Dr. Stephen Zuellig

FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo - The Philippine Star
Dr. Stephen Zuellig

He was born in Intramuros, Manila on May 4, 1917. He died on January 8 four months before his 100th birthday. Much can be written about this businessman, who unlike trading houses of yesterday, successfully transformed his business into a regional multinational of today. Two presidents recognized him for his outstanding advocacies abroad: former president Fidel V.  Ramos decorated him twice, including the Order of Sikatuna, rank of Datu in 1998.  President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo decorated him with the Order of Lakandula – Grand Cross (Bayani) in 2007.   

I have been associated with Stephen Zuellig for almost a quarter century.  A memorial was held for him yesterday at The Peninsula Manila.  Allow me to reprint my remarks.

“Adversity shapes a man’s life as much as opportunity. In the case of Dr. Stephen Zuellig, both were crucial factors in forming the values that he lived by and that animated the Zuellig Group of Companies. From his early days in school and university, throughout his career as a successful businessman and discreet diplomat, Stephen exemplified qualities that set him apart. He was a classic gentleman who lived in modern times, a discerning citizen of the world who blended European mode of thought with Asian sensibilities.

In business, Stephen – employing his determination, his sense of balance and his innate business acumen, combined with foresight – transformed a Manila-based trading house into an international group of industry-leading companies. In looking at the reasons for the Zuellig Group’s success and longevity, it would be instructive to quote what Stephen had to say to explain his achievement: ‘In my case, being successful has had a variety of causes – good education, a good set of ethics, a good family name, and a degree of flexibility that was up to the challenge of Asia at this time of extraordinary development. This flexibility he further amplifies when he said, ‘It is ultimately what I want to achieve that governs how I act. At all times though, within a set of ethics.’

After Christmas, I decided to write Stephen my new year’s letter which I believe is appropriate to express the same sentiments today in this memorial:

“Dear Stephen: Wishing you prosperity and even longevity seems a bit bizarre when you consider how you have achieved both “summa cum laude.” 

I salute your modus vivendi of approaching whatever confronts you objectively and always striving to arrive at a conclusion with a “sense of balance.”  The iconic Zuellig Building is a case in point.  Many consider its construction as a testament to the success of your personal enterprise, and yet it is at the same time the institutionalization of the Zuellig brand.   

Your “sense of balance” manifests also in your philanthropic endeavors. There is a Chinese adage that says:  ‘Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a life time.’  You have done so in multiple ways.

You have been a strong supporter of the endeavors of the Asian Institute of Management, particularly in the field of development management for the ASEAN region.

You have also been a generous supporter of the Virlanie Foundation which helps bring back the smile to the street children through its various programs, including education and skills training – that help empower them to live life to the fullest.

And most of all, the Zuellig Family Foundation has had a transformative impact on healthcare for the rural poor. To be precise, 634 municipalities and 32 provinces, representing almost half of our population have been impacted by the foundation’s endeavors. The foundation’s health leadership and governance program has been adopted by mayors and governors and the regional offices of the health department.”

In 2017, Dr. Zuellig approved a donation for the UP Manila College of Public Health for the construction of a new building. Unfortunately the papers were not finalized. Hopefully, the legal procedures in Europe, on estate matters, will be finalized in the near future.

Personally, I take great pride in having been part of Dr. Zuellig’s noble ventures.  I wish to express my profound gratitude for his friendship, wisdom and unstinting support.

My wife Olivia and I wish to express our deepest sympathy and condolences to the Zuellig Family.”

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