Is IPVG's change of heart the right beat?

As it veered further away from its tech roots, Philippine IT conglomerate IPVG has made it clear its future now lies on mining--and not on ICT.

Back in 2008, when I was still heading the local IT press organization here in the Philippines, we held for the first time an IT award ceremony in which we honored the tech industry's best.

The person we named as "IT Executive of the Year" was a young, hard-driving guy named Enrique Y. Gonzalez. A member of the ultra-wealthy Yuchengco clan, Gonzalez almost came out of nowhere to establish a sprawling IT conglomerate.

As the CEO and driving force behind IPVG, Gonzalez oversaw a vast IT empire composed of data centers, call centers, online games, IT security and e-payment products.

At one point, Gonzalez almost succeeded in acquiring U.S.-based call center operator PeopleSupport . He was rebuffed, however, after PeopleSupport later opted to sell itself to an Indian company for a higher price.

Nonetheless, the incident did not diminish Gonzalez's resolve. I particularly admired his bravado and foresight in getting the ticker name "Cloud" for IP Converge Data Center when the company went public for the first time.

I was there during the morning when IP Converge made its IPO at the Philippine Stock Exchange and saw the wide grin on his face when he rang the bell to signal the listing. At that time when cloud computing was just starting to become a buzzword, Gonzalez was astute enough to claim the "cloud" as a sort of nickname for his company.

His online game subsidiary, E-Games, also expanded like crazy and immediately matched--if not toppled--the then reigning champ. It organized game confabs that drew hardcore gamers by the hundreds of thousands.

Gonzalez, literally, was at the top of his game. He was an IT kingpin. Then, he had a change of heart--or to be more precise--a change of business direction.

Suddenly, he was no longer enamored with IT. Instead, he turned his focus on mining. From the cutting-edge industry associated with the latest technologies, Gonzalez took his company to an old, somewhat discredited business segment.

Eventually, stockholders of IPVG approved the amendment to the company's Articles of Incorporation that changed the corporation's primary purpose, allowing the company, among others, to establish a refinery in the Philippines to refine metal ores and minerals.

Gonzales then engineered the company's US$250 million-investment in a Chinese mineral refinery. He then proceeded to dispose of his company's IT assets one by one.

He first sold off the call center business to Hong Kong telco PCCW. This was followed by the sale of the company's shares in Internet security firm, Prolexic Technologies, to a U.S.-based company. IPVG then struck a mega-deal by ceding control of its online games unit, E-Games, to main rival Level-Up.

The IT conglomerate's crown jewel, IP Converge, got the boot last June 2012 when the data center operator was purchased by an unknown real estate firm, called 8890 Group.

As it veered further away from its tech roots, it became clear the company was no longer as bullish on ICT as that fateful day when it listed IP Converge on the local bourse with the ticker "Cloud".

It still boggles me as to why Gonzalez, or IPVG for that matter, is taking this path. Granted that mining is more profitable and makes more business than ICT as this point, they are missing the opportunity to make a real and lasting contribution to the country's economic advancement.

I now remember a well-known anecdote on the late Steve Jobs, who reportedly told John Sculley, the Pepsi executive whom he was recruiting then, with these words: "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?"

The same question is apt for Gonzalez and his team. Do they want to keep drilling the earth for more money? Or do they want to change the Philippines via ICT?