Through thick and thin, Emma Marcha Imperial stuck to her vision and is now succeeding in giving the people the dream home they can afford

It’s not just the cost but the guarantee of savings on electricity and major repairs that attract buyers to the houses Emma Marcha Imperial builds. The group chair and president of Imperial Homes Corporation (IHC) had a vision to provide affordable and sustainable homes using two technologies borrowed from Denmark. Applying both (and more) to Via Verde, IHC’s development in Sto Tomas, Batangas earned for her house model the distinction of being the first recipient of the Excellence in Design for Greater Efficiencies (EDGE) Certificate. The coveted award for meeting the global standards for green buildings is given by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group. The development’s major source of financing, Development Bank of the Philippines, also won the Outstanding Sustainable Project Financing Award from Germany’s Karlsruhe Sustainable Finance Awards and Certification.

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Via Verde is the first net-metered solar-powered community in the country. As such, the homes can generate electricity not only for their own consumption but sell any excess generation to the distribution grid, transforming the consumers into “prosumers”, as the government’s energy commission calls them.

Solar is generally perceived as an expensive technology for affordable housing, but Imperial has always believed that sustainability is the wave of the future. “I have been going regularly to Denmark since 2005 and I marvelled at how almost all the houses there were powered by solar. Why could we not do the same in the Philippines, I asked myself, when Denmark only gets the sun a few months in a year,” she says. 

The forward-thinking developer also came across ultra-high-performance concrete panels that provide lifetime resilience to earthquake, fire, typhoon and moulds. Manufactured by Connovate Denmark, the panels are already being produced here by Connovate Philippines, which secured an exclusive production licensing agreement with the Danish company. Its three factories have an average yield of 110 houses per month.

My dream is for my company to go on and on, managed and owned by my employees
Emma Marcha Imperial

With these two technologies, the IHC units can rightfully bear the title of its recently launched marketing campaign, Tough Homes. The benefits of the Connovate panels are instantly appreciated by the market but solar technology always needs a bit of explanation, according to Imperial. “So, I tell them that 500 watts of [free] solar power can run a six cubic metre refrigerator for seven hours, an electric fan for five and the television for four,” she explains.

She entered the real-estate business well-equipped. She carries a business economics degree from the University of the Philippines as well as from the Harvard Business School’s Owner Management Program. While working for three years in the United States, she became the first Filipino broker licensee in California. Her skill in sales, on the other hand, was both natural and acquired. From her businessman father, Epifanio Marcha, came her discipline for hard work. From her late husband, Legazpi City Mayor Gregorio S Imperial, she imbibed idealism and acquired a heart for public service. 

The May-December marriage (he was 48, she was 24 when they met) brought the Manileña to Bicol, as wife of Goyito (as she called him) and a mother to their two sons. Here, too, she began to build. Some of her first projects included a Montessori school, a poultry farm and housing communities for teachers; then the establishment of IHC in 1983. To date, Imperial has built 20,000 homes, with 2,000 of them solar-powered, in several development communities all over Luzon.

With this vision of sustainable housing, pursued by her with the stubbornness of a mule, IHC became the first Property Technology Developer in the country. As such, it stands as a model for other developers to think and act green. Towards this end, Imperial founded PropTech Consortium of the Philippines to “gather stakeholders from both the industry and civil society to see how we can innovate the future of real estate”.

Imperial believes that integrating green building technology, through her Connovate panels, and renewable energy through her solar power system, will yield both savings for the homeowner and sales for the developer. The sales growth of IHC, even in the pandemic, has continued to prove the adamant builder right.

There were quite a few naysayers and nonbelievers to her vision in the beginning, mainly because solar is generally considered an expensive technology. “When I got sold on solar, the technology was enjoying improvements and revisions, bringing down its cost. Today it’s cheaper than before,” she relates. There were believers too, of course, including one institution that mattered: PAG-IBIG Fund with its green initiative to finance solar solutions for all its members, reaching the low-income market.

Today, the believers are more than what Imperial perhaps imagined. This March, the Balai Berde programme of the government was launched to gather banking and financing institutions to support developers that will use solar in their homes. Already, the IFC-World Bank and the National Homes Mortgage Finance Corporation (NHMFC ) have signed up.

Awards and recognitions, both for her projects as well as her performance, have also been pouring— again, despite the pandemic. Topping off all these achievements is the announcement that IHC is now part-owner of Connovate Denmark, transforming IHC into a global company.

Each award is a testament to her strong management and inspiring leadership. “I used to be a hands-on manager, and I got stressed out,” she reveals. “But in Harvard, I was advised to get all the important reports on your table on a weekly basis for a clear overview of the status of the business.” She has followed this advice by requiring the reports from her companies’ different departments to be placed on her desk every Monday morning. As such, her management actions and decisions come easily throughout the week.

One can also describe Imperial as a nurturing manager. With the onset of the pandemic, she combed her wide network for a swab test for her 380 employees. When she learnt that Metro Manila would be placed on lockdown, she shifted to innovative digital solutions to help run her companies—Imperial Homes Corp, Enfinity Imperial Solar Solutions Inc and Connovate Philippines—enabling everyone to keep their jobs.

“If there is one thing the pandemic has underscored, it would be that real estate should find ways to build more sustainable, resilient and healthy homes. We can convert virtually all housing architectural plans into Connovate panels while we can also customise the solar solution based on roof size and energy consumption. The opportunity to apply these technologies in the whole country and even abroad is just too huge,” she looks to the future. “My business is highly scalable. What excites me are the new applications and markets for our products.”

With a passion in her vision, her savviness and innovativeness, Imperial has elevated the concept of affordable housing. But her vision for the future continues, as she reveals, “My dream is for my company to go on and on, managed and owned by my employees.” Just watch her make this dream come true.

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This story was originally published in the May 2021 issue of Tatler Philippines. Download it on your digital device via Zinio, Magzter, and Pressreader.

  • PhotographyJinggo Montenejo
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