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The Tycoon as Son and Father: How a Second-Generation Gotianun Is Bridging Past and Future

Jonathan Gotianun is applying lessons he learned from his father into raising his own children.
IMAGE FILINVEST DEVELOPMENT GROUP/COURTESY OF THE GOTIANUN FAMILY
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To understand how much the Gotianuns have achieved over the years, one needs to look back at where they came from. The family behind Filinvest Land Inc. (FLI), East West Bank, and numerous other companies started out with appliances and automobiles. Andrew Gotianun, who was born in Amoy, China and moved to Cebu with his family, established a second-hand car financing business in 1955 that later on became a consumer lending company that helped people buy things like refrigerators, electric fans and brand new cars. 

Francis Gotianun (standing) and his father Jonathan Gotianun

Photo by FDC / Gotianuns.

As a teenager, Gotianun gathered parts from old ships while living in Cebu before moving to Manila. There, using the profits from the consumer lending business, he bought idle land and developed them into residential subdivisions for the middle class in Cebu, Marikina, and Quezon City. By the 1960s and 1970s, Gotianun had become a pioneering figure in the real estate industry. He also put up Family Savings Bank in 1971 and the Insular Bank of Asia and America.

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Today, Filinvest Development Corp. (FDC) is a diversified conglomerate with interests in energy, infrastructure, water, sugar, and hospitality. With a market cap of around P70 billion, it is one of the country’s largest companies. Although Gotianun passed away five years ago, the business is in good hands with his wife Mercedes Gotianun as Chairman Emerita, his daughter Josephine Gotianun as president and CEO, and son Jonathan Gotianun as chairperson. 

Always learning new things

“Until he died at 88 years old in 2016, my father never stopped working,” Jonathan tells Esquire Philippines. “Being entrepreneurial and inquisitive were his innate character. His world was always filled with wonderment; either he was trying new things or figuring out how to make a better version.    

Jonathan Gotianun and his wife Cristina

Photo by FDC / Gotianuns.

“He passed this on to us as he taught us many things: the value of discipline, integrity, and hard work; setting a good example; having an entrepreneurial mindset; constantly learning new things and improving on whatever we were doing; planning ahead and working towards our objectives until we succeed; being innovative and forward looking, watching out for new opportunities; respecting and being fair with other people; being honest, truthful, transparent; and having a generous spirit and contributing to the greater good, among others.”

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At 68 years old, Jonathan is the second oldest child of Andrew and Mercedes’ children. Besides being chairman of FDC, he holds several other positions within the company, including president of Davao Sugar Central Co., Inc. and Cotabato Sugar Central Co. Inc.; and director and chairperson of the Board of Directors of FDC Utilities Inc. and its subsidiary power companies. He has been married for 41 years and has five children.

“I got married when I was 27 years old,” Jonathan says. “Fatherhood is something I learn through time. Even after raising five children, I don’t think I can say my work as a father is already done. It’s a continuing education. You make some mistakes along the way, you try to learn from them, and commit to be better. I’m fortunate that I (had) a father whom I consider as a good role model. 

The chairperson admits that, as he got older, he realized how much different the circumstances he and his own father faced in raising kids.

“The way we brought up our children, as well as the milieu, are also different,” he says. “So I’d like to think the challenges I met along the way also helped me learn to be a better father. As a father, you learn to be more mindful of other people’s needs, not just your own. You listen more and talk less, be more consistent, and more positive. You offer constructive advice and encouragement instead of being overtly critical.”

Jonathan and Cristina Gotianun's five children

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Photo by FDC / Gotianuns.

Cool dad

As a dad, Jonathan thinks of himself as somewhat “cool.” Rules were set (“Do your homework before watching TV or chatting with friends, “Eat your meals properly,” “Always let us know your activities and whereabouts,” “Try to be neat),” but were eventually loosened as the kids started to grow up. 

“We left them to their own devices, but we always keep an open communication line,” he says. “They know they can ask us any questions or advice, and we are always ready to help. We don’t have a long list of do’s and don’ts. I don’t even check up on their grades; they were not important to me. What’s more important in school is to learn how to learn and to love learning. They must never stop learning even after leaving school. We try to teach them the right values as we have been taught by our own parents.”

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These values are being carried on by the third generation of Gotianuns. “We want our children to be disciplined and productive, who try to be the best they can be and contribute, not just to their own development and success, but also to the greater good,” Jonathan says. “To be a force for good, and a responsible citizen. A person not solely focused on self but is more outward-oriented, who can have a positive impact on others and on society in their own way. To value simplicity, integrity, and service, and to live accordingly. As I am Roman Catholic, living a life that is worthy to be called a Christian (a follower of Christ) is important.”

The next generation

Jonathan must have done something right, because his son Francis has nothing but kind and glowing words for his father. The 36-year-old is sliding comfortably into his dad’s shoes as senior vice president of Filinvest Hospitality Corp. He also sits on the board of FLI and is heavily involved in the preparations for the launch of the company’s much-anticipated debut REIT (real estate investment trust) offering called Filinvest REIT Corp.

“I think of my dad as an intelligent, diligent, inquisitive, and passionate individual,” Francis says. “He thinks things through and considers carefully all the scenarios before making a decision. Once he decides, he works to get it done and done right. He is always reading and learning. He is someone who likes challenging the norm, always pushing to see things done better and from a new perspective. He is dedicated to his work and his family and passionate about seeing both thrive and succeed. He is a caring individual who always tries to live by the Jesuit motto of ‘Man for Others.’”

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The Gotianun family during a trip to Japan

Photo by FDC / Gotianuns.

Francis, who spent a few years in the United States, reveals that some of the company’s projects today were inspired by what they saw and were exposed to while living in California, including Filinvest City, which patterned after Irvine in Orange County; and Northgate Cyberzone, which was inspired by Silicon Valley in San Jose. 

“The family also foresaw that the business process outsourcing (BPO) trend would one day arrive in the Philippines,” the younger Gotianun says. “This vision emboldened them to build a world-class purpose-built office complex that will be home to BPOs and technology companies, just like in Silicon Valley.”

That California dream is now known as Northgate Cyberzone, an 18.7-hectare PEZA Special Economic Zone in Filinvest City in Alabang that is home to one of the earliest BPO campuses in the country. 

Passing the baton

“We try to teach (our children) the right values and have a good culture growing up,” Jonathan says. “We gave them all the opportunities to gain a good education, and encouraged them to take on-the-job training opportunities wherever they can. It’s up to them if they want to do this in the Philippines or abroad; they have our support. 

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“We also encouraged them to gain work experience to broaden their perspectives or pursue post-graduate studies,” he adds. “If they consider working in the business we are involved in, they must have the right competencies and values, and show that they are capable to be hired.” 

“There was not even a single moment in my childhood when (my father) missed spending dinner or weekends with us,” Francis says. “I always felt that he was always available to listen, guide, and console us. It was only later when I came to understand how much responsibility he had at work that I started to realize how devoted my father is to his family. He would always try his best to understand where his kids were coming from, and adjust to us when we were growing up—always giving us the space to discover ourselves, but always close by in case we fall and need to get back up again.”   

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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