The Philippines' Next Tycoons on the Lessons They Learned From Their Fathers
Many of the Philippines’ largest business conglomerates today were founded after World War II by pioneering entrepreneurs who foresaw the vast potential ahead as the country emerged from colonial rule and war.
Currently serving as strong pillars of the economy, these enterprises, which include the SM Group, JG Summit and the Filinvest Group, are a testament to the business prowess of the post-war generation of entrepreneurs who began it all.
Now largely in the hands of the pioneers’ children, the business groups’ continued towering role in society is also a tribute to the founders’ role as good and inspiring fathers for raising and training their heirs as capable successors.
Below are accounts of some of the business tycoons’ children as they recall key business lessons and insights that they learned from their fathers.
Teresita Sy-Coson on Henry Sy Sr.
The Sy siblings have always known they’d play an active role in the growth and expansion of the SM group, which began as a small shoe store in the 1950s and grew into the country’s biggest retailer, shopping mall operator, property developer, and lender. Tessie and her siblings got involved in the family business in their early 20s mainly on the prodding of their father.
“We (siblings) were able to get what he (Henry Sy) wants us to do, and how he wanted the business to go to the future. It’s like he multiplied himself into six,” said Tessie, in an interview with CNN’s Talk Asia in 2015.
The eldest Tessie heads BDO Unibank, Inc., the country’s largest bank in terms of assets. She led its merger with Equitable Bank in the early 2000s, which greatly challenged her management abilities and transformed her into one of the country’s foremost business leaders. For Tessie, her father’s iron hand proved to be the gentle touch she needed in times of crisis.
“You get guidance from your parents, which is really important because I can be crazy with my ideas. I need someone to discipline me,” she shared.
Lance Gokongwei on John Gokongwei Jr.
As the only son of John Gokongwei Jr., the second richest man in the country, Lance Gokongwei was groomed to lead JG Summit even as a young man. The conglomerate has interests in food, retailing, real estate, and airlines among others. In the book, Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei Jr., Lance recounts the various insights and values he gained not only as his father’s son but as an entrepreneur, too.
Lance recalls how he and his sisters would work every summer vacation in the family company’s warehouses as their parents wanted to instill in their young minds the value of hard work.
“When we were in school, we only got a small allowance,” he says. “It wasn’t much, just enough to buy a snack in between classes. We had no allowances during summers either. Our parents never gave us cash for Christmas or our birthdays. No ampao to look forward to every Chinese New Year the way our friends did. My sisters and I stopped getting allowances after we graduated from college. We had to work to earn our own money. If we didn’t work, we wouldn’t have a single cent of spending money.
“Our parents never pitied us," Lance adds. "We were not allowed to whine. We didn’t dare. For them it was honorable to work, and it was shameful not to work. Working hard is part of who we are, and we learned that from our parents.”
Enrique K. Razon on Enrique M. Razon
Enrique “Ricky” K. Razon Jr., the fifth richest billionaire in the country, heads both Bloomberry Resorts Corp., which runs Solaire Resort and Casino, as well as the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI), the country’s biggest container port operator. While he entered the gaming business all by himself, he had inherited the ports business from his father.
Ricky’s father, Enrique M. Razon, incorporated ICTSI in 1987, after managing piers in the Manila South Harbor for 20 years. In the 1970s, his son Ricky had become interested in the family’s ports business, so much so that he chose it over finishing college—much to the chagrin of his father.
In an interview with Forbes Philippines, Ricky recalled that his father had assigned him the hardest job in the port to force him to quit and return to school. “My first assignment was not even at the pier. It was out at the anchorage. Until the ship left, I had to be there five days, six days,” the billionaire recalled.
“He (my father) tried to make it impossible so I would not last a week, so I’d go back to school,” he told Forbes Philippines in its August 2016 issue. “But I was determined that it was not going to happen. To me, that’s where the action was. It wasn’t in a classroom. I’d rather be out there.”
The elder Razon’s attempts were in vain, as in 1995, his son took over the business as chairman. Ricky is now worth $3.4 billion.
Kevin Tan on Andrew Tan
The 37-year-old son and eldest child of Megaworld Corp. founder Andrew Tan admitted that he had to work his way up in the family business to be deemed credible in his father’s eyes.
“You have to earn your credibility through the years,” Kevin told Esquire Philippines in its April 2017 issue. “(My father) will never agree with me all the time but I think (he does) more now than before, definitely. There’s a lot more constructive exchanges between us in the last five years, I would say.”
Kevin is the senior vice president of Megaworld and is in charge of its lifestyle malls, which includes Uptown Bonifacio in Taguig City and Eastwood in Quezon City. For the young executive, the business, while competitive, has to be treated like how he would handle family matters.
“Family is the centerpiece of everything we do. It’s what defines us,” he said. “What I’ve learned from my father is to always be humble, and that when we work, it’s that we’re working not just for ourselves but for everybody in the company. We have about 10,000 people that work with us directly. We believe in a legacy, but it’s a legacy not for us but for them.”
Josephine Gotianun-Yap on Andrew Gotianun
Josephine Gotianun-Yap is the president and CEO of Filinvest Development Corp. (FDC) , a diversified conglomerate with interests in property, power and sugar manufacturing. Her father, the late Andrew Gotianun, founded the company with wife Mercedes in 1955 as a second-hand car financing business.
Yap is the third child and only daughter among Gotianun’s four children. It then came as a big surprise when she was elected as president and CEO of FDC in 2003, acting as her father’s successor. It went against the traditional Chinese-Filipino family practice of handing the reigns of the business to the firstborn son.
But Yap told Forbes Philippines in its August 2015 issue that this is due to her father espousing a culture of equality. “He believes in surrounding himself with people who are smarter than him,” she said. “And whether that person is male or female, it doesn’t matter, as long as they can deliver.”
Yap’s appointment has proven to benefit the company. From a low of Php52 million in net income when she was appointed in 2003 due to the effects of the Asian financial crisis, FDC reported a consolidated net income of Php8.5 billion in 2016. Forbes also pegged the Gotianun family’s net worth at $1.3 billion in its list of the Philippines’ richest people last year.
Candice Gotianuy on Augusto Go
Candice Gotianuy is the chancellor of the University of Cebu, a group of four campuses in the Queen City of the South. Her father, lawyer Augusto Go, is the university’s president.
Go had seemingly forced his daughter to lead the business in 1994, but the youngest chancellor in the country told Forbes Philippines in its March 2016 issue that she stayed on her own accord. “I came in because of family obligations. I stayed because I found it challenging,” she said.
The father-and-daughter duo has turned the University of Cebu from an underdog school into one of the largest privately owned universities in the Philippines based on enrollment figures from the Commission on Higher Education. But even if she had been heading the university for over two decades, Gotianuy is still quick to point out the important contribution of her father to the business.
“My dad’s the glue. He’s the secret sauce that keeps the University of Cebu going,” said Gotianuy of her father. “He’s the one who gives the direction. I’m the one who basically implements his vision.”
Executives of the University of Cebu agree. “If Atty. Go is the heart, Candice is the head,” described the university’s executive vice chancellor. “Atty. Go is the leader, and Candice is the manager.
This story originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.