The son-in-law

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The business grapevine has been abuzz lately over the surprise public advisory on taipan Lucio Tan’s son-in-law Joseph Chua.

The stunning Oct. 6 published announcement reads:

“The public is hereby notified that Mr. Joseph Chua has no authority to represent Dr. Lucio C. Tan, the Tan Family and Lucio Tan Group of Companies. Any prior authority of representation given to Mr. Joseph Chua are deemed void and or revoked.”

Chua is a prominent in-law of the taipan. Prior to the advisory, he played key roles in the Tan empire. He’s got business skills and educational credentials to boot – a Master of International Finance degree from the University of Southern California and a double degree of Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Bachelor of Science in Business Management from De La Salle University.

He also enjoyed the trust and confidence of the late Lucio “Bong” Tan, Jr. who died in November 2019. Some called them in jest, “partners in crime” as they often brewed business ideas.

He is the husband of Rowena, Tan’s eldest daughter, said to be the old man’s favorite.

So what really happened? Perhaps only the taipan, Chua, and a few people in the empire know.

Managing the in-laws

Some say it’s not easy to manage in-laws, especially if they’re in the family business.

Even Henry Sy, Sr. famously quipped to his fellow taipan, John Gokongwei Jr. a warning when the latter held a party to announce his retirement many, many moons ago:

“John, you are going to face three problems when you retire. One is what you are going to do after working for 50 years. Two is who is going to succeed you. Three is the worst problem of all – how to deal with five sons-in-law.”

The two taipans passed on a few years back.

Tan, however, isn’t retired yet. He is still chairman and CEO of his companies.

Chua isn’t the only son-in-law in the Tan empire. Another son-in-law, Ramon Pascual, also plays key roles in the empire. He was named Eton president and CEO in late 2019, succeeding Tan Jr.

Making money, losing money

Lucio Tan has always been the enigmatic kind, at least to outsiders. Journalists rarely get to interview him except during ambush interviews and in such rare occasions, he would only dish out one or two lines and just smile if you keep asking more questions.

But some of his past lieutenants attest that Tan recognizes talent and hard work, whether you are a family member or not. If you are his executive, you can get on his good side if the business you are handling makes money. The opposite happens if the business spirals down in your hands and loses money.

In the case of Chua, MacroAsia said he grew the Tan-owned ground handling company from a small business making only P2 million, to a company that made more than a billion pesos of profit before the pandemic hit.

Days after the advisory, MacroAsia announced the retirement of Chua as president and COO.

Another Tan grandson Eduardo Tan-Luy, treasurer of the company, succeeds Chua as director, president, and COO while another grandson Kyle Tan, also elected into the board, takes Luy’s place as treasurer.

If MacroAsia made money, what could be the reason for Chua’s departure?

Third generation

Perhaps, Tan, now 87, wants to keep the business in the hands of the Tan bloodline, including the third generation.  Perhaps, it’s time for more young blood, and in the case of the Tan grandchildren, some of the millennials graduated with honors.

Thus, maybe some positions had to be vacated.

This transition accelerated after the passing of Tan Jr., dubbed by kibitzers as the “keeper of the peace” in the quirky Tan empire.

When he died, his son Lucio “Han” Tan III took his place in some of the companies, including Tanduay and Philippine Airlines, while his other roles went to his sisters and in-laws.

Nine lives

Back to Chua, older journalists say he had been in and out of the Tan empire in the past, for one reason or another.

“The guy has nine lives,” one said.

They won’t be surprised if he returns someday. And stays.

As the old English proverb says: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays, and for the last three he stays.”

Only time will tell what happens next or if there will be more movements in the Tan empire, and only the characters in this story really know the complete picture.

I have repeatedly reached out to Chua to get a comment, but to no avail.

In the past, whenever I have a question on MacroAsia for Chua and he would not respond, I would ask Tan Jr. instead to reply on behalf of his brother-in-law as they both represent the company.

Sometimes Bong would reply with more emojis or punctuation marks than words.

I really can’t help but wonder what emoji would have been appropriate now.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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