From Pilipinas to Amerika: an entrepreneur's triumphant tale

Odilon Luna Santos | Updated Friday July 15, 2011 - 5:49pm



S & S Travel Agency, a Filipino-owned business thriving in the United States (US) for more than 20 years, is a living testament that Filipino entrepreneurs can compete side-by-side foreign counterparts in a global market environment. It is just one of the 163,226 Filipino-owned business firms in the US, making Filipinos the fifth strongest Asian players in the US market next to the Chinese (423,631), Indians (308,472), Vietnamese (229,139) and Koreans (192,502).


Filipinos represent

Filipino-owned businesses represent 10.5 percent of the overall Asian-owned businesses, one of the strongest segments of the US economy. Among Filipino-owned US firms, nearly half are in the health care and social assistance sector, the professional, scientific and technical sector, and the repair, maintenance, personal and laundry services sector. About 55 percent of these Filipino-owned firms had one to four employees and nearly two percent had 50 or more employees.

More than a fifth had annual receipts of $10,000 to $24,900 while the 1.8 percent had annual receipts of $1 million or more. The largest number of Filipino-owned firms can be found in the State of California, numbering around 81,348 or nearly 50 percent of the total number of Filipino-owned firms in the US.

They generate an annual income of $9.1 billion, representing 45 percent of all Filipino-owned receipts in the US. The vast majority of Asian-owned businesses can be found in the State of California (509,097); followed by the States of New York (196, 852) and Texas (114,336). The cities with the largest concentration of Asian-owned businesses are in New York (153,885) and Los Angeles (61,607). 


Starting from scratch

Unlike most business owners who started their careers in the US as employees of other companies before becoming business owners themselves, Odilon “George” Luna Santos, the man behind the success of S & S Travel Agency, did not work for any company in the US since he arrived in 1992.

Armed only with his Philippine education from San Beda College and University of Santo Tomas, training and experience working in different top Philippine corporations like Atlantic, Gulf and Pacific Company Manila, Inc. and Del Monte Pacific Ltd, while fine-tuning his managerial skills as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) assigned in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, George was able to harness his talents by starting his own business in a small 100 square feet office in San Diego, California way back in 1992.  


Making it big

From travel, he meticulously added other businesses that also cater to the basic needs of Filipinos in America. In the process, he was able to meet and introduce his company to the bigwigs of large corporations while getting their respect and support through internationally accepted business practices, winning their full trust and confidence.  In addition to working closely with top airline consolidators in the US, S & S Travel Agency has existing contracts with the San Diego Gas & Electric, one of the biggest companies in San Diego, California, and with Western Union, a world renowned money transfer company, among others.


From calamities to opportunities

In its 20 years of operations, the company has weathered all the storms that disrupted the travel industry market, such as the European hoof-and-mouth disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak, bird flu, September 11 attacks, Persian Gulf wars and the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Its marketing niche, the Philippines, has an average of 20 typhoons per year.

Despite the destruction brought forth by such tragedies, George always has a positive attitude of turning calamities into opportunities through one simple explanation: “Every time such an event occurs, it levels up the whole playing field by eliminating the marginal ones or part-time players while boosting further the position of major players of the industry.”  

Throughout these years, the travel agency has won praises from various organizations within the community for its active civic involvement. Topping the list of awards it has received is the prestigious Minority Entrepreneur Award given by the California State Assembly for its contributions to minority business development.

Today, S & S Travel Agency is among the 1.8 percent of Filipino-owned firms in the US with annual receipts of more than $3 million. Its office space has grown tenfold when it first started in 1992, while its territorial coverage has continuously grown in leaps and bounds. 


Coming home

George plans to retire from a very active role in his business five years from now and return to the Philippines for good. He considers retiring early at the age of 60 years old is the greatest compliment he can receive, a feat everybody dreams of but only a few would dare do especially in these tough economic times. Until then, George will have to carefully pass on the reins of his business to his most trusted next of kin to make sure the legacy of the company stays on and will live long after he has left the business scene.

They say the ultimate “dream destination” of most OFWs, no matter where they came from, is the USA to fulfill their “American Dream.” But after having been there and done that, after proving to the world that the Filipino is not only among the best, as an OFW and even as an overseas Filipino entrepreneur as well, the best accolade we can get as an OFW is the warm reception of our countrymen every time we come home to the Philippines, our beloved native land.

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