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Inside the Family Behind the Business: CDO CEO Jerome Ong Shares How the Ongs Make It Work

Family business insights from the family behind CDO.
IMAGE COURTESY OF JEROME ONG
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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Behind every family business is the business-oriented family that keeps everything together. As many of these families know, it’s not always easy to combine work and home life, but with the right lessons and values passed down the line, third-, fourth-, and fifth-generation families can survive and thrive with the times.

With Father’s Day just a few weeks away, we talked to CDO Foodsphere Inc. president and CEO Jerome Ong about the lessons that guide the Ongs, the family that founded the homegrown food brand CDO.

Founded in 1975 by couple Corazon and Jose Ong, CDO is the model Filipino family success story. What started as a mom-and-pop shop is now a staple brand in every Filipino home. Jerome has worked at CDO for 32 years, leading it for 17, and now, the third generation is gearing up to join the legacy brand. Ong recently celebrated the graduation of son Julius Ong from the New York University Stern School of Business with a B.S. in Business—as magna cum laude, an accomplishment that has his parents ecstatic.

Photo by Courtesy of Jerome Ong.
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“My wife Dayday and I are really happy that Jules finished NYU Stern with flying colors,” shared Jerome Ong. As a businessman and father of a new business graduate, one lesson he shared with his son was that, “Learning never stops, certainly beyond one's academic life and even through one's professional life.” Meanwhile, his mother imparted, “We will support you whatever you do, but you have to do your part.”

Values, principles, and work ethic—these are things often overlooked in life, yet they’re the most valuable asset to a family business. Here’s how the Ongs are making it work:

On the Pressure to Join the Family Business

“While we are preparing the third generation and we would be glad to have [them] join the company, we made it clear to my children that they may pursue the career or profession they want,” said Ong, whose two elder children, daughter Janna and son Jao, have already joined the business. Son Julius has recently landed an investment banking job in the U.S.A. while youngest daughter Gabbie is still finishing her studies.

“At the end of the day, it's their lifelong happiness that's most important. While we would be happy to see them continue the legacy of their grandparents, we would be happier to see them do what they’re happiest to do.”

Photo by Courtesy of Jerome Ong.
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On the Lessons Imparted by CDO Founders, Corazon and Jose Ong

The family patriarch Jose passed away in November 2019, but before he passed, he and his wife Corazon shared the following important lessons to the second generation and the entire CDO team.

First, “There's no substitute for hard work,” shared Jerome on his parents’ teachings. “You may have the best people, technology, and other resources at your command, but to succeed, you must burn the midnight candle. There is really no shortcut to success.”

Another important lesson relevant to the times was, “Take care of your people and surely, they will take care of the business.” Like many companies, the CDO team worked hard to provide for the employees through the hardships of the pandemic.

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic is it gave us the opportunity to really demonstrate our care, our concern for our people,” shared Jerome.

On the Ong Family Mentality

“Always remember the people who helped you along the way, don't forget to thank them,” shared CDO’s CEO. “This applies to your customers, business partners, advisers, colleagues in the industry, and of course, your employees. Whatever success one achieves, he couldn't have done it without help and collaboration with others.”

It goes to show that the secret to a family business is expanding the notion of family to encompass the entire business and the people, low and high, that make it run.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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