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John Gokongwei, Jr. returns to Cebu for mall launch, and will focus on philanthropy when he turns 90 |

Sunday Lifestyle

John Gokongwei, Jr. returns to Cebu for mall launch, and will focus on philanthropy when he turns 90

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star

CEBU CITY — It was a poignant homecoming for one of Asia’s legendary “rags-to-riches” business taipans on Dec. 10, when 89-year-old industrialist John L. Gokongwei, Jr. returned here with his entire family to lead the festive inaugural ceremony for his new 4.7-hectare Robinsons Galleria Cebu complex. He had personally negotiated the purchase of the land. Gokongwei also previously named his Cebu Pacific Air after his beloved childhood hometown.

Gokongwei said he plans “to retire completely from business next year at age 90, but I’m going to keep the position as chairman of our philanthropic Gokongwei Brothers Foundation of which I am chairman and my daughter Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng is general manager.”

For all his achievements in shopping malls, food manufacturing, real estate, aviation, power generation, petrochemicals and other businesses, John Gokongwei, Jr.’s greatest legacy will be his philanthropy, which has received the bulk of his self-made fortune.

Gokongwei said his family’s Gokongwei Brothers Foundation is dedicated to supporting education. It supports scholarships as well as grand bequests like donations for Ateneo de Manila University’s Gokongwei School of Management and De La Salle University’s Gokongwei College of Engineering. The foundation is the largest stockholder in JG Summit Holdings, Inc.  

A possible new major donation recipient is his eldest child Robina Gokongwei-Pe’s alma mater, University of the Philippines (UP). Gokongwei said: “Maybe next is UP. My daughter Robina is arranging for me to meet the president of UP after the holidays. Robina is also the head of UP’s basketball team, which is always at the bottom (of the UAAP competitions).”

Continuous evolving of Robinsons malls in look, facilities

When asked to describe the new crown jewel of his JG Summit Holdings’ 41 malls nationwide — designed by award-winning global architecture firm RTKL of California and by local design firm of Architect Albert S. Yu — Gokongwei told me: “I think this is the most beautiful mall in the Philippines.”

His younger brother JG Summit Holdings chairman James L. Go said that RTKL also designed their successful Robinsons Magnolia Mall in Quezon City. When asked if they’re seemingly upgrading the look of Robinsons malls, Go replied: “Not upgrading, but we’re continuously evolving and becoming better. Like this Robinsons Galleria Cebu, its design is most unique: never boring, high-ceilinged, good circulation for people, excellent.”

Echoing this continuous evolution of Robinsons Malls, senior marketing manager Mitch Araullo said: “Robinsons has 136 movie houses nationwide. Our cinema here in Robinsons Galleria Cebu is our first in the Philippines with a large-format screen. Of our six theaters here in Robinsons Galleria Cebu, two will be VIP cinemas with their own lounges and their own bars where customers can order wines or cocktails. Both are opening in February or March 2016.”

This new mall’s grand launch was graced by Cebu’s top government and business leaders, including entertainers who flew in from Metro Manila such as Robinsons Malls endorser actress Maja Salvador (who was repeatedly greeted by loud shrieks from her fans), singer Lani Misalucha, Asia’s Got Talent winner El Gamma Penumbra and TV host Robi Domingo. 

Among the various dignitaries at the inaugural were Cebu Governor Hilarion “Junjun” Davide III (who said: “I respect Mr. Gokongwei and his family for their work ethic, vision and their contributions to the development of Cebu”), Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama (who respectfully bowed his head towards the tycoon seated in a wheelchair, took Gokongwei’s right hand and pressed his forehead to it), the tycoon’s wife Elizabeth Yu-Gokongwei and his uncle University of Cebu chairman Augusto Go, JG Summit Holdings, Inc. chairman James L. Go and president Lance Y. Gokongwei, Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. president Robina Gokongwei-Pe, Robinsons Land Corp. president Frederick Go, Gokongwei’s friendly competitor nephew Edmund Gaisano and grandnephew Henry Gaisano II of the Gaisano mall chain, Antonio “Tony” Go of Maxicare, and others.

On Cebu, Philippine future, politics, globalization & advice to the youth

On his province, Gokongwei said: “The economic growth of Cebu in the past 10 years has been tremendous. I couldn’t recognize it when I came here. I come here once a year. It’s fantastic here; I’m from Cebu. I was one year old when I came here to Cebu from Fujian, south China. I’m Cebuano. I left for Manila when I was 22.”

On the future of the Philippines, Gokongwei said: “I am optimistic about the Philippine future. Yes, the momentum is there. We have to compete in industry and tourism, we’re still weak in industry. We’re good in BPOs and sending workers abroad… I think the future looks good, unless there’s a big recession in the world.”

On the Philippine politics and forthcoming elections, Gokongwei opined: “I don’t want to engage in politics, it’s too hot. Our politics here is… amazing, too many things are happening… In the US, they also have Donald Trump, he wants to kick out all the Muslims. How about those already in America, is he thinking of putting them into concentration camps?”

On JG Summit Holdings’ successful forays into ASEAN and China markets, the challenges of globalization, Gokongwei explained: “10 to 15 years ago, we were already talking about this ASEAN integration, so we’ve been building this before. We’re doing well in the region, like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia. Vietnam is run well, we’ve been there 10 years and they’re treating us very well. Indonesia has 250 million people and their per capita income is higher than us here in the Philippines. Of ASEAN’s original five member countries, we in the Philippines have the lowest per capita income. We should contribute to Philippine development. I want to make sure our company is in good hands, that it will be good for the country, for the stockholders.”

When asked whom he considers an inspiration, Gokongwei replied: “In Asia, it’s Li Ka Shing.” Both Gokongwei and Li Ka Shing almost have similar sagas. Gokongwei was 12 years old when his father died and Li Ka Shing of Hong Kong was 15 when his dad died; both of them had to stop schooling. Both became industrialists who diversified into other industries. Gokongwei and Li Ka Shing personify traditional Confucian values of hard work and frugality, as well as devoting much of their material wealth to philanthropy, focusing mainly on education.

What are the dreams of John Gokongwei, Jr. now? He chuckled, saying: “At almost 90? My dream is just to be healthy and to be alive.”

His advice to young people in the 21st century? “Dream big, focus, work very hard… Simple, very simple, I think you have to choose work you’ll be good at and be consistent.”

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