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Ed Angara on the most unforgettable business leaders |

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Ed Angara on the most unforgettable business leaders

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star

The morning after the Dec. 17 evening vote of the European Parliament on Thursday night (Manila time) to approve the Philippines’ GSP+ (or generalized scheme of preferences that provides zero-duty entry for over 6 billion euros’ worth of 6,274 export products to the European Union), former Senate President Edgardo Angara received many congratulatory messages via SMS from European diplomats to our government officials due to his help with his political contacts all over the EU.

Although retired from politics, the 80-year-old Angara continues to be active as an elder statesman, patron of the arts and developer of tourism in his hometown, Baler. He is vice president of Centrist Democratic International (CDI), the union of the world’s conservative political parties, which includes the ruling parties of Britain, Spain and others.

As a topnotch corporate lawyer, past president of the University of the Philippines (UP) and multifaceted political leader, Angara has personally dealt with many business leaders. He agreed to share his intimate knowledge and personal impressions of “the most unforgettable business leaders” in this exclusive interview. Here are excerpts:





PHILIPPINE STAR: Who are the most unforgettable business leaders you’ve known?

EDGARDO ANGARA: There are many, like the late Andres “Andy” Soriano Jr. of San Miguel Corp. He was gutsy, confident of his ability… he knows how to pick people. I was his lawyer and I sat on the board of San Miguel.

I heard your son Sonny’s baptismal godfather is John Gokongwei Jr.?

Gokongwei used to be a small Cebuano trader. He takes risks and pioneers in industries like food manufacturing. He’s not formally trained in securities, but he’s a shrewd investor and very well read.

Who else?

George SK Ty of Metrobank Group is persistent and very generous. I helped him set up his Metrobank Foundation’s Outstanding Teachers Awards by inviting top UP intellectuals. When I was starting my law firm and George was also starting in banking, he advised me: “Pare, I learned the more you give, the more you will receive.” And I have lived by that advice all my life.

What about SM Group founder Henry Sy or his daughter, BDO boss Tessie Sy?

I know Hans Sy more, he’s funding the Galleon Museum at the SM Mall of Asia, which is my brainchild and which will have its soft opening in November 2015 when the APEC leaders meet in Manila. Hans is hardworking and visionary. Hans is also funding the first UP Professionals Schools outside Diliman at the Fort, which will house the UP law school, business administration, engineering and statistics. Senate President Frank Drilon and I got the half-hectare lot at the Fort from the BCDA for this UP project funded by Hans Sy.

You told me once that the most unforgettable businesswoman to you is Filinvest Group and East West Bank cofounder Mercedes Tan Gotianun?

Mercedes is a UP summa cum laude graduate; she is unique among her gender. She is visionary and hardworking; in fact, she works harder than any man. I will never forget her because when I was president of UP, she was president of the UP College of Pharmacy Alumni Association and she helped me in fundraising for the UP Diamond Jubilee in 1983.

Another tycoon?

Andrew Tan of Megaworld is far-sighted, creative and a developer of not only a stand-alone building but of whole communities. He pioneered in BPOs. His Eastwood City in Libis used to be a garment factory with bad pollution; I know that area well because my first house was nearby in White Plains. Andrew bought that and developed his township there.

You told me that Malayan Insurance and RCBC boss Alfonso Yuchengco is your friend. How old is he now?

Al must be 110 years old (laughs). He’s like Andrew Tan in his younger days. Yuchengco is a pioneering and groundbreaking guy in such businesses as banana plantations, memorial parks with Manila Memorial. He’s a pioneer, too, in mutual funds and prepaid educational plans.

You cited Andy Soriano. What about his cousin, the late Ayala Group big boss Enrique Zobel? They both had a bitter feud in San Miguel?

Enrique “Enriquito” Zobel I knew well, we were both on the board of San Miguel, because I was a lawyer for his cousin, Andy Soriano. It was because of Enriquito that I sat on the board of Insular Life, which used to be controlled by the Ayala Group. He also wanted me to sit on the board of their Bank of the Philippine Islands, but I was then already on the board of Manila Bank headed by Senate President Gil Puyat, who was very helpful and fatherly to me.

Zobel had a strong personality, a risk-taker and very down-to earth. Enriquito was mestizong mestizo but humble, while other Spanish mestizos speak only to themselves and to God, but this guy was very down-to-earth. His feud with Andy was a family dispute.

You knew Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. well?

Danding is very much ahead of his time, that’s why people misunderstood him. When you look back, he’s the only close ally of President Marcos who kept and built up resources assigned to him such as the coconut levy funds, unlike the others like Benedicto in sugar, Cuenca in construction, etc.

Do you know Lucio Tan, too?

Lucio has a different style, soloista iyan (he’s an independent operator), lone wolf iyan, he’s a persistent hunter. He’s a generous philanthropist, and I helped him establish the FUSE foundation to promote better science, math and English education in the Philippines.

Did you ever meet the late Swiss media tycoon Hans Menzi?

I became his favorite; Menzi was a good person. He was boss of Manila Bulletin, his was inherited wealth but I think he was not a good businessman.

There’s another tycoon I knew very well, the late Manuel Elizalde, the father of the boss now of DZRH and other businesses. He was kindhearted, a gentleman of the old school like Gil Puyat. Despite his seniority in age and success, he listened to me because I was his lawyer.

Any other unforgettable tycoons?

I admire Mar Uy of Bohol; he’s a self-made entrepreneur, driven, well-motivated, hardworking. He owns South Palms Hotel in Panglao, Bohol; he bought three-fourths of the Bohol Beach Club. He owns the biggest mall in Bohol, the ICM mall. He owns hotels, a power plant, an integrated feed mill, a modern, air-conditioned pig farm with sows imported from Holland. He owns groceries in Cebu.

Another provincial tycoon I admired was the late Tony Floirendo, the “Banana King.” He had the biggest banana plantation in Mindanao. He was pioneering. He was from La Union, a small businessman; he started as a Ford dealer in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao. He also owned the Pearl Farm Resort.

He just died two years ago at age 90. At 90, Tony still went to the races and figured the odds. I think the reason Tony had no Alzheimer’s was because every morning it was his hobby to go to the races to figure out the odds — that’s math — so he used his brain nonstop. He went to Santa Ana, Manila Jockey Club, also to London to attend the Ascot Races.

I heard you also know Ramon Ang of San Miguel?

Ramon Ang is a walking encyclopedia. You ask him about cars, he will tell you. You ask him about aircraft, he will tell you. He is meticulous, he’s a fast thinker, that’s why he’s a very good trader. He has good people skills and he’s an antique car collector.

I heard you were a friend of the late Manila Bulletin, Philtrust Bank and Manila Hotel boss Emilio Yap?

I was very close to that guy. Don Emilio was very generous, very persistent; he didn’t let go until a project was accomplished. I remember him very well; we share the same birthdate, Sept. 24. On the eve of my birthday, he’d tender a dinner for my family and me. He’s got a phenomenal memory. Like many admirable taipans, he started out poor but was very hardworking. He started out peddling, then after World War II he saw plenty of surplus vehicles and machinery, which he traded and from where he started amassing his capital. His early firm was US Automotive.

One common trait I observe among the self-made ethnic Chinese taipans is their immense generosity. I think it’s due to the traditional Confucian ethic, so their philanthropic tradition is very strong.

Based on your dealings and friendships with many business leaders of the Philippines, have you observed some common success secrets?

There are three traits of all successful people: common sense, hard work, and not being afraid to take risks.

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