Let me bump this article. At the WDS in Milan (http://www.wds2015.com/?op=lng&lang=en) this 10th to the 14th of June, 2015, will also be FCI Election time. Rafael De Santiago is up for re-election and because of this, my interview of RDS was used by the FCI APac. FCI APac is obviously supporting RDS. So allow me to bump the original.

The FCI is a healthy democratic organization with a healthy democratic process and healthy democratic elections. Word has it that a European is challenging RDS this election (just as I predicted). When I was told about this, the first thing I said was “Good!”. Presuming a decent, honourable, generous, tolerant and respectful opposition, then they should make for a healthy democracy. So am I endorsing RDS? Hell yes! But I’d love to interview his challenger. 🙂

So here it is as promised. Normally, articles like this stay in the draft folder a little longer, it undergoes editing and revisions, revisions and editing, it gets read and reread, reread and read, and more. The email of Rafa was heart warming, I wont mention it verbatim so I wont be accused of trumpeting. He too can write as his phrases and choice of words in his email were elegant. This will be a work in progress as I continue to find out more about the man. I’m still waiting for a couple of photos from him. For the meantime, here is a photo taken by Simon Sim, at the end of the day, at the end of the Circuit Show. Like all my articles, feel free to reproduce it but kindly give me a byline and tagline.

Here is something to get you in the groove while reading the article. The youth know the Bruno Mars version but we old fogeys know it can only be Spiral Staircase. Enjoy the read!

Author with FCI President Rafael De Santiago

Author with FCI President Rafael De Santiago, photo by Simon Sim

Forbes mentions 10 character traits of a good leader-honesty, ability to delegate, communication, sense of humor, confidence, commitment, positive attitude, creativity, intuition and the ability to inspire.

January 11, 2015, the 2nd day of the 2015 Philippine Circuit Show. I was Show Chairman for two days and this morning I managed to start an interview with the President of the FCI-Rafael De Santiago, the man called Rafa. While seated at the officials table, amidst the barking of dogs, the cheering of exhibitors and spectators, the blaring PA, I managed to find out and piece together Rafael De Santiago. This is not an actual journalistic type of interview but an informative view of the man. Just like any interview the first thing is to engage in a flowing conversation, you want honest, candid and straight forward answers and not canned replies or scripted thoughts. I told Rafa that I wanted to write an article that would somehow show the human side of him and reveal some goings on of FCI, something more than what can be found in the net and in a show catalog, something an ordinary dog owner would like to read. So here is a short story about Rafael De Santiago’s journey to the top post of the FCI.

Rafa’s journey in purebred dog ownership started just like most of us ordinary/real dog owners, he started with a non show type dog. At the young age of 14 he got his first purebred dog when he acquired a Corded Poodle. And just like any diligent first time dog owner, bitten by the dog sport bug, he decided to learn more. In 1972 in a partnership with Roberto Vélez Pico, he would establish what would become the renowned Radesa Afghan Hound Kennels. He is known for his Afghans but has also owned Lakeland Terriers, Scottish Deer Hounds, and Briards. And to Ornithologists, the man also owned and bred Macaws and African Greys in the past. I’m sure he could also judge them. The man has the canine ownership, breeder and exhibitor covered, and more.

Ownership of a purebred would eventually lead anyone to a corresponding kennel club. Rafa would be introduced to the Borinquen Kennel Club. Founded in 1970, the Borinquen Kennel Club according to him was the local kennel club of San Juan that would evolve into the Federacion Canofila Puerto Rico in 1981. During this same year and during the leadership of FCI Americas and the Carribean Section President Thelma Von Thaden, and through his efforts and initiative, Federacion Canofila Puerto Rico would be granted Associate Membership status with the FCI. What was a local kennel club was now the National Kennel Club of Puerto Rico.

1981 wasn’t just about the transformation of the club into the Federacion Canofila Puerto Rico nor just about its being granted Associate Membership Status into the FCI BUT also his becoming a director officer and eventual president of the kennel club. Heads would turn and accomplishments noted that eventually he would find himself a member of the FCI Standards Commission in 1991. Having entered the FCI workings, he would then make it to the General Committee and would become treasurer in 1999, VP in 2011 and in 2013 would become the first Non-European President of the FCI, a milestone feat. I find it a very honest journey, from the non show dog first dog, the local club involvement and officer ship, to the FCI ladder to leadership. I see it as a journey of hard work. The exact timeline dates have temporarily slipped Rafa.

I asked him-What was his biggest challenge. He believed that “We need new people, the people you see are the same old people”. The FCI Youth Program is a start to get new people involved in the sport. But he himself said that showing dogs is but a small part of the bigger picture, it is a start but is not enough for the future of the sport. I mentioned conversations I’ve had during my judging travels with several kennel club officers about how we are losing the youth to malls, media and gadgets. Rafa agreed that these are difficult adversaries, he then mentioned that it is up to the clubs to make a stronger effort to attract the youth. He asked me how old was I when I got my first purebred, I told him I was 16 and that I still have the receipt when I paid for my membership, he then made a gesture with his hand and says “See Jojo!” He believed in getting more youth so that we would have more choices for future leaders. He after all got involve at the age of 14. He asked about my kennel club background. I told him I became a director of the club 25 years ago and I was also a past President and was away from the club for the past 10 years until Dinky invited me back. He then said “When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood”.

I asked How were the past 20 months of his leadership. He first mentioned that some projects were already existing, probably just needing some tweaking and adjusting. He mentioned the “FCI Youth Program” of which I have already explained. “Scientific Projects” addressing dog health. “Judges Education” since one of the major functions of the FCI happens to be dog shows. “Modernization”, he mentioned improvement and modernization of FCI hardware, a new web page, online services such as downloadable CACIBs. He then mentioned that through the years, Asia was not given that much attention. He believes that the Asia and the Pacific Section is an important Section which is why he has made an effort to reach out and communicate with the Asian members. He believes that “Globalization” has brought about the need to reach out to everyone, every FCI member country, every individual member. After all, it is the individual that makes up the club, that is a member of FCI.

I asked him at one point during the interview-What is your judging schedule? He mentioned that he was away from home 3 weekends a month (most dog shows are held on a weekend). Having asked this question, my follow-up question was-If you are busy judging, how do you get any FCI work done? The first thing he told me- “I have a wonderful team I can depend on, it is all about the team”. He goes to the FCI headquarters in Belgium 6 times a year. On an almost daily basis, early in the morning, he reads his FCI emails. I’ve noticed him to be an early riser as he is one of the early ones at the breakfast table among the judges. After reading everything, he will then have a “Skype Meeting” with everyone, or those concerned and always with FCI Executive Director Yves De Clerq (no stranger to us who follow FCI), this can last to as short as 45 minutes to as long as an hour and a half. At one point in our conversation, he mentioned that “the 3 weekends that I’m away Jojo, is not just about the judging but most of all leading and representing the FCI, I try to feel the pulse of the club, feel for issues that FCI may be of help, encourage the club that needs encouragement and support”. So there you have it everyone, your FCI President practically works 24/7 worldwide. He added that “I want people to think of me as a regular person, not stuck up, but available and reachable”. I have to admit that he is very gracious, he will even stop to take time for anyone to talk, hell he will even smile for a selfie with you.

He is President of Imagen Optima an advertising and PR agency. This is an industry that amazes me. Some of my most interesting and brilliant friends are in advertising. What this industry can do never seizes to amaze me. It is an industry where ethics means a lot. Rafa mentions that he has a team that he can trust to run things even if he is away. He also believes that his clients understand his passions that’s why they trust him even when he is away. His firm holds the account of major known products and corporations. He developed corporate campaigns for global clients, such as Bausch & Lomb, Danosa, Abbott Laboratories, Marshalls, AT&T and Puerto Rican Cement Company. Personally, I find this very important-having a profession outside of the dog world.

As to his judging, we all know his resume when it comes to what and where he has judged. He apprenticed in Mexico towards his judging license. When he got his judges license, he stopped showing, handling and breeding. He then told me that he decided to breed his last litter, an Afghan litter out of Blue Boy do Vale Negro and Fabode Radojka (named after a lovely Russian singer who came to Puerto Rico). It was a sad moment for him but as the cliché goes when a door closes, a window opens. His judging has allowed him to meet a lot of interesting people that would become good friends. More than anything else what strikes me about the man is that he made an early decision to stop breeding and exhibiting, knowing the inherent conflict of interest of being a breeder/exhibitor and an active judge. This shows great form of character. “I do my best Jojo, to look for the best dog regardless of owner, handler and advertising.” I’ve watched his judging. His ring procedure is very organized, he is quick and efficient, deliberate, decisive, no drama, no theatrics, yet not stern in the ring. A good ring procedure they say is what will explain why you chose what you chose. Winning under him isn’t just an honor because he is the FCI President but because of the reputation that precedes him as an honest judge. I asked him-What was his most memorable judging assignment and he answered “Every show is a memorable show because of the opportunity to judge new dogs and meet new people, look, I met you in this show”.

As to his person, Rafa is as human as any ordinary person. Like most of us who travel often, we look forward to coming home and he is no exception. He loves coming back to a private and secluded place called home. One thing he looks forward to when he gets home is to chill and do laps in his pool. He underwent a Coronary Artery Bypass Graft Surgery in 1997 and Spine Surgery in 2012. Because of this, he now tries to maintain a decent weight and finds time for exercise by doing some laps and watching his diet. A guilty pleasure of his is a traditional Puerto Rican delicacy called “Pasteles”, usually served during the Christmas holidays. I wouldn’t be surprised if Christmas is his favorite holiday. He tries his best to avoid it because of its high fat content. He loves his white wine and when he needs to grab a book it is usually by Sidney Sheldon (7th best selling author of all time). His favorite colors are green and yellow obvious in the color of his shirts. He is always dapper in his bespoke suits, nothing outrageous but always appropriate for the occasion and weather. He likes to take a drive. Puerto Rico just like the Philippines, is an archipelago and the view of the drive according to Rafa can be very exhilarating and peaceful. Interestingly even if he travels 3 weekends a month, he still would like to see Abu Dhabi and the Emirates on a personal capacity. A memorable moment for him was fireworks to usher in the New Year at Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor. Before I started the interview, he sat beside me and pointed to the flag of Puerto Rico and told me “there’s my flag”, he also has a love of country.

What else is there to say? He has an honest history of dog ownership, from first pet dog to becoming a renowned breeder and exhibitor. His local kennel club administrative experience is more than just bread and butter work. He worked his way up the FCI ladder, earning every wrung from merit. He is an honest judge, having made difficult ethical decisions to maintain his judging integrity. He is a team person and not a micro manager. He is not a Prima Donna even if he leads the largest canine organization in the world. He is an early riser. He is a listener. He has a guilty pleasure (Pasteles), memorable experiences, things that he still has to do (bucket list), and simple joys like driving, things that makes him just like any ordinary dog owner, any ordinary person.

But what struck me most, after a good pause in our conversation, thinking that the interview and conversation was over, was when he said-“ In everything in my life, work, FCI, business and personal life, the two things that I follow is honesty and transparency”. We then took another pause to watch a group competition. He then told me “Always have a sense of humor and enjoy life”. At the end of the show we said our goodbyes after a warm hug. He asked me to keep in touch and that he expected to hear from me. He then told everyone around “Keep on doing what you are doing, the Asia and the Pacific Section and its leadership has my full support”.

The ten character traits are all in the bag!

Now don’t tell me you didn’t get hit by LSS! So now, every time you hear the song “More Today Than Yesterday”, as you head to the dance floor, I hope you will remember this article, the FCI, and Rafael De Santiago…and that he will be working and leading the FCI, “More Today Than Yesterday”. 🙂

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