A funny thing happened on the way to the office this one time.
There I was, stuck in traffic and waiting for the light to turn green, when I spotted a rare sight on our streets: a Rolls-Royce Wraith. Needless to say it's a gorgeous automobile, one that represents the pinnacle of motor car luxury where no cost is spared and the lists of options and combinations are, almost literally, endless. The next question was, quite simply, who was driving it and what does he/she do for a living?
I was really expecting to see either a tycoon or a politician behind the wheel; a Wraith, unlike the flagship Phantom, is meant for someone who prefers to drive rather than one to be driven in. To my surprise, however, the person driving -with his windows down, no less- couldn't have been older than thirty.
Later in the day I would find out that I was right, but I didn't expect that I was very right: the driver was just 21. Apparently, he was a student at one of the more prestigious new schools in Metro Manila, something that was confirmed to me by an intern from another company. They're schoolmates.
It was a bizarre revelation to say the least and -according to our OJT- not an isolated one at that school. If you were fortunate enough, having a car -any car- given to you was already awesome in itself. Most of these were hand-me-down-rides given to us by our parents, often with a statement that it was a sign of their trust in us. At this school, however, BMWs and Mercs are their Toyotas and Hondas.
Maybe there's a touch of envy there from us who actually grew up driving second-hand Japanese cars, but really, I don't want to judge what people buy for their kids nowadays. At the end of the day a parent would want and get only the best for their children within or even beyond their means.
As chance would have it, however, one of the most well known personalities in the Philippine luxury auto business was able to share a story of a sale... one that never took place.
His name is Wellington Soong, the patriarch of the Philippine distributors of Ferrari, Jaguar, Maserati, Land Rover, and more recently, Aston Martin. Just a quick chat with him and you'll learn about how he worked his way up the business ladder, looking for every opportunity where and whenever it came from. He told us of how he originally made the bid to put up the first McDonald's in the Philippines and how his homegrown Racks chain of barbecued ribs came to be. He even shared how he named the fish and chips recipe after his sons, Marc and Jason.
The best story he shared, and perhaps the most important, is of a sale he refused.
He recounted how a man walked into the showroom of his dealership and was immediately drawn to the then-new Jaguar XK sports car. Then, and still so now, Soong is the type of man who handles clients personally; that is his mantra, as the business of luxury brands means not just making sales to put up on a board, but making a mark through customer service. The sale is merely secondary.
So W, as we call him, approaches and talks to the man, eager to explain the car to him and show him its finer points; a Jaguar, after all, is no simple car to get you from A to B. What surprised W was when the client said who it was for; he was buying the powerful sportscar for his teenaged son as a reward for getting such good grades in school.
Soong was taken aback, and instead of having one of the staff draw up the paperwork, get the client to sign a check and place an order for the car, he dissuaded the would-be customer from buying the multi-million peso car for his Grade A student of a son.
"I told him that as a father myself, a car like this will expose his son to all kinds of temptation," said Wellington Soong. "As much as I really needed the sale in those days, I cannot have that on my conscience."
The client saw the reason behind W's words, heeded the advice, thanked him, and walked away. Today, parents buy their kids expensive and powerful automobiles because they want to reward them, perhaps even spoil them.
Youthful exuberance and inexperience should really not be mixed with fast sports cars, especially given a world where gratification is instant, temptation is just a few calls away, and tragedy could be waiting just around the corner. The results of past accidents speak for themselves.
There's a lesson in there somewhere.