Danding Cojuangco Wanted to Put Ramon Ang in His Will
When asked about the most important lessons in business and life he's learned from Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr., Ramon Ang is quick to answer.
"What I learned from him is word of honor," he answers in Filipino during a virtual interview with editors of Summit Media. "He taught me how to let things go and not count favors."
Ang was paying tribute to Cojuangco, who passed away one year ago this month. Their friendship is so well-known it might just be one of the great personal and professional alliances in the country's history.
"He was a very kind person," Ang says. "(He was) helpful. He wasn't expressive. In fact, when he was accused of many different things, he wasn't able to explain it and defend himself. Remember when he ran for President, and he was accused of all of these things, like the coco levy fund (issue) and other things, he was unable to defend himself.
"He's not like street kids like us, where if we're hit with something, I would respond to all of your accusations point by point," he adds. "He wasn't like that. He kept things inside. In fact, (I think) that's one of the reasons why his life was cut short, because he kept his emotions bottled up, about all of the things he was accused of.
"So what I learned from him is the exact opposite: I always told him that he needed to answer all the issues, all the accusations. If you don't, people will think there's some truth to whatever it is they're accusing you of."
Cojuangco and Ang's friendship
The two businessmen met in the late 1970s, through Cojuangco's son Mark, and bonded over a shared love for racing and automobiles. The relationship withstood many challenges, including Cojuangco's closeness with former President Ferdinand Marcos, and eventual exile to the United States after the events of the 1986 People Power Revolution. Cojuangco eventually returned to the Philippines and assumed control of the country's biggest food and beverage company, San Miguel Corp (SMC). He recruited Ang to join him, with Ang later helping turn SMC into the diversified conglomerate it is today.
When it came time to pass the baton of leadership in the company, Cojuangco didn't have to look far. He sold his 11 percent stake in the company to Ang, who was then president and COO, in 2012, formalizing the transfer of power that had been in the offing for years. Although Cojuangco kept his position as chairman and CEO of SMC, he had effectively anointed his successor in Ang, until his passing from pneumonia and lung failure on June 16, 2020.
Ang characterized their relationship as one of friendship more than anything else.
"He thought of me as a close friend or barkada," Ang says. "When he wanted to get something to eat, he'd call me. When he wanted to go drive a fast car, he'd call me. When he was bored or just wanted somebody to talk to, he'd come to see me.
Ang also revealed the secret to their close relationship.
"You know the reason why we were friends for so long? It's because I never accepted any gift from him. Not even a watch. I never let him pay for me, even when we went out to eat at restaurants. And I never, ever borrowed money from him, not even one peso, since we met. That was the secret of our relationship. He would always look for me because he knew that I will not take advantage of him."
The current big boss of SMC adds that, when Cojuangco got sick, he started writing his will.
"In his will he said that, if anything should happen to him…immediately, I said no. Even when he was still alive, I wrote to him and to his lawyer telling him that I didn't want any of it. All of these should be given to your wife and to your children. I don't want to have anything to do with anything."
It was a test of friendship that can apply to anyone, not just to high-profile billionaires and business leaders.
"So if you have a friend, never ask them for favors," he says. "Never borrow money from them. And never, ever put one over them. Do that, and you'll have a long and healthy relationship."