MANILA, Philippines - Century Properties Group Inc. managing director Robbie Antonio spoke before the well-attended “Forbes Asia Forum: The Next Tycoons – A Generation Emerges” on June 11 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong.
Antonio participated as a speaker at the forum and joined the panel, ‘Making your mark’. The panel focused on how next generation tycoons traditionally take the reins of their family companies by being responsible stewards of their past generation’s accomplishments. Yet their success is oftentimes measured by their bold and ingenuous strategies to launch into new directions and expand their family businesses through fresh avenues of growth.
As Century’s head for brand collaborations, Antonio conceived and orchestrated the company’s real estate project tie-ups with global brands including Donald Trump, Armani, yoo inspired by Starck (of John Hitchcox and Philippe Starck), Paris Hilton, Missoni, Daniel Libeskind, Versace, Armani Casa and Forbes Media.
At the forum where Antonio was the lone Filipino speaker among Asia’s top new-generation business leaders, the young entrepreneur addressed questions such as how these leaders can apply the lessons learned from the old guard, develop their own passions and execute their own visions. On the panel, Antonio shared his experiences in growing the company that was founded by his father, Century Properties chairman Jose E.B. Antonio.
Baptism of fire
Robbie Antonio said that he started getting involved in the family business as early as 12 years old.
“Dinner conversations were about the family business. I was led to construction sites by my father with my three other siblings, who are also very much involved (now) in executing the vision that my father has,” he shared at the forum.
Antonio had his “baptism of fire” when he worked in the highly-competitive real estate business in New York. There, under the Antonio Development, he worked on acquiring an assemblage of property to develop the Centurion, a luxury apartment building on 56th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
“New York City is probably the most complex real estate market in the world. We saw a site that we liked in the Plaza district, which was a sought after piece of land. Proving to the seller that it is a financeable deal and trying to outperform these very well entrenched developers was a challenging task,” he said.
Antonio knew he had to differentiate with other major towers even amongst the best location. He secured I.M. Pei, with Pei Partnership Architects, to design the Centurion. Pei’s first ground up condominium project in the world was completed in 2009.
He added, “I had to very entrepreneurial, learn the ropes of a new culture, meet the players, and compete against them.”
“The reason I did that (founding a development company in New York) was two-fold: I wanted to stay in the development business because that’s what I knew. I also wanted to do something entrepreneurial and really prove to myself that I could do this and try to have my own ideas; inject my own creativity,” he added.
The US financial crisis hit during this time. Antonio said he knew right then, that it was a good time to go back to Manila.
He told the forum audience: “The Philippines is the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia. So I wanted to go back home and lead a professional management team and help my siblings and my father, and try to create an impact in the country.”
Exploring fresh avenues
Partnering with respected names in the real estate, architecture, and design fields is a strategy that the third Antonio scion and Century pursued to gain product differentiation from other established real estate companies. He believes that partnering with the experts will elevate living experiences for Century’s residential projects, and at the same time highlight the ability of Filipinos to execute global ambitions.
“Five years ago, I went to the board and earmarked our major differentiating points, predominantly to bring some important brands to development,” he shared. “I wanted to give that lifestyle that these luxury companies embody and that the end users are eager to have, and bring the West to the Far East.”
He used his connections in the fashion, luxury, design and real estate world to do just that. One of the earlier partnerships that Century announced in 2010 was with Versace Home, for the amenity interior design of Milano Residences. The following year, Antonio got the nod of style icon and entrepreneur Paris Hilton to design the Paris Beach Club, the key amenity of Azure Urban Resort Residences.
More major brands followed. Century signed a licensing deal with the Trump organization for the residential building Trump Tower at Century City. In previous interviews the young Antonio related that he first met with Ivanka Trump, and worked for two years through site validation visits in Manila and business plan discussions before he finally closed the deal with Don Jr., Eric and Donald Trump.
Interior design partnerships were also forged with MissoniHome for Acqua Livingstone Residences, and with the iconic French designer Philippe Starck and British real estate entrepreneur John Hitchcox of yoo inspired by Starck for the Acqua Iguazu residences.
Century’s more recent collaborations are with Armani/Casa and the renowned architect Daniel Libeskind for the 60-storey residential-office building Century Spire; and with Forbes Media LLC, with which Robbie proposed the idea to build the first Forbes-branded building in the world—in Manila. Hence, the Forbes Media Tower at Century City, Makati was announced in late 2013.
Respecting the old guard
While Robbie underlined the importance of introducing new ideas in the forum, he likewise stressed the value of respecting the legacy and wisdom of his father, who started Century Properties in 1986 with just a handful of employees.
“I wake up every day reminding myself that I did not start this company, so I am very respectful of that… I am an employee. But I also want to innovate. I want to pioneer. I want game-changing ideas,” he said.
Antonio believes that it helps to have a very strong family support system.
“We see each other every day. Their presence and mentorship (are) there,” he said, referring to his father and three brothers who also hold key positions in the company.
Antonio believes that acknowledging the wisdom of one’s elders is vital in being in the family business.
“I think no matter how smart you think you are, there is one thing that you can’t expedite—and that is wisdom. So when you are not sure, go ask someone. This could be your father, a mentor or someone who has gone through that experience before. I inherited a company that has gone through four cycles. We have seen the booms and busts. You learn from those scars. If you are bruised, that is how you become a better person and a better manager. Thankfully, we learned a lot from that, and those experiences can be bestowed from one generation to another,” Antonio concluded.