Aurelio Gigi Montinola III headshot

Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III

Chairman, Far Eastern University and Retired President, Bank of the Philippine Islands

Born and raised in the Philippines, Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III studied abroad thanks to his father who heard about the opportunity and enrolled him in IES Abroad’s programs in Paris and Nantes. While in France, Gigi expanded his worldview through exposure to people from around the world and became self-reliant through independent travel throughout Europe. These skills were instrumental as Gigi embarked on a career in international banking. In 2013, after 31 years at the Bank of the Philippine Islands, including serving the last eight as President and CEO, Gigi retired to pursue his passions for education and the environment. Today, Gigi is Chairman of Far Eastern University in the Philippines and Chair of the Board of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – Philippines. Read on to find out how his study abroad experience impacted his career and why he supports study abroad scholarships.

IES Abroad: As a student in the Philippines, how did you hear about IES Abroad and what motivated you to study in France?

Aurelio “Gigi” Montinola III: My father heard about IES’s Junior Year Abroad Programs from a friend, contacted IES Abroad, and then enrolled me in the Paris summer course of 1970, the Nantes fall course of 1970, and then the Spring course of 1971. My parents liked France, and this is why I was sent to Paris and Nantes in 1970-71; however, my brother Antonio was sent to Vienna the following year.

IES Abroad: What are some of your favorite memories from your time in Nantes and Paris?

GM: In Nantes, it was learning in a cinematography class in French (I didn’t know a thing about cinema) and perpetually falling down the Olympic Women’s Downhill course in Austria (I didn’t know how to ski) during Christmas vacation.

In Paris, it was riding one block in a taxi so we could properly arrive at Maxim’s for our only expensive meal of the semester and travelling around Eastern Europe in a Volkswagen Camper Van with five other classmates. I remember visiting a Romanian gymnast family one evening, and then the following day at the Romanian Yugoslav border, being asked together with my American friend Brian Wynne to shave our beards before crossing - coincidence or secret police? We didn’t want to find out.

IES Abroad: After studying abroad, you went on to attend Harvard Business School and then launched your career in banking. What inspired you to work in the banking industry?

GM: It was an accidental start – Citibank was the first institution to accept me as an International Staff Intern in 1977. I liked the international nature of the job, then discovered that I both liked and was good at banking, and so I stayed in banking for around 35 years.

IES Abroad: Were there lessons learned in Nantes and Paris that helped you in the early days of your career?

GM: Definitely. I was both an introvert and new to the international scene. In both Nantes and Paris, I learned to relate and deal with students from different countries and to travel around Europe with no one to help me except myself. This broadened my perspective of the world and taught me how to deal with people from different nationalities—two skills that were vital in the early days of my career.

IES Abroad: You have lived and worked abroad and traveled extensively. As you look back on your expansive career in banking, what are you most proud of?

GM: Making banking easier for our customers, working through people, and greatly expanding remittance services for the millions of overseas Filipino workers. Also, winning Best Bank Awards, heading the Bankers Association of the Philippines during the global financial crisis, and being awarded a Management Man of the Year award in 2012 were other memorable souvenirs. Receiving a Legion d’Honneur, Chevalier rank and travelling together with the Philippine President on several business trips were nice bonuses.

IES Abroad: Forty-five years after studying and living abroad in France, you remain an avid traveler and you are committed to your family’s vision for higher education opportunities in the Philippines. Please tell us about your pursuits of these interests today.

GM: Travel energizes me, and therefore I have been to so many places either alone or with family, and I have met so many international friends everywhere. Today, I have moved from banking to education, and now am chairman of a 40,000 student university. I am enjoying the gratifying role of asking the right questions while helping educate students of modest means to improve their status in life.

I tell people that in your 30s, you Decide - location, career, and spouse. In your 40s, you Commit to the choices you have made (or start over again). In your 50s, you Excel, and in your 60s, you do Something Else. Aside from education, I am Chairman of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines (an environmental foundation), Maitre of the Commanderie de Bordeaux Manila, and Chairman of the National Golf Association of the Philippines, so I am also enjoying doing other things.

IES Abroad: We are grateful to you for your generous support of the IES Abroad Scholarship Fund. What motivates you to direct your philanthropy to support study abroad for today’s students?

GM: IES Abroad changed my life by helping me develop an international perspective. If I can do the same for someone else, then I will be happy to have helped.

IES Abroad: What is one thing you learned while abroad that remains a constant in your life today?

GM: Life is experience, so stay curious and do as many different things in your life (while you can).

IES Abroad: What advice do you have for a student today who is considering studying or interning abroad?

GM: In your teens, you study. In your 20s, you should explore – first job, possible study or internship abroad, maybe live in a different country. It will change your perspective for the better, and teach you about situations and people that you can use much later in your life. Best of all, you will probably enjoy doing something different in another country. Technology is great, but human contact with all sorts of different people particularly at a young age will energize you. Finally, the world is yours, so help take care of the world—particularly with climate change.