Eduardo 'Danding' Cojuangco, Jr. opens up on crises, love and Marcos

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - August 12, 2012 - 12:00am

He conquers who endures. — Roman poet Persius

One of the wealthiest, most enigmatic and media-shy tycoons in the Philippines is the 77-year-old Ambassador Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. Also known as “Danding,” “ECJ” or “Boss,” he is chairman of Southeast Asia’s biggest beverage/food manufacturer San Miguel Corporation (SMC), founder/chairman emeritus of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) political party and now the top benefactor of De La Salle University’s basketball team to the UAAP. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at US$1.4 billion.

Admirers and even critics alike acknowledge his strong character and iron will. Cojuangco has overcome many personal crises and political controversies, building a reputation as businessman, politician, agriculture pioneer and sports patron. He and his wife Gretchen are now focusing more on their education, church and sports charities. 

Danding left the Philippines for exile on Feb. 25, 1986 with then President Ferdinand E. Marcos after the Edsa uprising, returning only in November 1989. He ran for president in the controversial 1992 election and lost by a close margin, but his vice-presidential running-mate Joseph “Erap” Estrada won. In 1998 when Erap rose to the presidency, Danding regained control of San Miguel and has led its phenomenal growth under his loyal executive Ramon S. Ang.

The Supreme Court in 2011 ruled with finality that Danding’s formerly sequestered stocks in SMC were not ill-gotten. On June 30 of that year, Cojuangco sold 493.4 million San Miguel shares at P75 each for a total of P37 billion to his ally and concurrent SMC president Ramon S. Ang “on friendly terms,” but Danding will continue as chairman and CEO. 

        The tycoon recently granted The Philippine STAR an exclusive interview, here are excerpts: 

PHILIPPINE STAR:  What are the secrets to your business success and to your overcoming political travails in the past?

EDUARDO “DANDING” COJUANGCO, JR: It is important that God loves you (points to the air with his index finger and smiles).

Any other success secrets to inspiring the youth?

I don’t have a college degree.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, John Gokongwei, Jr. and Lucio Tan also do not have college degrees. Would you say what counts more is what you have achieved in life?

Lucio Tan has an engineering degree, doesn’t he?

He studied two years of his chemical engineering course at Far Eastern University (FEU) as a working student, he told me he had to attend night classes plus Sunday classes. But he had to end studies due to work and business. Any advice to young people on success?

Be pragmatic about things. Have perseverance. Have strong faith in what you believe in.

Ilocos Norte Governor Imee R. Marcos told me you had lost your father when you were young, that’s why her father, then President Ferdinand Marcos, considered you like a foster son. Is that true?

Yes, I am very grateful to the late President Marcos for not treating me like other politicians.

How old were you when you lost your dad?

I was 15 years old when my father died, I’m his eldest child.

What was the worst crisis in your life, having lost your dad, your exile after the 1986 EDSA uprising, or others? And why?

SMC chairman and chief executive officer Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. at the graduation rites of the first batch of teacher scholars under the Eduardo Cojuangco Foundation (ECF)’s Project FREE (Flagships for Reaching Educational Excellence). Through a P45-million grant, and with the cooperation of the University of St. La Salle, the Tarlac State University, and the Department of Education, public school elementary and high school teachers in Tarlac are able to complete their masteral and doctorate degrees.

Losing my father was the worst crisis in my life, especially since it happened at an early age in my life. It’s really different when you have a father as a youth. There were no real worries, because you always knew there’s somebody you and your whole family can depend on. When our father died, it was like suddenly you wake up and your whole life has changed.

What were the changes?

I had to start working at 19 years old, and then I married at 21.

How long have you been married?

I’ve been happily married 55 years already.

What is the secret of your long-lasting marriage to your wife Soledad “Gretchen” O. Cojuangco? It seems not many marriages last long in our modern era.

GRETCHEN O. COJUANGCO: The secret is you have to be close to God.

DANDING: You know, if two people really like each other, you can learn to forgive each other instead of making any problems last.

Your reactions to critics who call you a crony of the late President Marcos?

This is one thing I cannot explain fully enough. I’m happy to say that I’ve been close to the late President Marcos, but for my critics to say that I’m supposedly the “No. 1 crony,” I don’t know why. There were many others who were really closer to him.

MARK O. COJUANGCO: You know when our dad met Marcos for the first time? It was during the time of then President Diosdado Macapagal.

And other success secrets, and what were your ambitions as a youth?

Since I was young, I was determined and told myself that I was never going to be an employee of anybody. Maski mahirap, never an employee (Even if difficult, never an employee).

I heard one of the most entrepreneurial members of your Cojuangco clan was your grand-aunt Ysidra. You met her personally?

Yes, she was entrepreneurial. Not only did I meet her, we slept together in one bedroom with other family members during World War II in Baguio.

People believe you would have been a strong president of the Philippines, like Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew or South Korea’s President Park Chung Hee. Your thoughts on this?

But it’s not meant to be… The only reason I ran, I believed that I’d do better in governance for the sake of Philippine progress.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago believed then Defense Secretary Fidel V. Ramos won the 1992 election, which you also contested, due to massive cheating. Do you agree?

No comment.

To help provide for the needs of retired priests, San Miguel Corporation (SMC) has donated P60 million to De La Salle University-Dasmarinas for the construction of Maison de la Salle Brothers Residential Healthcare Facilities, a retirement home for priests and brothers. In photo are SMC chairman and CEO Eduardo M. Cojuangco Jr. (second from right) and SMC president Ramon S. Ang turning over a ceremonial check to DLSU-Dasmarinas and Health Sciences Institute president Bro. Gus Boquer, FSC and architect Sirgene Diato.

Is it true that you’re already retired from business? But you look healthy.

I still go to the office and attend board meetings, but I no longer go over the day-to-day details.

How did you discover San Miguel’s talented and hardworking CEO Ramon Ang? There are many stories like he helped repair your cars or was a friend of your son, which one of them is accurate?

(Smiles) You’d have to ask my son Mark, I met Ramon through him.

MARK: That’s for a totally separate interview na.

Any final advice to young people on becoming a success in life?

DANDING: They just have to persevere in their beliefs and be hardworking always.

* * *

Thanks for all your letters! E-mail willsoonflourish@gmail.com or follow WilsonLeeFlores on Twitter.com, or in Facebook.

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