Henry Sy, Gokongwei, Consunji & Century Tuna grew with China Bank

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2013 - 12:00am

To be successful, you have to have your heart in your business, and your business in your heart.  —Thomas Watson, Sr.

Not many companies in our society last more than a century. One of the rare exceptions is China Banking Corporation, which will celebrate its 93rd anniversary of success on Aug. 16 led by Hans Sy, Gilbert Dee and Peter SyCip Dee. Philippine STAR’s Ted Torres reported that in the first semester this year, its net income rose 46 percent to P2.96 billion, total deposits grew 22 percent to P290.25 billion and total resources grew 20 percent to P345.62 billion.

China Bank was founded in 1920 by then 32-year-old prewar “Lumber King,” brilliant Chinese community leader and activist tycoon Dee Chieng Chuan — better known as “Dee C. Chuan” — who also founded both the prewar Fookien Times and Chinese Commercial News.

A fifth-generation scion of an immigrant Chinese family that has been doing business in the Philippines since the 1790s, the family became prominent in the 19th century due to Chuan’s granduncle Dy Han Kia, who became a rags-to-riches Manila lumber entrepreneur and philanthropist. This family’s entrepreneurial saga is part of the bank’s 256-page coffee-table book A Matter of Trust: The China Bank Story authored by the late Raul Rodrigo.

Lender to the Cojuangcos, Henry Sy & John Gokongwei Jr.

Unknown to many, during the martial law years when the late President Cory C. Aquino told me that even some of her own kin didn’t want to associate with her family due to her husband Ninoy Aquino’s being a political prisoner, I read that China Bank was the only bank that continued to lend to her side of the Cojuangco clan since it has been doing business with them since the prewar era. The Cojuangco family’s first sugar mill was financed by a 1927 loan from China Bank.

SM and BDO founder Henry Sy Sr. was a young shoe entrepreneur in postwar Manila when he got his first credit line from China Bank in 1948, approved by then-vice president Yap Tian Siang. Sy at that time only had a good business track record, no assets yet for collateral. Today, Sy not only controls China Bank with his son Hans Sy as its chairman, he is estimated to have a net worth of over US$12 billion after over seven decades of hard work, perseverance and innovations.

JG Summit Holdings, Inc. and Cebu Pacific Air founder John Gokongwei Jr. told me that as a young entrepreneur with no assets for collateral but just a good business track record in Cebu, it was China Bank, under its cofounder, Dr. Albino SyCip, that gave him a P500,000 clean loan in 1956 to help him start a cornstarch factory. Gokongwei told me another bank’s officer had earlier made him wait outside the office for two hours, only to inform him that his loan application was declined. Gokongwei has since been a loyal client of China Bank, even when he used to own huge shareholdings in competitor banks the former Far East Bank and the former PCIBank; he now also controls Robinsons Bank. The late China Bank chairman Dee K. Chiong, father of vice chairman Gilbert Dee, became a wedding ninong or godparent of John Gokongwei Jr.

Support for Consunji, Bengzon, Puyat and Po families

Self-made construction billionaire David Mendoza Consunji of DMCI, now 92 years old, said that China Bank has always supported his business even when others didn’t. In 1984, when its owners were trying to sell IBAA and all loans had to be paid, China Bank approved his loan application even though he had no previous business with them before. In 1997 when DMCI bought the coal business of Semirara Mining Corp. and it wasn’t doing well, Consunji recalled: “We really needed money to get going. But at that time, nobody wanted to touch coal companies because nobody made money on coal. But China Bank’s officers firmly believed in our capacity to pay our obligations, probably because we had a good track record with them.”

Former Cory-era Health Secretary Dr. Alfredo Bengzon, now president and chief executive officer of The Medical City in Pasig City, said that his father, former Justice Secretary and Supreme Court Associate Justice Jose P. Bengzon, was once a young government lawyer whom other big banks refused to lend to except China Bank. He said, “My father was looking for a loan to build us a house in San Juan. Big banks like BPI refused to lend him anything. He felt they treated him like he was about to steal their money. My father was very particular about his integrity, and he was offended. Finally he approached China Bank. Albino SyCip gave him a clean loan. My father was very happy. He felt that the bank treated him with respect, and that, to him, was the important thing.”

Edgardo Puyat Reyes, whose family has owned Gonzalo Puyat and Sons, Inc. since 1907 and who has been dealing with China Bank for generations, said, “I would say that it is a relationship of two very old companies kept going by personal relationships. It is characterized by the old way of doing business where bankers knew the people heading the companies that they dealt with and to a great extent, trust was built from the relationship.”

Immigrant self-made “Tuna King” Ricardo Po Sr. of the Century Pacific Group, makers of Century Tuna, which controls about 90 percent of the Philippine tuna market, has been doing business with China Bank since 1958. The low-key tycoon is an immigrant who told me that he used to work for a Chinese-language newspaper before going into business. His family is now also into the canned meat, milk and real estate businesses. Speaking of China Bank, he said, “Up to now, China Bank is my bank. Once they trust a client, they support him all the way.”         

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Congratulations to nine-year-old Jed Dy, who again made the Philippines proud when he won the 2013 US Kids Golf Championships in Pinehurst, North Carolina, USA, on Aug. 5. I got this news from his grandmother, Remedios O. Dy, before all the newspapers published the news.

The talented Jed is the son of University of Chicago graduate Ayala Land, Inc. executive vice president Bernard Vincent “Bobby” O. Dy and great-grandson of the prewar lumber tycoon Dy Pac. The late Dy Pac was three years old when his father, Dy Han Thia, died, so it was his dad’s fifth elder brother and Manila lumber tycoon Dy Han Kia who raised him.

Bobby Dy is the second cousin of China Bank vice chairman Gilbert Dee, an uncle of both the cousins, China Bank president Peter S. Dee and Metrobank president Fabian Dee.

* * *

Among the many other cousins of China Bank president Peter S. Dee include the Philippines’ top cardiologist Dr. Dy Bun Yok, Ateneo math professor Dr. Queena Lee Chua, “Condiments King” Joselito “Butch” Dee Campos Jr., Greenfield Development Corp. chairman Jeffrey Dee Y. Campos, United Laboratories (Unilab) boss Jocelyn “Joy” Dee Campos-Hess, businessman Richard Joseph “Dodo” Dee (whose son Kiko Dee graduated magna cum laude from UP this year), Weldon Construction boss Lucio Lee Rodriguez (son-in-law of the late Pacific Bank founder Antonio Roxas-Chua) and young entrepreneur, Izumo Contractors, Inc. chairman Cedric Lee, who is also a major shareholder in Beverly Hills 6750 Multi-Specialty Aesthetic Institute. Dy Han Kia was also the paternal great-great-grandfather of this writer.

The Philippines’ topnotch dentist Dr. Joseph Dy Lim of Dr. Smile Dental Clinic at Podium mall is a nephew of Peter S. Dee. His prestigious clientele includes Henry Sy Sr., Lucio C. Tan, the late Tan Yu and BDO boss Tessie Sy Coson. One of Peter Dee’s nieces was the late Marissa Lee Tan, a cofounder of the Healthy Options chain.

Exclusive news

A Philippine STAR reader and top businessman in northern Palawan told me that the Discovery hotel chain, which owns Discovery Resort Boracay, will purchase the beautiful Club Paradise Resort located in the 19-hectare island of Dimakya in that province of western Philippines. 

Two billionaire names missing

Top businessman and STAR subscriber Emmanuel “Noel” Oñate said to me that another entry the Forbes list of the Philippines’ 50 wealthiest missed out on is the Floirendo family of Davao. Indeed, the Floirendos are partners with the Zobel Ayala clan of Ayala Group in the 10-hectare Abreeza Mall in Davao. Top banana exporter Antonio O. Floirendo Sr. founded the Anflo Group.

Based on my research, another name Forbes missed is the banana-exporting billionaire Lorenzo family of Lapanday Group and Pancake House group of restaurants.

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Thanks for your feedback! E-mail willsoonflourish@gmail.com or follow WilsonLeeFlores on Twitter, Facebook and http://willsoonflourish.blogspot.com/.

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