Enrique Zobel, Ayala founder, 77
() - May 18, 2004 - 12:00am
Tycoon Enrique Zobel, architect of Makati’s rise as the country’s financial capital, died yesterday morning at age 77.

He died at the intensive care unit of the Asian Hospital in Muntinlupa City from apparent complications brought about by a horseback-riding accident 13 years ago that had left him paralyzed from the neck down.

President Arroyo, in a statement read for her by spokesman Ignacio Bunye, praised Zobel for his "significant role in the development of the Central Business District in Makati" and his reputation as a "philanthropist."

Known to close friends as "Enzo," Zobel was the eldest of the seventh generation of the Zobel de Ayala family that traces its roots to Spain’s Basque region.

In 1948, after earning a degree in agronomy from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), he joined the forerunner to the Ayala Corp., then run by his uncle Joseph McMicking.

Then barely in his 20s, he was given the responsibility of transforming a marshland at the southern outskirts of Manila into what would become Makati’s financial district.

Zobel became chairman and president of the Ayala Corp. in 1968.

But in 1983 he fell out of favor with McMicking’s widow Mercedes after he sold the family’s 25-percent stake in San Miguel Corp. to businessman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr..

After he lost control of the company to first cousin Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Enzo set up his own group of companies, E. Zobel Inc., with interests in real estate, insurance and agriculture.

Zobel remained a controversial figure even after his riding accident. Well known for his support of Marcos during the 1986 snap elections, he turned around and testified about the purported Marcos gold deposits.

While not as involved in politics as Cojuangco, Zobel was open in his criticisms of the country’s political and business elite.

He founded the Makati Business Club 23 years ago with a vision of the business community, in the words of MBC executive director Guillermo Luz, "exercising and acting" its "social responsibilities."

"Enrique is the founding chair of the MBC and the guiding spirit in the beginning. He was a maverick (chief executive officer) who felt that CEOs and businessmen should do something for the country," said Luz.

Luz, who is also the secretary-general of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), appears to have learned at the master’s feet.

"It was a privilege to have worked a few years when he was the chairman and I was just a very young entry level staff member at the MBC," he said. — Evelyn Macairan, Marichu Villanueva, AFP

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