What makes taipans tick?

- Wilson Lee Flores () - May 26, 2003 - 12:00am
Who wants to be a millionaire? Everyone! But is it really possible for ordinary men and women in Philippine society today, with its unequal opportunities and so many socio-political problems, to make themselves millionaires? Can new entrepreneurs still follow the paths trail-blazed by the country’s legendary rags-to-riches taipans John Gokongwei Jr., Henry Sy and Lucio Tan?

The self-made business career is still being replicated in the Philippines today, despite the country’s essentially semi-feudal conditions, the complicated technological advancements in many fields and with the difficult macroeconomic environment caused by many self-centered and seemingly anti-business political leaders. Yes, the dream of entrepreneurial success is still possible for everyone in Philippine society.
Demystifying Chinese Entrepreneurial Ethos
For the forthcoming June issue of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine, Summit Media publisher Lisa Y. Gokongwei invited this columnist to write four articles on Sy, Tan, Gokongwei and future taipans titled "Be a Millionaire: Lessons from Chinese Businesses." These articles were all based on exclusive interviews with the country’s most fascinating businessmen whose paths to success can be sources of priceless lessons and inspiration for all.

Their successes were extraordinary but not superhuman. Their successes were built and sustained fundamentally by decades of bold dreams, iron determination, meticulous planning, as well as traditional Confucian values of frugality, discipline, endless self-study and hard work. The four articles on Henry Sy, John Gokongwei and Lucio Tan seek to demystify their rags-to-riches sagas, to show their years of painstaking struggles over the most difficult personal and business crises, including near-bankruptcy.

How many people appreciate the fact that "Shopping Mall King" Henry Sy first learned the basics of retailing in a totally burned down sari-sari store which operated in Quiapo district’s Echague Street (now since renamed Carlos Palanca Street)?

Up to this day, 79-year-old Sy still works in his rented, simply furnished office every day. He still dreams of new and bigger business ventures that can boost the Philippine economy. His favorite endeavors include his SM Foundation for civic causes and Asia Pacific College.

How many people amazed at the multi-billion ventures of Lucio C. Tan remember that his first factory went bankrupt, losing out to self-made rival John Gokongwei Jr. and to another competitor from the established Ludo and Luym clan of Cebu? Apart from devoting a lot of time and resources to his Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Tan is still busy expanding his enterprises and planning new businesses.

Stories about how trader Gokongwei had overcome youthful hardships during World War II to achieve entrepreneurial success never cease to inspire. His business conglomerate not only withstood the 1997 Asian financial crisis and survived past political vicissitudes, but Gokongwei has gone into totally new investments such as Sun Cellular, new condominium projects, the country’s pioneer petrochemical plant, Robinsons Savings Bank and others. The taipan has also been busy institutionalizing the family’s Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, which pursues many civic and educational projects.
The Biggest Economic Sabotage
In the Philippines and other former Spanish colonies in Latin America, a major cause of economic malaise and social injustice is the cultural sabotage by brutal Spanish colonial subjugation. Historically, the greatest kidnap ransom ever paid was for Atahualpa by the Incas to Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1532 at Cajamarca, Peru. It constituted of gold and silver worth US$1.5 billion in today’s market. Unfortunately, the treacherous Pizarro did not fulfill his side of the bargain and murdered Atahualpa.

Worse than the systematic economic plunder of the Philippines and Latin America was the Spanish colonizers’ theft of the conquered people’s spirit of enterprise due to the negative impact of the Spaniards’ spiritual pollution of "get-rich-quick" values, corruption and a dangerous fatalistic attitude. They romanticized poverty as noble, martyr-like or predestined fate. This Spanish colonial subversion of the conquered people’s self-respect and innate entrepreneurial spirit is the worst kind of economic sabotage!

The Philippines needs to ignite an entrepreneurial revolution as its ultimate declaration of true independence from the decadent colonial past and from generations of economic malaise. One of the reasons many entrepreneurs spring from the ethnic Chinese minority is due to the different cultural traditions and values of the Chinese that were not influenced by many seemingly anti-entrepreneur values propagated by Spanish colonizers. Practices like the mañana habit, the excessive and wasteful fiesta, and the romanticization of poverty as noble or acceptable.

The phenomenon of millions of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) doing very well and achieving success outside the Philippines is proof that the country’s future is not hopeless, that reforms of cultural and moral values can liberate innate Filipino entrepreneurial talents and creative energies from the deadweight of the oppressive colonial past. The OCWs have created a middle-class in the country with a more cosmopolitan outlook, but igniting an entrepreneurial revolution will further expand this middle-class to become the majority – then and only then can the Philippines claim to be a true democracy.
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Entrepreneur Philippines has been hosting a series of unique monthly get-togethers for entrepreneurs dubbed "Entrepreneurs’ Networking Nights." For more than a year now, this event has successfully gathered an average of 150 aspiring and existing entrepreneurs from different industries. For May, the networking night is called "Secrets of Chinese Businesses." And the magazine would like to share with its readers the secrets of successful Chinese entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur Philippines
magazine is an interesting handbook for small-to-medium-sized business owners as well as aspiring entrepreneurs and those in the start-up stages of their businesses. It is uncomplicated and unpretentious, providing nuts-and-bolts tips and inspirational features that give its readers a framework for success.

Also, this writer is one of the three invited resource speakers on May 27, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the C2 Bar and Restaurant, fifth floor of the ACCM Conference Center (formerly Acceed), Benavidez St. corner Trasierra St., Legaspi Village, Makati City, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The two other resource speakers are Professor Daniel Wong Barranechea of the Ateneo de Manila University’s Graduate School of Business and Melvin Jao Esteban, the executive-in-charge of Chinese Market at Philam Life. Cocktails and drinks will be served courtesy of Entrepreneur Philippines magazine. To confirm attendance to the networking night, you may e-mail entrepreneur.events@summit media.com.ph or fax 637-2206. According to marketing associate Mitch Villaflor, they will accommodate the first 150 entrepreneurs.
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Thanks for all your interesting comments and suggestions sent to wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com or wilson_lee_flores@hotmail.com or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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