#FeaturedIlonggo Ken Lerona

Ken Lerona

Ken Lerona: In the business world, Ken Lerona, a seasoned public relations and marketing practitioner, stands out not only for his expertise but for the journey that shaped him – a journey from the streets of Iloilo, to the high-stakes boardrooms of Metro Manila.

Born and raised in Alimodian, a town nestled 24 kilometers away from Iloilo City, Lerona’s upbringing is deeply rooted in provincial life. Growing up there shaped my perspective; it was a sleepy town, but the experiences there profoundly influenced me,” reminisces Ken.

In this small town, Ken’s paternal grandfather, once a farmer, worked tirelessly to establish a Sari-Sari store. This store, born from his grandparents’ dedication and savings, was quite popular in the area. It not only supported the family but also served as Ken’s early introduction to business.

Keeping a close eye on him, Ken’s mother, a dedicated public secondary school teacher, allowed him to explore the world of business from a young age. She also instilled in him the value of education. “She dedicated her life teaching us. She was the one who first taught us how to read. She also nurtured our curiosity to explore and learn new things,” says Ken.

Meanwhile, his father, an all-around worker, exposed him to the dynamics of the public market, where Lerona spent most of his childhood.

“My father started selling rice and corn and then transitioned to fish and finally to selling meat,” recalls Ken. “So, during elementary school, I practically spent a lot of time in the public market, helping my father look after our puwesto.”

However, Ken’s path took an unexpected turn when his father needed to work abroad. At the young age of 15, Ken found himself learning how to steer a tricycle to the market, handling bills, and attending school, all while helping manage the family business.

Spark of Journalism and Marketing

Amid the hustle and bustle of the public market, Ken’s interest in journalism came unexpectedly. His father’s subscription to leading broadsheets introduced him to the world of columns and articles.

“I started reading newspapers in the public market, and that’s when my interest in journalism was sparked,” Lerona recalls, attributing this turning point to the presence of a local newspaper vendor, Tiyay Thelma, who sold broadsheets and magazines from Manila. “And, of course, having been able to interact with a lot of people from different social status, I became more exposed to the realities of life.”

When the time came to choose a career path, Ken found himself at a crossroads. He took the college admissions test at the University of the Philippines, initially considering options in molecular biology, psychology, or sociology. In case of exam failure, he also contemplated pursuing mass communication at a different university. Fate or serendipity, as he reflects, nudged him towards business administration.

“I thought it was UP who chose business administration for me. It turned out to be serendipitous. Marketing is a mix of communication, business, psychology, sociology – and I loved it,” says Lerona with a grin.

Thus began his 22-year journey in the marketing realm, where he seamlessly blends elements of communication, business acumen, and an innate understanding of human behavior.

Provincial to Corporate

Relocating from the province to Metro Manila brought its share of challenges. Initially feeling like a small fish in a vast pond, Ken later realized that being a “probinsyano” was not a hindrance but a distinct advantage.

“I felt a certain level of inferiority complex because I thought, by being a ‘probinsyano,’ I was inferior. But later, I found that it was an advantage,” reflects Lerona, emphasizing the unique connection he developed with provincial markets.

“My tenure with a telecommunications company, for instance, further exposed me to the diverse markets of Visayas and Mindanao. Even when transitioning to other industries, my focus remained on provincial markets. I found that my provincial background facilitated a stronger connection with the market, enabling me to comprehend their worldview, address their concerns, and empathize with them easily,” he added.

Ken also noted that in the boardroom, he could effectively represent the perspective of the local market. This means that the value he brings to the boardroom stems from his experience with the target audiences.

“I am not an outsider from an ‘ivory tower,’ but rather someone from the trenches who can articulate the market’s sentiments. I can convey what the market truly needs, allowing the business and its brands to address them at a more personalized level. Hyperlocalization of marketing strategies and communication campaigns is critical, and being from the province in the boardroom is an advantage, given the unique perspective that a probinsyano like me can bring to the table,” he added.

Bearing this in mind, Lerona believes that understanding the needs of the provinces is crucial for the industry to thrive and address the diverse concerns of the Filipino market. As a leader who has worked in organizations across various industries such as Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG), retail and leisure, telecommunications, real estate, digital platforms, logistics technology, and consumer finance technology, Lerona champions inclusivity and representation.

“Representation is the key,” he asserts, emphasizing the need for diverse voices in important conversations that shape the marketing and business landscape.

Lerona recently founded Cornelius Magnate Engagement and Consulting, a strategy advisory firm focused on training, innovation, and reputational risk management. He brings his years of diverse experience to clients based in the National Capital Region and key cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

Navigating Tradition and Technology

Ken Lerona’s advocacy extends beyond marketing – he believes in humanizing the industry, telling stories beyond data, and embracing the subcultures of different provinces. In his more than two decades of experience, he has not only navigated traditional and digital marketing but has also emphasized the importance of recognizing the diversity of media consumption in the provinces.

In Lerona’s vision for the future, his provincial background remains a compass guiding him through the age of artificial intelligence (AI). As technology evolves, he emphasizes the importance of maintaining humanity’s roots, enriching lives, and improving culture. His adaptive approach to technology reflects his commitment to progressing without abandoning the traditions that shaped him.

As a believer of learning, Ken Lerona took the Executive Program in Digital Leadership at the Singapore Management University to keep abreast with the fast-paced development of technology. He also completed programs in Futures Thinking as well as Corporate Innovation Systems Strategy and Design at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). He recently earned a certificate in Facilitating Adult Learning from the Ateneo de Manila University Center for Organizational Research and Development. He is currently completing a Master in Innovation and Business at the Aboitiz School of Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at AIM.

“Moving forward, I believe that new technologies, like AI, will help us be more productive and efficient so that we’ll have more time to live our lives as humans, to enjoy music, to see the sunset, and to further improve our culture,” Lerona concluded.

Ken’s journey is a testament to the power of embracing one’s roots, leveraging experiences, and evolving with the times. From a provincial market to the forefront of marketing, Lerona’s story is a compelling narrative of resilience, adaptability, and belief that representation matters in shaping the conversations that define our culture.

A contributed article.

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