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Benny Tantoco pays it forward by establishing a business school in the university that gave him free education when he had nothing |

Sunday Lifestyle

Benny Tantoco pays it forward by establishing a business school in the university that gave him free education when he had nothing

LIFE & STYLE - Millet M. Mananquil - The Philippine Star

Rustan’s 93-year-old patriarch, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., has a wish list. And he will have  a very happy birthday — his 94th — on April 7, because a major dream on his list has just been fulfilled. But first let’s rewind to the time when Tantoco was 16..

Fresh from high school, Benny Tantoco knew he couldn’t afford to get a college education because his father had just died. So he presented himself to Vincent Fabella, owner of the Jose Rizal College, for a possible scholarship. Mr. Fabella saw his potential and granted him a full scholarship. Tantoco would go to school in the morning and proceed to the movie theater owned by the Rufinos where he worked as the usher checking the tickets of movie patrons. He worked there from 1937 to the ’60s, rising from ticket guy to company treasurer, reporting directly to Ernesto Rufino, the owner. Tantoco graduated with his BCS degree at Jose Rizal College in 1941.

Fast forward: Early this week, on  March 31, the patriarch  led the launch  of the  Dr. Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. Graduate School of Business at his alma mater, now the Jose Rizal University. Amid applause,  the seal of this graduate school bearing Tantoco’s handsome likeness sculpted in brass by Sajid Imao was unveiled. It was a poignant moment.

“My father is paying it forward,” said Nedy Tantoco, chairman and CEO of  Rustan’s, “with the establishment of this graduate  school of business. He is making it possible for many deserving individuals to achieve a master’s degree and thus fulfil their destiny. This is also a tribute to his good friend and mentor, Dr. Armand Fabella. For a person who could not afford the cost of such college education, this meant a lot to my father then, but also to us, his family, now.”

His eldest grandson, Donnie Tantoco, added that his Lolo Benny’s motive in building this graduate school was to pay a huge debt of gratitude when he had nothing, both to the school and to society.

“My Lolo Benny is a big believer in education. He knew that if he didn’t go to college, it would be a dead end for him. He hopes that this graduate school would benefit young people who are talented but have not enough means, like he once was. The cost of education here is affordable. My Lolo Benny’s dream is  to make this school have a topnotch masters of business program that the middle class and the working class can afford. Lolo wants to give back to the school that gave him a college degree for free when he couldn't afford it. One of Jose Rizal University’s requests is for us to teach and share our knowhow with their business school.”

Teach and share — that’s what his Lolo Benny  has been doing with Donnie. “For the past 20 years now, I’ve had breakfast every Wednesday with Lolo Benny,” explained Donnie. “It’s like my Tuesdays with Morrie.”

So it was during his Wednesdays with Lolo Benny that Donnie learned the hard  facts about real life and business. Donnie took his economics degree from Connecticut College  and finished his MBA in Kellogg, majoring  in marketing as well as accounting (upon the advice of his father, Rico Tantoco). But it seems that Donnie is getting his Ph.D from those breakfasts with Lolo Benny.

“The greatest strength of a company is its people,” Lolo Benny would tell Donnie. “Kung mahusay ang mga tao mo, lamang ka na. Kung asintado ang mga tao mo, panalo ka na.”

Donnie stressed  how his grandfather would tell him: “Never stop learning. The whole world is a classroom and every person you meet is a potential teacher.”

The importance of an excellent  education is certainly a reason why Lolo Benny wants this business school to be one of the best. "Wharton is for finance, Kellogg is for marketing and Harvard is for general management, and here in the Philippines my Lolo Benny wants this school to have the best program for entrepreneurship and organization development — leading, managing, bringing out the best in people.” Jose Rizal University itself boasts a sterling  list of alumni who include — aside from Tantoco — President Ramon Magsaysay, Justice Jose Ma. Paredes, Armand Fabella, Placido Mapa and Rafael Recto.




Having established the Dr. Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. Graduate School of Business, the patriarch looks back further  with gratitude to Bulacan where he got free  elementary and high school education at the Malolos public school. “Lolo Benny is putting all  teachers through a specially designed  masters of education program for free. He wants to upgrade their skills so that they can become better teachers. He said that the best way to improve the quality of education in Malolos is to invest on the teachers.”

Ambassador Tantoco told his grandson: “A person with no roots cannot be strong and have a meaningful life. My roots are in this school in Malolos and I want you to be connected to my roots,” to which Donnie replied: “Your roots are my roots.”

With grandson Anton Huang now at the helm of the SSI Group as its president, Donnie Tantoco was likewise appointed  president of Rustan Commercial Corporation, which established the first store conceptualized by Rustan’s iconic founder Glecy Tantoco in 1952 together with Bienvenido Tantoco Sr.  Anton and Donnie are the brilliant leaders of the third-generation Tantocos that call them “Manong” out of respect and affection.

“As my grandfather told me, my Ninay Nedy Tantoco, the chairman and CEO of Rustan’s, is my boss and I am there to support her vision,” said Donnie. Indeed, under Nedy’s leadership, the SSI  Group gained supremacy as  the number one high-end retailer in the Philippines with over 103 international brands and 655 specialty stores (as of June 2014) while Rustan’s remains the pioneering upscale lifestyle store in the country.

The news coming from business circles is that Adora Department Store, the upscale store founded in 2008 by the Ambassador's daughter Marilou Tantoco-Pineda and her son Eman Pineda, will soon be part of the Rustan Group, as agreed upon by both Rustan and Adora. Was this also on the wish list of Lolo Benny? To see all the companies of his children together in one group?

“I think Lolo Benny is always right. He is always motivated by the right thing. I am so lucky to have a lolo who is my second father, who inspires me all the time and whose company I greatly enjoy,” sighed Donnie. “I think he is a great man and a great human being.”

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