A Conversation with SAGA’s New Executive Managing Director Elmer Lapeña

At the helm of the new SAGA, he is leading a reinvigorated company into a new chapter

Anyone who has attended a major event in the Philippines within the past two decades has experienced, in one way or another, the artistry of Elmer Lapeña. Whether it’s as a member of an audience experiencing an unforgettable event, or as a talent helping bring a monumental creative vision to life, there is no denying the impact Elmer’s work has made in helping turn the industry into what it is today. His vision and outlook are his signatures, and some of the many reasons why he has become one of the most sought-after directors and creatives in the industry today, wearing such hats as Assistant Director for video streaming giant YouTube’s signature Fanfest, Project Lead for global content service Spotify, and long-time creative consultant of talent managers and concert promoters MMI Live and Live Nation. 

Elmer has been at the forefront of the Philippine events industry since SAGA’s founder, Robby Carmona, first gave him a call to take part in a show more than 20 years earlier. From working backstage at some of the country’s most prestigious fashion productions to shaping the company’s roadmap for a whole new generation of talent, he steadily rose through the ranks, becoming a key driving force behind SAGA’s success. It is also this experience that has given him a 360˚ perspective of the industry, and which has informed his current advocacies, among which is championing employees’ holistic welfare in the industry.   

Q: As one of the pillars of the SAGA brand, how do you think the company has changed?

A: I joined SAGA  more than 20 years ago, and the company has grown literally and figuratively since then. From a five-member team doing fashion shows here and there, we are now 55 people strong, each with their own unique specializations, their own unique skills that they bring to the table, and we’ve managed to expand the company’s product offerings beyond live events production.

Q: What do you think makes SAGA as a company unique?

A: Its people! I think over the years we’ve developed a certain kind of diversity in the workplace. Each person is unique, but when brought together, we create extraordinary things. 

Q: What are the core values that SAGA stands for?
A: I used to say it’s our creativity and innovation, but I believe those are expected from a creative company, so I think trust is one of our most important core values. Trust in your teammates, and being that sort of person they can also trust; it will get you through anything.

Q: Why did you feel SAGA needed a brand refresh?A: Evolution has always been a part of the SAGA brand. This reinvigorated new look is reflective of our new management, our growing pool of talents, and our ever-expanding product offerings. 

Q: As a leader, how do you continue to foster creative talent and innovation within SAGA?

A: I think it’s understanding personalities, and how to approach people. There are different management styles and you can’t just use one on everyone; I really saw the effects of applying them to SAGA. I also believe shaping a place and environment, where people are encouraged to just be creative, is very important. 

Q: How do you personally manage to balance the business aspect of leading a company with being creative?

A: I started working with the company in operations before I worked on the administrative side of it, so I experienced both sides of the fence. Production is theater, and in theater there are roles. I realized you have to understand the requirements of each and conduct yourself in the way that role demands of you. I try to look at it as using structure to improve creativity. Creativity can have structure, and having limits and parameters—the proverbial box—actually challenges your creativity. 

Q: As one of the leading agencies in the country, what sort of impact do you want SAGA to have on the industry as a whole?

A: As a mature company, I believe SAGA is in a position where it can be a role model to growing companies. Every day we try our best to further professionalize the live events industry by championing workplace safety and employee welfare, particularly their work-life balance.  

Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A: I don’t know if this is a cliche, but that to be a fit leader, you have to take of yourself. You have to literally be physically fit to lead, mentally fit to lead, and emotionally fit to lead, and this can only happen when you take care of your body and your mind, which allows you to deliver what’s needed. 

Q: What drives your passion for the industry that you are in? What do you love most about it?

A: I think over the years I have amassed quite a number of industry friends and colleagues who I just love working with. Right now what really excites me is that I am at a company that is in a position to impact positive change in the industry. It’s a lot of pressure, but everything that we do has a ripple effect. That’s what drives me to constantly work for improvement.

Q: What exciting things from SAGA should we expect in 2022?

A: Some exciting things have already happened! For one, SAGA is now a certified Great Place to Work®, and we’re very excited now that the industry is starting to reopen, and we’re very excited to push the boundaries once again in connecting brands with their audiences on so many platforms.

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