Jollibee's Tony Tan Caktiong's Best Quotes on Dreams, Failures, and Leadership


Founder and chairman of Jollibee Foods Corporation, Tony Tan Caktiong embodies the quintessential rags-to-riches story.

Born into the second generation of a Chinese immigrant family, Tan Caktiong was exposed to hard work and perseverance at an early age. His father, the chef in the family, started as a humble cook in downtown Manila and saved enough money to open his own Chinese restaurant.

The business made enough money to send Tony to the University of Sto. Tomas where he earned a degree in chemical engineering. But instead of pursuing a career in the engineering industry, Caktiong set up a local ice cream parlor shop that, soon enough, started selling chicken. And the rest is history. Jollibee was incorporated in 1978, and grew exponentially.

But then, McDonald’s arrived in the Philippines in 1981, shaking up the market and Jollibee’s dominance. Concerned friends advised Tony and his brothers to sell Jollibee and save themselves while they can. William, Tony’s brother and chief real estate executive of JFC, once joked to Tony, that instead of chickening out, the brothers released Chickenjoy, which is now a staple food in every Filipino childhood.

Now Jollibee Group is on its way toward world domination with over 3,000 stores nationwide and countless food brands. Despite the pandemic, Jollibee continued to expand around the world as it keeps its eye on the prize: to become one of top four biggest food companies in the world.

While he’s still the chairman, Tony is no longer CEO, a title that he passed on to his brother Ernesto Tanmantiong, who deserves recognition of his own. Supporting Ernesto are their other brothers: William Tan Untiong, corporate secretary, and Joseph Tanbuntiong, treasurer.


From a downtown Manila ice cream parlor to an international, multinational mega food corporation, JFC wouldn’t be where it is today without the tenacious dreams of its founder and chairman, Tony Tan Caktiong. Here are his best quotes on dreams, leadership, and learning from failures.

On Dreams

“Dreams are free, so why limit what you are aspiring for? But dreaming is not enough. One needs to put in enough energy and input."

“If you dream big and put your dreams into action, you will indefinitely make mistakes. But don’t be scared to make mistakes. Just be quick to recognize them and learn from them as fast as you can."

“It was a dream, one day to build Jollibee into one of the largest company in the world. I never lost sight of my dream. Dreaming big is a very important part of being an entrepreneur."

“In one of our early planning sessions, my vision was to create the largest food company in the world. That was when we had five stores. Some people thought I was overly optimistic.”

On Innovation and Standing Out

“Intellectual property is becoming very important because you need to distinguish yourself from the others—it’s a very competitive world, you need to create something unique."

"Our role is to do what we can as best we can and don’t worry about the outcome. The outcome will take care of itself. This belief has allowed me to sleep well at night. It gives me new hope every day."

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“Innovation starts in our minds. Our mindsets determine what we're able to accomplish. The story of Jollibee Food Corp is a story of finding opportunity amidst difficult times.”

On Fellow Businessmen

Wash Sycip who was a very dear friend and mentor, and who happens to be one of the pioneers of this school, exemplified and championed the immense value of education and continuous learning."

“When you step back and put it all together, you realize that Injap (Sia) is quite an amazing person, and you say to yourself, how lucky I am to have met him, to be doing business with him, and most important, to be his friend.”

On Leadership

“There has always been an abundance of good managers everywhere, but not enough leaders. Leadership matters, and it matters a lot. Companies and countries alike need exemplary leaders.

On Failures

Never be afraid to fail. Failure, assuming you learn from them can be the best teacher. I can say firsthand that some of the greatest and most meaningful learnings come from failures. Needless to say, I continue to make them to this day. What would be inexcusable is to make exactly the same mistake twice, and even more so to repeat the same mistake countless of times."

“Those early days were not easy. We faced many challenges and took many risks. In taking these risks there were times we lost money due to the mistake we made. But during those challenges, I continued to have high hopes and optimism that anything is possible."


“Failing is just an experience or a learning. If you can pick up some learnings then it’s worth it. It’s like paying tuition fee.”

On Hard Work

“Working hard and achievements are simply not worth it if you are not happy with and do not love what you are doing."

“I believe it matters less what you choose to do or become, as long as you do it very, very well."

“When it comes to education, the only school I can learn from is the school-of-hard knocks. And I'm still learning today.”

On Sustaining a Business

“Being unable to adapt can put in question one’s relevance and render one’s knowledge, skills, and even entire business obsolete."

“The greatest form of charity is growing a successful business. The multiplier effect creates more employment and can improve the lives not only of your people but your people’s families as well."

“The best is yet to come.”

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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