way of life in UNILAB was born. It is a system of working together as one to achieve a common goal. It is where the President, down to the last man standing, will never ever stop until the goal is achieved. And this way of life has been passed on from generation to generation.

UNILAB’s success is not dependent on the intellectual and analysis paralysis line of thinking. 

UNILAB did not really rely on ex-pats or top corporate executives. UNILAB’s greatest asset is its human asset. Ordinary persons with an extraordinary amount of passion and determination. These are the group of fish that can swim with the sharks without being eaten alive. Heroes that are united in thought and in action and singing in one voice:

Unilab, Unilab tinig nati’y nagkakaisa, kalusugay kayamanang tunay sa buong sambayanan inaalay.
Unilab Unilab kapit bisig nating ipahayag. Ang bayanihan ating napatunayan siya’y landas tungo sa kaunlaran.
What a moment, what a song, what an inspiration!

This year marks my 20th year in UNILAB, and I can still feel the culture instilled in my mind and heart. The spirit of Bayanihan is still burning within me, and it will never ever stop. I am 45 years of age, but my enthusiasm is still like that of a newly hired individual. 

I made Bayanihan a way of life. I shared this culture in our Metro Lipa Toastmasters Club when I was the President last year. This became our mantra that led to our first-ever President’s Distinguished Club Award, the highest award given to a club by Toastmasters International. This was done after 14 long years of existence as a Toastmasters Club! 

Thanks to Bayanihan. In my family, where we are facing adversities because of my wife’s end-stage renal failure, the Bayanihan culture is within us because I cannot handle the situation alone. My wife and my kids are working hand in hand to be a group that will continue to live, love, and learn as one cohesive unit with the guidance of our Almighty God.

Bayanihan is a leadership principle that can guide us to success. This can also be considered a partner of our Underdog Leadership program, where we work not because of position but because of passion. 

We see ourselves as brothers and sisters with one common goal. It is where dedication, hard work, and integrity truly exist. It will truly bring an organization to change, going from point A to Point B, from good to great, and from success to significance.


JOEL CACANINDIN has been working as a Business Development Executive with UNILAB Inc, the largest pharmaceutical in the Philippines. He has been in sales and distribution for more than 20 years. Joel is an accredited speaker and trainer of the Underdog Leadership Program and AMBK Program of Mzone Training. Currently, he serves as an Area Director of Toastmasters in the Batangas area. He received the President’s Distinguished Award from Toastmasters International and an International Speech Championship Award in 2017. Joel earned his Nursing degree at Fatima University and passed the Licensure Exam as the 19th placer in the 1995 Nursing Board Examination. In 2018, he earned his Masters degree in Business Administration from Philippine Christian University.