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King Aguiluz at 70

This Sept. 5, my good friend Amable R. Aguiluz V or King celebrates his 70 years of life on this earth.   It has been a fulfilling journey for him.

Thirty-five years ago, King Aguiluz put up the first computer school in the Philippines on a rented   accessoria on Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong.   He had only 13 students and 20 computers.   He put up the school because he wanted to sell computers and because he wanted to be independent from his parents. 

His father was the late Amable Aguiluz, the self-made professional and poor boy from Lubao, Pampanga who became audit clerk of the National Bilibid Prisons, and rose to budget commissioner, BIR commissioner, treasurer of the Philippines, auditor general, and member of President Diosdado Macapagal’s cabinet.       The elder Aguiluz infused in his children the love of education, decency and integrity, hard work and burning ambition.   The elder Aguiluz had eight children—7 boys and a girl.   King is the fourth boy, hence Aguiluz V, with his father being the first.

King finished business administration from UP in 1968, MBA at UE in 1983, and PhD from Columbia College, Missouri, USA in 1990. He also attended AIM’s Top Management Program in Bali in 1991, a management program at Wharton the same year, and Harvard’s three-year management course for business owners in 2002, the only Filipino CEO to do so.

In 1978, King’s initial ambition was to become the biggest computer dealer in the country.     He went to America to get a franchise to sell Computerland computers in the Philippines.   But you couldn’t sell computers unless buyers knew how to operate them.   So he had to educate the consumer.   The computers didn’t sell well.   They were expensive.   But computer courses became popular.

Today, King’s small school has become the Philippines’ largest school —both in number of campuses (200, including ten abroad) and number of students—over 150,000 enrolled. 

“Nobody comes close,” King enthuses.   The 200 schools include 87 franchised by third parties, 46 managed under management agreements with their owners, and at least 16 owned by the AMA Group. 

There are five brands—AMA University and AMA Computer College, ABE International Business College, ACLC College, AMA Computer Learning Center, and St. Augustine International School.     Courses cover the entire range, from prep school, basic education, high school, K-12, college, technology, business, masters degrees, nursing and even aviation.

AMA operates schools in the United States, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Nigeria, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Xiamen, China.

Annual turnover is about $50 million with profits hitting $22 million a year.     King also operates the biggest private university in the Middle East and is a good friend of the Bahrain royalty.   He is special envoy to the Gulf Cooperation Council member states.   As such he has saved a number of OFWs from sure destitution and at times, sure death.

About 350,000 have studied or finished schooling at AMA—the largest pool of technically-skilled and technology-oriented manpower in the Philippines trained under a single roof, the AMA brand.     AMA has the biggest IT infrastructure in the Philippines.

The student, Onel de   Guzman, who invented the “I Love You” virus in 2000 was an AMA senior who was disgruntled because his thesis on hacking was rejected by the school.   He left AMA a day before graduation.   At the time he committed the alleged crime, it was not yet a crime.

The virus caused damage estimated at between $5.5 billion and $8.7 billion, according to Wikipedia, cost the US $15 billion to remove it and became one of the most destructive computer worms.   The UK quickly hired De Guzman as their consultant.

King has parlayed the AMA brand to go into property, banking and finance, agriculture, and utilities (AMA Telecom Corp. and the water rights from Laguna Lake to distribute up to 300 million liters a day).

King’s  PICAR Holdings is the developer of the Philippines’ tallest luxury residential condominium at 74 storeys high—The Stratford Residences on a 1.3-hectare property (part of the former International School) in Makati.   Picar Place will have four towers and 4,000 units.   The AMA Group has other properties totaling 60 hectares.

Meanwhile,  AMA Bank is one of the biggest private banks in its category (rural banking) and is the leading provider of second-hand car financing.   The bank focuses on micro and personal financing and business loan solutions for small and medium enterprises and has an overall asset size of more than $150 million.   Relatedly,  AMA Plans is a key market player in its niche for pre-need services.

In agriculture, King says he has a  new  but promising venture with the leading Middle East exporter/importer of agricultural products, primarily Cavendish bananas.   The group has 150 hectares of banana plantation in the south which will be expanded to 1,000 hectares in five years.

Moving forward, AMA wants to disrupt education further with its vision to extend universal education by offering online courses (combined with brick-and-mortar experiences) to nearly everyone willing to learn, without them having to commute to a school or campus, and serving consumers outside of the mainstream and the elite sector, through the use of technology such as satellite, internet, and handheld devices. 

The students will master courses, programs, subjects and IT skills unhampered by traditional time-based metrics, thus making higher education affordable, accessible, simpler, more relevant and focused, competency-based, and a journey of life-long learning.

In the Philippines, according to King, online or open course education helps solve the government’s chronic shortages of classrooms and teachers while preparing workers to acquire skills and knowledge needed by the work place of the 21st century.

Long live the King!


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