MANILA, Philippines — With advancements in digital technology now playing a vital factor in most companies’ corporate strategies, The Net Group President and Director Charlie Rufino gives the once-golden rule of business a little tweak.

“It’s no longer ‘location, location, location,’” shared Rufino in the last Asia CEO forum held at the Dusit Thani Manila. “It is now ‘location, bandwidth, location,’” he says, adding that what has happened in the real estate high-rise office industry in the last 10 years has been unbelievable. “Seventy percent of our data now comes from the BPOs, shared services, back office, offshoring, rightshoring—it has been unbelievable growth,” Rufino says.

With over 300,000 square meters projected office take-up in the Philippines versus Singapore’s 115,000, Rufino attributes the growth in numbers to the country’s improving bandwidth. It’s also the reason why his company chose to put up its series of Net buildings in Fort Bonifacio Global City (FBGC).

“We’re concentrating on Bonifacio because the PEZA IT zone is here,” shares Rufino. “It’s the ‘brains’ of Bonifacio. These days we’re not so interested in airports,” he says, “we’re more interested in submarine cable landings because once you get that desired bandwidth, you’re going to be able to compete with anyone in the world.”

Innovative city

When his company won the bid to do the development of Fort Bonifacio Global City from the BCDA in 1995, Rufino shares that it was going to be the size of the city of Boston at eight million square meters. As head of the planning team, “we needed to determine what our vision for Bonifacio was going to be,” he says, “because there are basically four types of cities—a functioning city, and there are a lot of these in China; a systematic city like Seoul, Korea, where everything works efficiently—from the transit system to the people; an innovative city like Vancouver where people love to be there because it really works; and a city like Paris, a visionary city.”

Fort Bonifacio, shares Rufino, was designed to be an innovative city like Vancouver. And in little over a decade, Bonifacio Global City achieved exactly that and has become one of the country’s central business districts.

What most people aren’t aware of, Rufino reveals, “is that right in the heart of Fort Bonifacio—in that ramp area in Burgos Circle—there’s a seven-storey storm detention tank whose circumference is the width of EDSA, and it can take millions of gallons of water.

Fort Bonifacio is 32 meters above sea level—it won’t flood. But all that water absorbed by Bonifacio will go down some places and inundate many places in Makati, so what we’ve done in Bonifacio is put up storm detention tanks so we can store the water in a past storm like Ondoy, keep it there and pump it out the following day to avoid storm surge.

It’s very innovative,” he says, “it’s never been heard of in the Philippines, it’s done in Fort Bonifacio, and all below ground and nobody knows it’s there.”

Trends trump spreadsheets

A business may have the best computation for properties, the best cash flow analysis and financial projections, says Rufino, “but if they miss out on the trend, they miss out on the larger things.”

It’s exactly what happened to the now defunct movie houses of the ’50s. Rufino shares: “Movie houses in the Philippines, like the ones in Avenida, Rizal, were the highest grossing in the world, and at that time everybody wanted to own one.

They used to earn their payback in two years, but now their cash flow is zero. It’s the same if you’re talking about office real estate, The trend is moving away from the port and closing in on the airport. It’s moving away from the historical sites. The property in Makati and FBGC are starting to increase in value tremendously.”

It’s this trend that’s pushed The Net Group to build its series of Net Buildings in Fort Bonifacio. With five buildings already standing and the Net Lima reaching completion in 2012 (“it’s going to be the first of three towers that’s coming out that will make up our 144,000 square meter Net Metropolis,” he says), Rufino’s company is shaping up to be the dominant developer in the FBGC CBD.

“We’re always checking what people think about us,” he says. “We go online and we get into a skyscraper forum where all these architects are always memberscritiquing our building. ‘Another big black box,’ they said. So this is going to be proof that we’re thinking out of the box. We took the mold and broke it, and we’re starting all over again.”

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