A family milestone

HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes - The Philippine Star

Seventy five years is always a milestone for everybody.

But for La Campana Fabrica De Tobacos, its diamond anniversary celebration holds a much deeper meaning as the company, though old by any standard, is starting fresh and with a new perspective and renewed hope for a brighter future.

La Campana’s story would not be complete, however, without telling the story of the man who started it all.

Wong Chu King, a Chinese migrant, came to the Philippines during the war in search of greener pastures. It was not easy. He had to suffer fear, hunger, pain, being away from his loved ones.

When he survived the war, as his way of thanking God for giving him a second chance at life, he promised to help his Filipino kakabayans rebuild their lives and fortunes. This gave him the courage to put up a small factory and venture into the cigarette business with a few honest and trusted friends.

At first he did everything, from blending the tobacco to working as salesman, delivery man, collector, cashier and promoter of his products.

In 1945, Wong Chu King and his partners Ong Lowa, Baa Dy and Ong Pay set up La Campana, which had its first factory in Pasong Tamo, Makati, and in 1951 it acquired the present site of its head office.

In 1963, Wong Chu King founded the Tobacco Industries of the Philippines on a nine-hectare property in Malolos, Bulacan, which became the future site of their manufacturing operations.

With hard work, he and his Filipino wife Nelia, who now serves as chairman of the board and president together with their children, they were able to grow the Mighty brand of cigarettes into a brand favored particularly by the masses.

The family patriarch died in 1990, so he did not witness the bitter debacle that faced the company that he built from scratch. In 2017, Japan Tobacco Inc. (JTI) completed the P52.6 billion takeover, which of course is not a small amount of money, and allowed Wong Chu King’s heirs to go into new businesses.

Today’s diamond celebration of La Campana will be via Zoom, beginning with a Holy Mass to be celebrated by Xavier School president Fr. Aristotle C. Dy, SJ from the Sacred Heart Chapel of Xavier School in San Juan. It will be followed by a video presentation on the history of La Campana and the New Frontier, a virtual book launch of the Wong Chu King coffee table book (ebook edition) written by Mac Arillo, and then a meet and greet with Nelia Wong Chu King. The celebration will also be held live via Facebook Event.

During the event, we expect to hear about La Campana’s new frontier. Completely saying goodbye to the tobacco business as part of the deal, the family, led by Caesar and Alex Wongchuking, is entering new fronts, including a huge and fast expanding warehousing business, cold storage, a farm in Indang, Cavite that currently focuses on the farm-to-table concept, but has plans to expand its reach.

I heard that the family also owns very valuable real estate assets along Jupiter Street in Makati which it may redevelop.

But it’s not all business for the Wongchuking family. Through the Wong Chu King Foundation, the group has been donating goods during the lockdown. Prior to the pandemic, the foundation has been involved in helping reconstruct churches.

Mighty Sports has also brought honor after honor to the country, becoming the first team outside the Middle East  to win the Dubai International Basketball Championship earlier this year. In 2019, Mighty also bagged the Jones Cup title in Taiwan, beating the hosts in the finals.

We wish the family all the best in their chosen new frontiers. After all when one door closes, another opens, and this one opened into a better world. The family’s love for God, for family, their employees who they have always treated as one of them, this was and is still the key to their success.

For comments, e-mail at [email protected]

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