Humans > Legend

The long and winding road of Daniel M. Isla

The man who built Lexus Manila signs off for now

The man everyone calls DMI will be sorely missed. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

If somebody asked me to personify heart, I would just give the name of Daniel M. Isla. Or simply Danny, as he is known to most. As of March 2018, Danny is officially a man of leisure. He has completed—albeit reluctantly—his extended tour of duty with Toyota and Lexus. I wish him well as he crosses the threshold to what promises to be the best years of his life.

A trusted ally of Lexus Manila chairman Alfred Ty. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Danny was most recently the president of Lexus Manila, formerly first vice president at Toyota Motor Philippines, and previously general manager at Toyota Alabang. It’s superfluous to even talk about how long he worked for Toyota. It’s unimportant. As far as I’m concerned, he had been around forever. What does it really matter, in the end? What makes Danny special is not so much how many decades he was a Toyota and Lexus associate (over 30 years, if you really must know), as it is how many lives he touched, how many people he made happy, and how many friends he stood by through good and bad. He truly is a man for all seasons.

This guy was game for anything if it was for the brand. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Danny is no saint. Though a spiritual person, he is also very much a man of the world. He enjoys his whiskey. He smokes. He keeps himself well-groomed and well-dressed. He revels in the good life. And (okay, okay) he is known to be a ladies’ man, too. But I mean that in a good way, the same way he is also a men’s guy—a really good buddy. He absolutely loves music and song, and he certainly can belt it out like a pro.

DMI paved the way for many special Lexus occasions. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

In fact, he can have a conversation just using lyrics that are dear to him. Especially Beatles lyrics. Danny has spent a lifetime of devotion to the Fab Four, with unparalleled memorabilia to show for it. Al Mendoza, a fellow Beatles fan and like a brother to Danny, says that Danny’s all-time favorite Beatles song is “Mister Moonlight.” They refer to each other as Sir John (Danny) and Sir Paul (Al). And when asked what Beatles song would best describe Danny, Al doesn’t skip a beat: “Nowhere Man.” Al says it’s because Danny is a man “who lives for others. He treats people the same way, both rich and poor. He has his feet firmly planted on the ground.”

Sports journalist Al Mendoza is a fellow Beatlemaniac. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

In his years with TMP, Danny led the company to many Triple Crowns—most passenger car sales, most commercial vehicle sales, and most overall sales. He never, ever, retreated from a challenge—any challenge. He always gave it his all. Jing Atienza, who was mentored by Danny and who last year ascended to the post of senior vice president at TMP, has only kind words for his coach. “Sir Danny is truly a great guy,” Jing shares. “It was just like having your boss as a friend, a father and a mentor all at the same time. He genuinely loved the brand and all the people he worked with.”

The affable boss was also his brand's best salesman. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Another person whom Danny nurtured was Ariel de Jesus, former PR manager at TMP who today is the managing director of Würth Philippines. Ariel commends Danny for being such an ideal role model: “He is street-smart, has a great gut feel, and comes with old-school resilience. He gave me one of the most precious things anyone has to offer—his trust. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

He was actually good friends even with competitors. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Danny started his career with Toyota as a marketing professional at Toyota Alabang. He was such an absolute performer that he was among the finalists for “Toyota Marketing Professional of the Year” when we first launched the award. To this day, I remember his answer to our question about how he built his relationships with our customers: “I make sure to greet them on their birthdays and get them a cake.” It might seem like nothing special, but 30 years ago—when compiling and accessing customer records was not as common a practice as it is today—that was a big thing. More than what he did, though, it was the sincerity and the sheer joy with which he replied to the question that made such an impression.

How many company presidents would play cards with the boys (and be serious about it)? PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Cesar Lee, owner and president of Toyota Alabang, still speaks highly of his former star salesperson who eventually became his general manager. “Danny is very loyal,” Cesar reveals. “He will stand by you through the best and the worst of times. He always delivers.” Cesar believes that Danny is among the sincerest and most honest persons he has ever met. Most of all, he says Danny has a great sense of humor.

Even the Japanese executives were fond of the man. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Similarly, Butch Gamboa—host of Motoring Today and a friend of many years—calls Danny one of his closest confidants and go-to pals, especially when he needs good counsel. “The stuff Danny is made of doesn’t come easy nowadays,” admits Butch.

Perhaps his greatest gift was knowing how to ride and get along with every person he met. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Yes, Danny is surely one of the stalwarts, mainstays and stars of the local automotive industry. I can say that he was personally responsible for winning over the hearts of many Filipino motorists for Toyota and Lexus. I will always remember him as being the father of Lexus Manila. Danny brought the Lexus brand to life in the Philippines. He welcomed guests to Lexus as he would to his own home, one guest at a time. I am almost certain that 99.9% of all Lexus owners in the country have met and fondly remember Danny, the amiable brand president who was always ready with a smile and a warm handshake. Indeed, he was Lexus.

Under DMI, Lexus Manila became one big, happy family. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

I asked Raymond Rodriguez—Danny’s successor as president of Lexus Manila—what Lexus model would best describe his predecessor. Raymond replies: “The ES, because he’s stable and ever-dependable.” Yes, Danny was always the cool kid under pressure. His EQ was way off the charts.

Lexus Manila's loss is now devoted wife Joy's gain. PHOTO FROM LEXUS

Thank you so much, DMI. Salamat, brad. Mabuhay ka!

Vince S. Socco

Vince is the chairman of GT Capital Auto and Mobility Holdings, a post he accepted after his retirement from Toyota Motor Asia-Pacific. His career began in 1979 with Delta Motor Corporation (Toyota). He mentors everyone—in real life and through his ‘Navigator’ column.