The business of small beginnings
- Wilson Lee Flores () - July 19, 2004 - 12:00am
"If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less, but to dream more, to dream all the time."

– Marcel Proust

"You see things and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why Not?’"

– George Bernard Shaw

Great enterprises and successful businesses often start from humble beginnings. Whenever people admire great corporations or are dazzled by vast business fortunes, most of us forget to realize their small beginnings and how it took them decades or even generations of painstaking hard work to build.

Many people don’t know that the founder of the Mercury Drugstore chain was once a humble clerk at Farmacia Central near Binondo Church many decades ago. Or that the immigrant founder of leading United Laboratories (Unilab) used to work for a buntal hat business in Quezon Province and that he was a small trader who was almost executed by the Japanese military in Manila during World War II. Or that the prestigious Palanca Awards was created to honor a rags-to-riches immigrant taipan who founded La Tondeña Distillery in Tondo during the American colonial era?

The government, the influential Catholic Church and other religious organizations, the schools and mass media should promote entrepreneurship as the best way to riches and freedom, and not pervert people’s values or pollute the national culture with a dangerous virus.

Nowadays, much of Philippine society has become afflicted with a dangerous virus called the get-rich-quick mentality spread by fabulous tales of politicians whose corrupt ways have amassed wealth for their clans, the proliferation of so many legal and illegal gambling joints nationwide and even the mass popularity of reality TV shows like Star in a Million or Starstruck with poor winners becoming instant millionaires overnight. The unchecked and unregulated spread of shadowy financial schemes and even all sorts of local franchise systems threaten to victimize a lot of innocent people.

Many of the world’s most eminent entrepreneurs had humble beginnings. In America, legendary tycoons are no different. Jacob Astor once sold apples in the streets of New York. Jay Gould started to conquer the world with only 50 cents and left a fortune of $70 million. J. P. Morgan, the world-famous banking pioneer, was once a clerk in a country store. Cornelius Vanderbilt used to take cabbages and turnips to New York market in a small sailing craft. Pullman was a clerk in a store. How many times was the aging Colonel Sanders rejected for his chicken recipe before somebody gave his business proposal a chance?

Leland Standford – the 19th century railroad tycoon, statesman and founder of a great university – was a son of a humble farmer. H.J. Heinz, the ancestor of the first husband of Democratic Party bet John Kerry’s wife, once planted a small plot of horseradish in 1869. Heinz, two women and a boy grated and later bottled the root that became the foundation of a vast fortune. J. L. Kraft was once a humble grocery clerk who started with a capital of $65 to peddle cheese from a one-horse wagon. Coca Cola, the world’s most famous soda brand, was first made in the kitchen of an old home adjoining Mr. Pemberton’s Drugstore.

Success in other fields often started also with humble beginnings. Napoleon, the future Emperor of France, was a major from an obscure family in Corsica when he married Josephine, the daughter of a tobacconist Creole of Martinique. Unlike General Robert E. Lee or General Douglas MacArthur who topped their classes with record-high scores at West Point, Napoleon the future world conqueror stood only 42nd in his class in a military academy, but who among us has heard of the other 41?

Cincinnatus was ploughing his vineyard when the dictatorship of Rome was offered him. Abraham Lincoln was once a humble rail-splitter and his life was filled with so much business, political and other failures. At a certain point, it was impossible to imagine him becoming America’s greatest president. His loyalist General Grant was once a tanner. William Shakespeare once held horses at the door of a London theater before he rose to literary prominence and held the world in awe with his poetry.
Like The Amazon
The famed Amazon River of South America begins as a small humble icy trickle from a glacier in the Andes. As the Amazon surges across the vast torrid wilderness, hundreds of tributaries pour waters into it and expand its power. The region’s torrential rains further add to the flood of waters, which has made the Amazon bigger than just a river, it widens up into an overpowering and moving inland sea that drains nearly half of South America. The Amazon River is so powerful; it reaches all the way out into ocean, refusing to die. The Amazon River floods the ocean with non-stop fresh and muddy waters for up to 100 miles offshore into the Atlantic.

Almost all great business enterprises started somewhere somehow as a small venture, a dream that would never allow difficulties to obstruct its progress. How many giant forest fires in America or Europe were ignited by a small spark? Many great corporations of multi-million or billion-peso sales began with an entrepreneurial idea, a bold dream and the first decisive step of a small venture.

Never belittle small beginnings, small ventures, the sari-sari store operator in your neighborhood, the carinderia of that old lady in the street, that young trader in the rural province, that immigrant kid in Baclaran or Quiapo, or the irrepressible Divisoria trader hawking goods or any other humble men or women with big dreams and immense capacity for hard work.
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Thanks for all your messages. Comments and suggestions are welcome at or or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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