A model entrepreneur

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco - The Philippine Star

The Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) announced last Tuesday they have selected Carlos Chan to receive the “MAP Management Man of the Year 2021” award. Hay naku, MAP… why only now!

According to MAP, they confer this distinction on “exceptional persons who have posted a record of achievement and distinction as leaders and managers of organizations, and who are exemplary models who deserve to be emulated by their peers and by the younger leaders and managers.”

Actually, Mr. Chan, the chairman of the Liwayway Group of Companies, is the best example of a risk-taking entrepreneur. Even politically difficult countries don’t faze him. His instincts for business has made him one of the more important local taipans that not too many have heard of.

Some 10 years ago, one of the boys of Lucio Tan told me the story of Carlos Chan. I was impressed enough to write about him even if I had not met the man.

One evening, at a party in the house of the late George Ty, Carlos Chan was standing in the reception line and as he shook my hand, introduced himself to me. “I am the Carlos Chan you wrote about,” he said smiling.

That night, he was co-hosting with Mr. Ty a welcome party for a group of young Chinese students who were in Manila on a goodwill visit. Mr. Chan has been active in bringing students from China here and Filipino students to China on cultural exchanges.

Mr. Chan and Mr. Ty have been the pillars of the Filipino community in China through the years. They are often the biggest contributors to the Philippine trade promotions programs, specially our exhibitions in trade fairs.

I once asked Mr. Chan what brought him to China. He said it is difficult to compete with the established Chinoy taipans in the Philippines. China was just opening up to foreign investments and the playing field was level, so he explored the possibilities.

He was in China very early after Deng Xiaoping allowed some amount of free enterprise and welcomed foreign investments. The fact that he was an early investor endeared him to the Chinese government.

“You see all those nice buildings across the river?” he pointed out as we talked at The Bund, a waterfront area and a protected historical district in Shanghai. “That’s Pudong and it was mostly rice fields when I first came to China,” he said.

Mr. Chan established his first Oishi factory in Shanghai. He now has 16 factories all over China. He even has a factory in Xinjiang, which is surprising to me because it is quite remote.

The first Oishi factory I saw was in Vietnam. I think he has two or three more in the peninsula that includes Cambodia and another one in Thailand, Myanmar, and Indonesia. His latest factory is being built in Uzbekistan. He also has a factory in India and South Africa.

In a sense, Chan’s Oishi Group, Jollibee, and ICTSI are the only significant transnational Filipino businesses. Oishi factories are run by Filipino expat managers that he takes very good care of with housing within the factory premises. In Johannesburg, he bought a number of townhouses in an exclusive development for his staff.

Aside from Japanese equipment, his factories also use equipment manufactured in Imus, Cavite using Filipino know-how. Filipino engineers design Oishi facilities to their specific needs.

And to think… it all started with gawgaw… Liwayway Gawgaw. His father imported gawgaw or cornstarch in bulk and repacked it for retail. Mr. Chan said he grew up repacking gawgaw in their house in Paco, Manila.

The eldest in the family, Carlos made the business grow and diversified into other things like bathroom fixtures (ChanC Brothers). The public is more familiar with Ben Chan, his youngest brother who runs Bench.

Seeing how his business has grown significantly, I asked Carlos why he isn’t doing a public offering so he can raise more expansion capital. He said he thought about that, but paused when his sons, who are now running most of the business, were not excited by the prospect.

Carlos admitted that his sons are correct to point out that public ownership may stifle their entrepreneurial juices. After all, Carlos also said that he doesn’t really go for project studies when he expands to a new area. He looks at the potential market, uses his gut feel and decides.

That’s exactly what happened in South Africa. I asked him why South Africa? He said he visited the country at the urging of the South African Chinese Chamber of Commerce. He liked what he saw… a market of upwardly mobile young people in a growing economy. So he signed up to build a factory in Johannesburg.

I am glad MAP is recognizing Carlos Chan now. In his late 70s, he got seriously ill two years ago while in Johannesburg. It is always good to be recognized for one’s life work in one’s lifetime.

According to MAP, Mr. Chan was chosen because of his business acumen and management qualities in transforming a local cornstarch-repacking business into an international snack manufacturing company; for being an exemplar of the Filipino entrepreneurial spirit that is globally competitive; for demonstrating patriotism, and for helping enhance the country’s image by carrying the Philippine flag with pride in all his business operations abroad.

He was also cited for his leadership role in the substantial contributions of the Liwayway Group to national development through technology improvements, product development, skills training, job creation, and income generation.

He was also acknowledged for his contributions to shaping national values and inspiring others by his outstanding achievements attained from humble beginnings through hard work, perseverance and discipline.

Finally, for setting an example for Filipino managers through a track record of integrity, entrepreneurial excellence, managerial competence, and professional leadership in his management career in both private and public sectors.

In this town where awards are a dime a dozen, this is one award I believe the awardee is truly deserving. We need more of them to venture in foreign markets where the climate can make them grow.



Boo Chanco’s email address is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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