George Ty swims 30 minutes daily, sleeps early and wears 20-year-old suits
WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2013 - 12:00am

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill

One of Southeast Asia’s wealthiest business leaders, top philanthropist and art patron George S. K. Ty of the Metrobank Group, Metrobank Foundation, the country’s biggest carmaker Toyota Motor Philippines Corp., Federal Land, Philippine Savings Bank, Global Business Power and Philippine AXA Life Insurance Corp., is now developing the P1 billion 10-hectare Toyota Motor Philippines School of Technology Inc. (TMP Tech) in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

The usually media-shy taipan recently agreed to give Philippine STAR an exclusive interview. Here are some excerpts:

PHILIPPINE STAR: Your holding firm GT Capital Holdings Inc. recently completed an overnight equity placement raising P14.3 billion — considered the largest in the Philippines — and broadening its public float. What are your success secrets?

GEORGE S. K. TY: It took me 30 years of continuous hard work and the support of others.

How did a banker like you get into the car business with Toyota?

That was exactly what I asked top executives of Toyota when they were looking for a new partner here in the Philippines 25 years ago. When they approached me, I told them: “I’m a banker and what do I know about the car industry?”  But they didn’t want to let me go. They couldn’t wait because their operations in the Philippines needed to continue, but their local partner then had problems. A president of Toyota convinced me.

How long did it take for you to agree?

They invited me to visit the Toyota headquarters and manufacturing plants in Nagoya. I saw the opportunity, especially with our growing Philippine economy. It took me a few months to decide.

I am very satisfied with our partnership for close to 25 years now. Despite some setbacks of the mother company in 2011 when General Motors of the US became the world’s number one, Toyota is now back as the biggest carmaker. Here in the Philippines, we have consistently maintained the leadership position every year.

Metrobank Foundation operates a school with Manila Doctors Hospital and now you have the new TMP Tech in Laguna. When will it be completed?

Yes, our foundation operates the Manila Tytana Colleges named in memory of my late mother. The TMP Tech is scheduled for completion in September this year. The building is designed by topnotch architect William V. Coscolluela.

Sta. Rosa is now a booming area. Your new technical school will be built on 10 hectares of land. How big is the total land of Toyota Philippines there? When did you establish Toyota there?

Sta. Rosa is fast becoming a university town. Some even refer to it as the “Detroit of the Philippines” due the car assembly plants. We established Toyota Philippines (with a total land area of 82 hectares) there in 1989.

Are you a car lover?

I love cars primarily to support my business and for the prestige — I have to maintain a certain image as a banker, but I’m not into sports cars. (Laughs).

What brands and models of cars are your favorites?

In Hong Kong, I have three Rolls Royce limousines parked in my garage. In Shanghai, I have one Rolls Royce in my villa. In the Philippines, I use a black Mercedes-Benz 600 and I also ride a Lexus.

What are your color preferences for cars?

I like the basic colors — white or beige, also black and blue.

You mentioned Lexus. I heard your sales here in the Philippines are doing well?

Yes, we’re doing much better than the other luxury brands. Last year, Lexus sales in the Philippines registered a 40-percent growth. We expect even better sales growth this 2013.

As a young banker in the 1960s, what cars were you using then?

I used the presidential car of the US. (Laughs).

What brand is that?

The Cadillac, even if I really didn’t have the money then.  But I use it because of business and I want to project an image for the sake of my bank. Sometimes I am not very humble (laughs), but the business calls for it.

What colors were your Cadillacs?

The same as my favorite colors for my suits — black, white or blue.

A few years ago at Shangri-La Hotel Pudong in Shanghai the staff mentioned to me that you always stayed there during your trips because they see you swimming for half hour daily. When did you start this routine?

I started swimming when I was in school. Do you know I was a swimmer who competed in college? But I never won. (Laughs).

Is swimming daily one of the reasons for your lean physique?

Look at this suit I’m wearing, it’s already 20 years old! I’ve maintained the same size.

Senator Ping Lacson would be very pleased because he didn’t like police officers with big stomachs when he was PNP chief.

Senator Lacson is a good person.

The late real estate tycoon Tan Yu told me that when you were both young, he already observed that you’re a very disciplined person. He said you even made sure all the bank’s office tables were all aligned properly in straight lines. Is that true?

Not only that, up to now, during dinners, I personally arrange the seating arrangements because every person considers his or her seat position as very important.

What other health habits do you practice?

I sleep early every night, not beyond 11 p.m. I seldom go out for socials. I apologize to my friends and clients that I do not accept invitations, so they already know.

I heard you’re one of Asia’s top art collectors?

Look at that (he points to a big painting on the wall of his big office), that’s a work by the late painter Xu Beihong.

That painter is famous for his shuimohua or Chinese ink paintings of horses. Where are all your paintings?

They’re mostly in my place in Hong Kong.

Your bank offices and even corridors have a lot of impressive artworks by Philippine masters and National Artists, why don’t you put up your own museum?

It‘s easy to have a museum, but it is not easy to maintain an art museum because of the maintenance and the security requirements.

How old were you when you started collecting art?

I was in my late 30s or early 40s when I started to buy art. In the beginning I had made some mistakes and I had bought several fakes, but I have learned since. Now, the experts at Sotheby’s tell me that only about one or two percent of the works in my collection are of doubtful authenticity.

Sotheby’s people have seen your art collection?

Yes, they come. They court me like a girl. They want me to auction the works.

Are you okay to sell your art collection? Do you also sell some of your paintings?

Why not? You cannot have everything. Yes, I do sometimes sell, in order to change to better works or new preferences. I’ve been selling, too. And as I say, I’m a businessman.

If you were not a banker, what profession do you think you’d be in?

Sometimes I ask myself that. I think I’m a jack of all trades, but a master of none. However, one positive trait I possess is I don’t give up. I always want to do the best at what I’m doing and to go to the highest level — that is what I aim for.

On your new project, why are you putting up this new technical school?

There are three reasons. First, I want to have a prestigious technical school to express my gratitude and appreciation to my partner Toyota for our successful business partnership of 25 years. Toyota operates in 100 countries worldwide and I’m one of their biggest partners, although our local car market isn’t among the biggest.

Second, I am establishing this school as my gift to the Philippines, that is one of the conditions for the TMP Tech, that it should remain here in the Philippines. This school is one of the ways I am giving back to society and to contribute to social progress.

Third, I envision this school as a world-class and international-caliber technical school. It might not be a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but we shall aim to make TMP Tech world-renown and excellent. Toyota Motor Philippines wants to contribute to the Philippines and global Toyota by becoming the best source of highly skilled automotive professionals in the world. That is our vision. TMP Tech shall produce highly skilled Filipino workers and technicians to serve not only our local dealer network, but also to supply skilled manpower to meet global demand.

What courses will be offered in TMP Tech?

On its first year of operations, TMP Tech will be offering a two-year General Job Program which covers TESDA National Certification levels I to IV, as well as Toyota-specific technical courses. A TMP Tech graduate, therefore, achieves the equivalent of a Toyota Pro-Technician level.

On top of these technical courses, other subjects that will develop the students to be more competitive in the global workforce will also be included like Toyota Way, Toyota Business Practice, Safety and 5S, Kaizen and Standardized Work, Environment, Customer-First, Basic Math, foreign languages, etc.

We shall also offer a one-year Advanced Diagnostic Technician course, which is an advanced program that graduates of the General Job Program course can pursue after.

You have other educational endowments. I recently passed by UP Diliman one night and saw your donation of GT-Toyota Asian Center Auditorium, which looked like an elegant hotel façade.

For UP, I should thank my partner Toyota for our joint contribution there. Since you mentioned hotels, I’m now constructing a big luxury hotel project in Fort Bonifacio — the two-towers Grand Hyatt Hotel Manila and Residences.

When is its completion?

Completion is 2014. The Americans have already reserved Grand Hyatt Manila for their President Obama, that’s what they claim. But a hotel as business, it’s very hard to earn money.

That’s what Lucio Tan told me when I asked why he didn’t make his Eton condominium facing Rizal Park into a hotel. He said it’s not easy to earn money and a hotel needs to renovate every five years?

It is not that easy to manage a hotel. I know because we have the high-end Marco Polo Hotel Cebu. 

How many rooms will your Grand Hyatt Manila have? Will it be the best in the metropolis?

I would like to say so, because in many parts of Asia, the Grand Hyatt is the best hotel. In Tokyo, the No. 1 hotel is Grand Hyatt; also in Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Seoul and Jakarta. The Grand Hyatt Hotel is the most prestigious in the entire Asian region. But the one making the most money is the Shangri-La Hotel chain.

Why?

One of the reasons is the Shangri-La chain owns most of their hotels, while the Grand Hyatt chain only manages most of their hotels in Asia.

The most important lessons from your parents?

I learned to be very hardworking from my father and mother. I also learned many things from friends. Do you know I was actually forced to go into banking?

How and why?

My father tasked me to put up a flourmill for our family, but I ran out of money. Many banks didn’t want to lend me due to my youth, so I got upset and vowed that someday I shall also own a bank.

However, years later when I myself entered banking, I realized I couldn’t blame banks for not being eager to support a young boy of 22 or 23 years old with millions of dollars. When I entered banking, I not only realized I couldn’t blame the bankers, I even came to admire them more.

Who were those bankers in the 1960s?

Go Kim Pah of Equitable Bank, Albino SyCip and Dee K. Chiong of China Bank, most specially Dee K. Chiong. He really didn’t want to support me.

When I was running Metrobank as a small bank, the big banks didn’t want to do business with me. But they were correct; I came to realize that we bankers are ultimately stewards of the people’s money, so it is imperative to be extremely careful and responsible.

Bankers are often quite conservative?

We have to understand that bankers have to do banking according to the rules and regulations of the government. Banking is not just all about money, but more of integrity and trust. That’s why I have to use a big car and always dress up either in barong or suits.

So one secret to the success of Metrobank in over half a century is building up this public trust?

To grow a bank from medium-size to big, it is very hard; we have to keep on working hard to build the name and the trust.

Landmark Department Store boss Enrique Cheng told me that you were among his earliest supporters in the early days of his business?

No, actually I see it differently. The fact that Enrique Cheng is doing business with us, I should be the one to thank him for supporting me and Metrobank.

Are you open to the possibility of buying PNB and Allied Bank from Lucio Tan, since BPI has tried to acquire them?

Do you know that Lucio Tan is a relative? My son is married to his daughter.

You had bought banks before like Solidbank, PSBank, Philbank. The late Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Collantes told me that you’re neighbors in Forbes Park; that one day you came to her house to offer to buy Solidbank?

You know that’s not exactly how it happened; it would have been impolite for me to just visit her. (Laughs).  Buying Solidbank was a good opportunity for Metrobank, it was then in the market. I admire Chito Madrigal Collantes. She was a very outstanding businesswoman. She could be quite fiery, too. She was very decisive and very capable.

Who are the business people you admire or gained inspiration from?

The No. 1 businessman in the Philippines who had inspired me was the late Andres Soriano Sr. I admire his motto: “Profit with honor” — that is exactly my idea of what business or enlightened free enterprise should be.

Very interesting. He was the boss of San Miguel and founder of Philippine Airlines, right?

Yes, he was that visionary, very respected. You know, there’s a Chinese expression, which says that when a country is rich, it wants to become strong. That’s what happened to the US before, it became rich first and then became strong. That is what’s happening in China now. But when a person wants to be outstanding or what we call in Hokkien as hu khui — people who are rich, want to be respected.

You are also respected for having successfully trained obedient, hardworking children like Arthur Ty of Metrobank and Alfred Ty of Federal Land. I heard you’re so strict. They must come to office earlier than the employees and they could only go home after the staff had left?

They consider me a dictator. But it’s true, my children have to come to the office early; they must work hard. In order for a family’s next generation to be successful, you have to be willing to pay the price. If young people enjoy life too much, they wouldn’t be successful. In my own life, I think I had paid the price in order to achieve my goals.

My sons Arthur and Alfred, they grew up with not much in fatherly love, so now that they’re fathers, I noticed that they give more fatherly love to their kids. However, I often remind them not to forget the importance of being strict and of inculcating discipline, for anybody who wants to be successful in this world must pay the price. God is very fair. Success is often given to those who paid the price, who strived, those who worked hard.

Character is one secret to your success?

Do you know who was the world’s No. 1 hero during World War II?

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was once invited to make a speech at a school, and you know what he said? He addressed the students: “Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, give in. Never give in. Never give in. Never give in.” Then he sat down.

It has always been my personal conviction that you don’t just give up. Never give up. This is easy to say, but hard to do.

Where does your motivation come from? You were not exactly poor since your father was a businessman, but why are you still quite driven?

As a child I was so spoiled and had a good life in China, but I had to struggle a lot when I moved here in my youth.

Since way back, I already had clear goals. I wanted to be rich, I wanted to be successful, and I was willing to pay the price in terms of hard work, self-discipline and perseverance.

Throughout my career, I have always been law-abiding and uphold high ethical standards. I never take advantage of my clients and my suppliers. I work a lot, because I want to accomplish more things in life.

I heard that you’re one of the few overseas Chinese among the 10 achievers recently awarded by the government of China along with Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mo Yan and the first Chinese female astronaut the 33-year-old pilot Major Liu Yang?

I want to share with you a personal philanthropic endeavor of mine. I recently donated P100 million to build a Catholic Church in Nanjing City, which I think is now the most beautiful church in China.

You know, 64 years ago, a miracle of apparitions happened at the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Lipa City, Batangas province. The Blessed Mother Mary in 1948 appeared and shared to a novice nun of the Carmelite order, Sister Teresing Castillo — one secret to herself, one for the Carmel convent in Lipa City, one for China, and also one for the entire world. This church project is inspired by that apparition miracle in Lipa and this project was actually made possible through the efforts of my wife Mary.

* * *

Thanks for your feedback! E-mail willsoonflourish@gmail.com or follow WilsonLeeFlores at Twitter.com, like at Facebook, go to willsoonflourish.blogspot.com

BUSINESS GRAND HYATT HOTEL KNOW LUCIO TAN ONE PHILIPPINES TOYOTA
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