John Gokongwei, Jr. Talks About School, Business, and the New Digital Age

The JG Summit chairman emeritus was given a lifetime achievement award at the University of San Carlos.

JG Summit Chairman Emeritus John Gokongwei, Jr. went back to his hometown of Cebu earlier this week to receive the lifetime achievement award from his Alma Mater, the University of San Carlos. 

DR. JOHN L. GOKONGWEI, JR., CEBUANO & CAROLINIAN On October 18th, 2018, during the First Grand Reunion of Carolinian Champions at the Cebu Summit Galleria Hotel, the Alumni of the University of San Carlos (USC), conferred the highest honor possible, the Lifetime Achievement Award, on Dr. John L. Gokongwei, Jr., most illustrious son of Cebu, and of USC. He gave a most inspiring speech, narrating his early USC life where he was Grade School Valedictorian and scholar; his pride and love for Cebu; and the timeless habits that nurtured him to be the extraordinary man we all look up to, today. #JohnGokongweiUSCLifetimeAchievementAwardee

Posted by Ryan Archival Villaflores on Saturday, October 20, 2018

He flew to Cebu on the airline he named after the city he loves, Cebu Pacific, of course.

Gokongwei is the founder of one of the Philippines’ largest conglomerates, and is number 3 on Forbes Magazine’s 2018 list of the nation’s wealthiest, with a net worth of $4.4 billion.

Gokongwei attended the University of San Carlos for primary school, where he graduated valedictorian, and for high school, where he was number one. 

“Because of that, I received free tuition at school. I thank the school for spending money on me,” he said in his speech.

Gokongwei recalled his teacher, Fr. Gries, who taught English literature, and Mr. Quibilan, the principal.

“I especially remember Fr. Smith, who was the disciplinarian, because one day he caught me running in front of his office, and I had to stand in the corner for one hour,” he recalled, which elicited much laughter from the audience

“When I was 13 years old, my father died, leaving me to take care of my mother, my four brothers, and my sister. At the time, my youngest brother, James, was only nine months old. I took care of them all. Because the family has always been my priority,” he said.

Gokongwei’s journey as an entrepreneur started in Cebu, where as a teenager he used to wake up way before dawn and rode his bicycle to the public market many kilometers away where he sold spools of thread, bars of soap, and candles. 


“I earned about twenty pesos a day by working longer and harder than everyone else. But it didn’t matter since I really loved my work. I love being an entrepreneur. And so all through the years, I stayed an entrepreneur, loving what I did and working hard. And always learning from the school of life,” he said.

Gokongwei also shared how he has always valued education.

“Years later, when I was married to my lovely wife Bia, and had six children of my own, I finally had the means to go back to school. I went to De La Salle University to get my MBA. It took four years since I was a working student. When I walked up the stage to get my diploma it was one of the proudest moments of my life,” he said. Gokongwei also went to Harvard University for a 14-week advanced management course. 

Gokongwei is now 92 years old, and going strong.

“I still wake up early and I still love what I’m doing. I still know everything that is going on in my company. I still love to learn and am always reading books, and now, online stories in this new digital age,” he said, again, eliciting murmurs and applause from the audience.

“I always tell my children, my grandchildren, and my colleagues: Love your work. Work hard at it. Love your family. Love your country. Never stop caring.”

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Yvette Fernandez
Yvette Fernandez was previously the editorial director of Esquire Philippines.
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