Lifestyle Business

Who will be the next taipans?

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores -
With the golden era of the late 20th century rags-to-riches immigrant taipans nearly coming to an end, who will rise from among their kids, grandchildren or from the other new entrepreneurs to take the leadership positions as rugged pioneers of Philippine economic modernization? Can they grapple with the bewildering changes of globalization such as the record-high world oil prices and the internationalization needs of the China economic miracle? Will the next generation of taipans be composed of Teresita "Tessie" Sy of Banco de Oro/SM or her younger brother Hans Sy of China Bank/SM, or Entrepreneur of the Year winner Lance Yu Gokongwei of JG Summit Holdings/Cebu Pacific Air or sisters Robina Gokongwei-Pe of Robinsons retail chain and Summit Media boss Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng?

The Zobel-Ayala clan patriarch Jaime Zobel de Ayala formally retired from the Ayala Group and his heirs Jaime Augusto and Fernando have for years been realty partners with the family of recently deceased "Pharmaceuticals King" Jose Yao Campos in Santa Rosa, Laguna projects and Fort Bonifacio. Will the Campos children Jocelyn "Joy" Dee Campos-Hess or Joselito "Butch" Dee Campos Jr. be among the future taipans too?

Will the future taipans be the hardworking brothers Arthur and Alfred Ty of Metro Bank Group and Toyota Philippines, or Josephine Gotianun-Yap of Filinvest Group, or the brothers Michael G. Tan and Lucio "Bong" Tan Jr. who both studied in Singapore, Beijing University and top Canada/USA universities and were recently elected directors of their father’s Philippine Airlines (PAL)? Or will the future taipans come from the ranks of the struggling young traders in 168 Mall, Divisoria, Cebu, Iloilo or somewhere else out there trying to build up their small and medium-sized ventures?

Will the next generation taipans of the Philippines have the same traditional Confucian values, guts, grit, pioneering vision and discipline of their immigrant forebears? Or will they be eclipsed by newer entrepreneurs who are upstarts with fire in their bellies like the old hardy immigrants? Will complacency, too much self-importance, status consciousness mentality, overly westernized values corrode Asian values?

One of the most successful and low-key immigrant "rags-to-riches" taipans of Southeast Asia, Jose Yao Campos of top pharmaceutical manufacturer United Laboratories Inc. (Unilab) and the Greenfield realty group, recently passed away on May 1 at 84 (but referred to as 85 sui according to the ancient traditional Chinese count of adding one year, a taipan explained). One of the several business taipans of the Philippines not included in the 1980s six taipans hobbled together by then President Fidel Ramos to build a new airport for the country, he is also known in the Filipino-Chinese business community by his Chinese name as Yao Cho Diat.

Industrialist John Gokongwei Jr. said, "Jose Yao Campos was a pretty good businessman, that’s his reputation. I don’t really know him that well, he lived his own life quietly and didn’t socialize much. I knew his elder brother Yao Shiong Shio, because we were once partners in a caustic soda venture which didn’t do well years ago. I had personally met Yao Cho Diat only once, he was thin and was taller than his elder brother. I suggest you write a book on the extraordinary Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs who helped pioneer industries and modernize the Philippine economy."
Progressive Employer, Trusted Adviser Of Marcos
Friends remember Campos as one of the country’s most progressive employers which made Unilab union-free for decades and as a quiet philanthropist, while others remember him for his close friendship to the late brilliant but controversial President Ferdinand Marcos who entrusted many assets in his name and invited him to be godfather to kids Bongbong and Irene. Perhaps, it was only Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr. who can compare with Campos in the close friendship and personal trust of Marcos.

Jose Yao Campos was a man who doesn’t seem to crave for political power or social status, but who nevertheless acted efficiently for his friend like the ancient Jewish traders and moneylenders used by European medieval rulers. Campos also reminds me of trusted Jewish financial advisers who served the Ottoman Muslim rulers or the Spanish royalty, since these entrepreneurs of an ethnic minority harbor no political ambitions. They were impeccable in trustworthiness, had proven business acumen not to dissipate assets and needed the political protection of the ruling power elite.

In 1425, King Ladislaus II Jagello of Ukraine charged Volchko, who by this time already held the Lvov customs lease, with the colonization of a large tract of land: "As we have great confidence in the wisdom, carefulness, and foresight of our Lvov customs-holder, the Jew Volchko... after the above-mentioned Jew Volchko has turned the above-mentioned wilderness into a human settlement in the village, it shall remain in his hands till his death." King Casimir Jagello entrusted to the Jew Natko both the salt mines of Drogobych and the customs station of Grejdek, stating in 1452 that he granted it to him on account of his "industry and wisdom so that thanks to his ability and industry we shall bring in more income to our treasury." The same phenomenon was found in Lithuania, Poland and other parts of the world where entrepreneurial Jewish minorities existed. Before the 19th century, many Jews served officially as Treasurers General to the kings of Castile in Spain, as regional and general tax collectors, diplomats (representing their king in foreign courts, both Muslim and Christian, even outside Spain), courtiers and advisers to rulers and great noblemen.

After the 1986 Edsa uprising, Campos became the first Marcos crony to have cooperated with the revolutionary regime of President Corazon C. Aquino by turning over Marcos assets in his name to the Presidential Commission of Good Government (PCGG). On May 28, 1986, Campos entered into a compromise agreement with the PCGG, which was tasked to sequester Marcos assets believed to be ill-gotten wealth. Campos declared 197 corporations and properties he claimed were owned by the Marcoses and that he was holding on behalf of the family. A kin said that Campos actually turned over more Marcos assets to the new regime than what the PCGG then had in its own secret list retrieved from the abandoned Malacañang Palace.

The smooth compromise agreement with the revolutionary government must have been facilitated by the younger brother of the taipan’s wife Beatrice Dee Campos, respected Catholic philanthropist and former Unilab president Howard Q. Dee who was personally endorsed by then Jaime Cardinal Sin as President Cory C. Aquino’s ambassador to the Vatican.

The father-in-law of Campos was the late lumber magnate Dee Hong Lue, a fifth-generation local Chinese entrepreneur. On the third-generation, this family surnamed Li (pronounced "Lee" in Mandarin and "Dy" or "Dee" in Hokkien dialect) became prominent in lumber when his grandfather’s fifth brother Dy Han Kia became a top 19th century lumber industry pioneer and philanthropist. The elder brother of Dee Hong Lue was pre-war "Philippine Lumber King," Chinese Chamber of Commerce president and China Bank founder Dee C. Chuan. Dee Hong Lue himself became vice president of the post-World War II Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) as well as national president of both the Philippine Lumber Merchants Association and the Filipinas Civic & Fraternal Association (Lee clan association).
Immigrant Fujian Roots, Quezon Province Youth
Coincidentally, the immigrant Jose Yao Campos traces his roots to the village of Ha-ngo-po which is just neighboring to the Chio-Chun village of his wife’s Dee family roots in the same Kim-Chi municipality, in the county of Ching-kang (also Jinjiang in Mandarin and now a city) in Fujian province, south China. Himself an immigrant tycoon from Fujian, Pasay business leader Mariano Sy Nocom and the late Jose Yao Campos spent their youth before World War II in Quezon province. He remembers Campos as having formerly worked for a buntal hat business of his elder brother Yao Shiong Shio, the postwar industrialist of Columbia Tobacco, Cathay Drug and YSS Laboratories and the president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) from 1974 to 1976.

Unlike most business leaders, there has not been a photograph of the Pharmaceuticals King in the Philippine mass media for decades. Started in 1945 as a humble drugstore called United Drug in Sto. Cristo Street in Manila’s Chinatown district, Unilab has grown to become one of Asean’s biggest and most progressive pharmaceutical manufacturers with business interests in China, Hong Kong and Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Myanmar. Jose Yao Campos was also one of the biggest landowners in the Philippines and invited by the Zobel-Ayala clan of Ayala conglomerate to jointly take over the Fort Bonifacio project of then debt-burdened First Pacific Group led Manuel "Manny" Pangilinan, who has since financially recovered with windfall earnings from Philippine Long Distance Co. and Smart Communications.

Unilab is now headed by his eldest child, chairman Joy Dee Campos Hess, who took over control last year. The taipan’s second child Joselito "Butch" Dee Campos Jr. is known as the "condiments king" of the Philippines, focusing on the manufacture of sauces and condiments under leading brand names UFC and Mang Tomas. His group has been the Philippine partner of multinational H.J. Heinz Company since 2000. Last year, Campos organized NutriAsia Pacific Limited as an investment holding company with him owning 58 percent and Danding Cojuangco-led San Miguel Corporation owning 42 percent. NutriAsia Pacific Ltd. recently made business headlines in the region by taking over 85 percent control of Del Monte Pacific Limited, which is a major public listed firm in the Singapore Stock Exchange.

Will the daughter and son of the late Jose Yao Campos build upon the pioneering efforts of their late rags-to-riches patriarch and create world-class business organizations which can economically benefit the Philippines and Asia in this exciting "Asia Pacific Century"? Can the other heirs of the country’s legendary and ageing taipans maintain the discipline and Confucian values of their founders, then aggressively help lead the Philippine economy out of past political instability and lackluster economic growth? Can they help inspire more investments to realize the country’s full economic development potentials as the next economic miracle of Asia and also transform their business groups into globally-competitive multinationals flourishing beyond our shores?
* * *
Thanks for writing, all messages will be answered. Comments, suggestions, jokes and criticisms are welcome at [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected]











  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with