Sunday Lifestyle

Who really are the Philippines’ 15 wealthiest billionaires?

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star
Who really are the Philippinesâ 15 wealthiest billionaires?
From right Tessie Sy-Coson, Hans, Henry Jr., Herbert, Elizabeth and Harley Sy

Believe it or not, Forbes has made omissions in its annual list of the Philippines’ wealthiest billionaires. I believe their latest list is closest to the truth, because they have now rectified their 2018 omission of the Zobel family from their top 10 list. I also admire the rival Bloomberg billionaire index.

Another example of a past Forbes error was for a couple of years listing Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong as the No. 1 wealthiest in the Philippines. Though I truly admire Tan for his business prowess and humility, it was apparent that the Americans had mistaken the undeniable nationwide popularity of his good fast-food brand as equivalent to being No. 1 in wealth. 

In the past, their New York-based editors asked me to compile this list for them, but I was very busy at the time so I had to apologize, saying I couldn’t.

If I were to someday do a truly comprehensive list of the country’s richest, it would be uncensored and I’d also include some fabulously rich feudal landlords, political dynasties, even religious leaders and jueteng lords!

Why? Unfortunately for our still semi-feudal society, apart from being good in business, some controversial ways to get rich in the Philippines are: become warlords (in politics), gambling lords (illegal jueteng or legal but immoral POGOs) and Praise the Lord (religion).

Based on my own research and extensive random interviews, here is a list of the Philippines’ top 15 wealthiest billionaires for 2019:

1. The Henry Sy Sr. family of SM, BDO, and Chinabank – The Sy siblings, led by Teresita “Tessie” Sy Coson and Hans Sy are ably maintaining the momentum of success of the SM Group due to their dynamic team effort, competence, integrity, tremendous work ethic and humility.

2. John Gokongwei Jr. of JG Summit, Cebu Pacific Air, and Robinsons retail chain – With his younger brother James Go as family elder, the torch has been ably passed on to the hardworking, down-to-earth next generation led by Gokongwei’s son Lance Gokongwei, his siblings like Robina Gokongwei-Pe and Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng, and cousin Frederick Go.

3. Manuel B. Villar Jr. of Vista Land — There are persistent rumors that the now low-profile, business-focused, Tondo-born, very smart former presidential candidate Manny Villar or his workaholic wife, Senator Cynthia Villar, might run for president in 2022.

Their children are doing well, such as Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) Secretary Mark Villar, daughter Camille as newly elected congresswoman of Las Piñas City, and eldest son Paolo helping run their growing businesses.

4. Andrew Tan of Alliance Global Group, Megaworld, and Emperador Distillers —  Although Tan has passed on leadership to his eldest son Kevin, the self-made industrialist and savvy real estate developer is still quite young compared to Asia’s elder tycoons, so it is expected that he will still be behind various new mega deals or projects here and abroad.

Andrew Tan has already established footholds in Europe with huge investments in world-class brands and industrial ventures in Britain and Spain. He has also recently launched realty development in Quanzhou City, in his ancestral province of Fujian in south China with his business partner, self-made tycoon Johnny Sy (the Philippine distributor of the popular West Lake tires from Hangzhou City, where Alibaba.com is based).

5. Lucio Tan of LT Group, Philippine Airlines (PAL), Philippine National Bank (PNB), Tanduay, and Asia Brewery — The 85-year-old Tan has in the past successfully juggled his responsibilities as active boss of the conglomerate that he created from scratch and also as a philanthropist behind the charities of the Tan Yan Kee Foundation and also as chairman emeritus or the elder statesman of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII).

Although many are still awaiting his succession plans, Tan has in recent years wisely appointed respected top professional managers to help him run his major corporations, such the capable Arnulfo “Wick” A. Veloso as PNB president and CEO, and Gilbert Santa Maria as PAL president and COO. Due to his numerous global assets and private holdings, I believe Tan is still a contender among the Philippines’ top three wealthiest billionaires.

6. Jaime Zobel de Ayala of Ayala Group, BPI, and Globe Telecom —The retired businessman, former Philippine ambassador to Britain and talented photographer has capable sons Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala leading the conglomerate.

The Zobel family has talented professionals like Ayala Land, Inc. president Bobby Dy. Dy is also the uncle of Metrobank president Fabian Dee, Chinabank director and past president Peter SyCip Dee, Ateneo professor and family business expert Dr. Queena Lee-Chua and top cardiologist Dr. Dy Bun Yok. Bobby Dy is also second cousin of the respected Christian philanthropist, 2018 Magsaysay awardee Ambassador Howard Dee and the late Unilab matriarch Beatrice Dee Campos. 

Another top professional is the talented banker and Ayala Corp. chief finance officer Jose Teodoro “TG” Limcaoco, whose family owns Luzon Development Bank, Hertz Philippines, the 24-hour Old Swiss Inn, the Rapide car service chain, hotels, etc.

7. Enrique Razon, Jr. — The brilliant third-generation scion of the family business and grandson of a Spanish immigrant, 59-year-old “ports king” Ricky Razon has successfully built up the International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) into a multinational giant and now one of the world’s leading port and terminal operators. His 28-year-old daughter is venture capitalist and daughter Katrina Razon.

Due to President Rody Duterte’s wise and strategic independent foreign policy reform, which resulted in the normalization of Philippines-China diplomatic ties and the big influx of affluent China tourists, Razon’s once money-losing Bloomberry Resorts Corp. — the owner and operator of Solaire Resort & Casino — has become exceedingly profitable.

Helping Ricky Razon is his capable 44-year-old nephew, ICTSI senior vice president and global corporate head Christian Razon Gonzalez.

8. The Aboitiz family — The death of respected former CEO Jon Ramon Aboitiz has not affected the Aboitiz conglomerate because of the family’s well-planned, transparent and institutionalized succession practices, which have kept the business operations smoothly running.

The conglomerate is now led by the family’s fourth generation, talented brothers Erramon and Sabin (whose wife, Bettina Araneta Aboitiz, was the accomplished former social secretary of ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo). 

9. Mercedes Gotianun’s family — Mercedes Gotamco Tan-Gotianun is the astute and talented cofounder and matriarch of the Filinvest real estate group and East West Bank. The death of her husband, the visionary Andrew Gotianun, has not slowed the momentum of success in their companies due to the strong managerial expertise of their children, led by Josephine Gotianun Yap (whose husband is now Philippine ambassador to Singapore) and Jonathan Gotianun.

10. Ramon S. Ang —The boss of San Miguel Corp., Petron, Eagle Cement and many other top firms is possibly today the Philippines’ most visionary and bullish entrepreneur, with his various grand projects such as his new international airport in Bulacan and others.

11. George SK Ty’s family — The children of the late boss of Metrobank Group, Philippine Savings Bank, Toyota Philippines and AXA Philippines — led by Arthur Ty and his younger brother Alfred Ty — have continued to strengthen their businesses with the support of capable professional managers and topnotch executives. Alfred’s wife Cherry Tan Ty is a daughter of Lucio Tan and younger sister of FFCCCII vice president Michael Tan.

12. The Consunji family — The former undisputed title of the Philippines’ “Construction King” has passed from DMCI Group founder and former respected Marcos-era DPWH Secretary David Consunji to his eldest son and heir Isidro, “Sid” Consunji. The founder’s other children help run the family’s diverse businesses in mining, power generation and water services.

The late, self-made tycoon engineer David Consunji told me before that he was a Chinese mestizo and the direct patrilineal descendant of the great teacher Confucius.

13. Carlos Chan — Similar to the late George Ty, Carlos Chan and his younger brother, the famous Bench fashion brand founder Ben Chan, were second-generation sons of a successful Chinese immigrant entrepreneur and built their business to become bigger. Starting in the pre-war era as trader of gewgaws and coffee, Liwayway Marketing Corp. in 1974 started manufacturing Oishi snacks, which has now become an international brand with a strong presence all over China (the world’s biggest consumer market), where its Chinese brand name is pronounced in Mandarin as “Xang hao jia.”

Ambassador Carlos Chan has been the Philippine special envoy to China under various presidents, including President Duterte. Unknown to many, Chan is also a low-key philanthropist. This year, in support of newly elected Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) officers, led by president Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, Chan pledged to donate 100 public schools through FFCCCII’s “Operation Barrio Schools” civic project to help alleviate rural poverty all over the Philippines.

His children help run the businesses, such as the Shanghai-based Larry Chan, who is CEO of their vast China operations and also an honorary director of Anvil Business Club. 

14. Lucio Co — Similar to the late George Ty, Lucio Co of Puregold and Philippine Bank of Communications (PBCom) had a wealthy entrepreneur father the late Chinese community philanthropist Luis Co Chi Kiat, and he has built the family fortune to become much bigger with the active help of his talented wife, Susan Co, and their children.

15. Roberto Ongpin — This Harvard-educated former SGV Group head and former Marcos-era Trade and Industry Minister Bobby Ongpin has an almost similar life story to John Gokongwei Jr. Both Ongpin and Gokongwei are descendants of wealthy, self-made Chinese immigrant tycoons of the 19th century who were also philanthropic Chinese community leaders in Manila and Cebu, respectively, but their families lost their fortunes, only to be rebuilt by these two individuals in their lifetimes.

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Thanks for your feedback at willsoonflourish@gmail.com! Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Buy PhilSTAR’s Tagalog tabloid Pilipino STAR Ngayon every Friday and read my column “Kuwentong Panadero.” Read also https://investment.fwd.com.ph/experts/asia-s-business-leaders-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them.

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