Gentle & genteel Nedy

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Gentle & genteel Nedy
Zenaida ‘Nedy’ Tantoco, retailer, philanthropist, patroness of the arts, loving mother and grandmother. She was 77.
Joanne Rae Ramirez

She was gentle as well as genteel. She was also said to have a 36/7, so to speak, work ethic.

Rustan’s chairman Nedy Tantoco passed away last week, after nurturing the legacy her late parents Rustan’s founders, Benny and Glecy Tantoco, left behind, and steering it to the next level.

Furthermore, she entrusts it to third-generation Tantocos who have her example to emulate.

One of Nedy’s close friends, Glenn Gale, said: “You didn’t have to explain. Just mention the name ‘Nedy’ and the world — for she was an impressive presence here and abroad — knew who you were talking about. Elegant, stately, retail genius (but a fierce cookie when it came down to business) of indomitable spirit, and a rock to lean on if you were treasured to be a dear friend, this wonderful and classy lady was — and forever will live on — as a one-off creation. When God made her, He right away destroyed the mold! At this time of immeasurable grief — and utter disbelief at her sudden passing — it is too painful to even reflect on her countless attributes varying from a heart of abundant gold to a soul overflowing with compassion for others. Here was a life well lived and to its fullest. Our earthly loss is surely heaven’s gain. Those whose paths she crossed can forever claim to be truly blessed.”

My colleague Büm D. Tenorio Jr. described her as a “kind force.”

I last saw Nedy at the Christmas party of Rustan’s Makati. She was so gracious she asked me to join the family picture, making me realize her trade secret — aside from being a purveyor of taste, Rustan’s considers friends and employees, “family.”

Here, I quote from an article I wrote on Nedy in December 2010.

With her partner Patrick Jacinto, son Anton Huang, president of the SSI group, and granddaughter Nikki.

When she took over the helm of Rustan’s in 2008, Zenaida “Nedy” Tantoco, eldest daughter of Rustan’s founders, the late Glecy Rustia Tantoco and Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., knew what she was going to bring into the luxury department store chain: “A woman’s touch.” It was the touch Rustan’s welcomed as the Philippines and the rest of the world reeled from a financial crisis.

It was a reassuring woman’s touch, a things-will- be-okay touch. It was a soft and gentle touch, as Nedy is known to have a compassionate heart for employees. But it was also a firm touch, for she determinedly kept Rustan’s on track.

“You have to think positive. The spoken word is very powerful. Whatever you think and say is what will happen. That’s why I’m always very positive,” affirms Nedy as we meet in the boardroom of Rustan’s Makati. She punctuates her sentences with a smile and a light chuckle that brighten up her eyes.?Waiting in an adjoining room for our interview to finish are two of Nedy’s seven pet Yorkshire terriers — a clue to the gentle and playful side of the woman on whose shoulders lie the challenge of upholding a name and a legacy. The boardroom, where the photoshoot also takes place, underscores the influence of Nedy’s parents in their children’s lives. On one wall hang two life-sized Galicano portraits of Glecy and Benny Tantoco, and displayed on glass shelves are the couple’s meetings with many of their business partners through the years — YSL, Nina Ricci, to name a few.

Nedy is her parents’ daughter — the Assumption Convent-bred Rustan’s scion remembers her mother as the marketing wiz, and her father, as the supportive husband who made sure the business was humming.

With the author, October 2023.

“My mom would not have been the success that she was without my dad, who took care of the back office — the accounting, the warehousing, security. Somebody had to do that. During her time, women were not so liberated, so my mom could not travel on her own to meet her business partners. My dad accompanied her to all her meetings, and so he had to give up his job,” is how Nedy describes the two greatest influences in her life — the True North that her inner compass points to whenever she needs direction.

As a young girl, Nedy was exposed by her mother to the hard work that went behind the growth of a glamorous enterprise. True, she had the rare opportunity of meeting the legendary Christian Dior when she was a young girl, but the thrill was to be followed by a sobering reality — she had to train in his enterprise for six months.

“From my mother, I learned the importance of hard work and perseverance. In the first two years of her marriage, my mother had a difficult time because she didn’t have the blessings of her parents and it was wartime. But she was a natural businesswoman and she was willing to work hard. She would tell me the story of how, one day, she was walking down Manila and she saw a long line. There were just so many people she decided to just line up also to see what was in the beginning of the line. When she got to the front she realized she was in a line for agents who wanted to sell cigarettes. So she became an agent for cigarettes. And she made a lot of money!”

Working Girl

Although given a more than comfortable life by her hardworking parents, it didn’t occur to Nedy to just be a woman of leisure.

“I have worked in Rustan’s all my life, from my high school and college days when I assisted my mother in the store and accompanied her on buying trips abroad. I experienced working from the bottom up, from display and merchandising, to buying and marketing. Understanding the business from top to bottom, I believe, makes a person a good leader,” says Nedy. ??Associates say Nedy, who is also the president of Stores Specialists, Inc. (SSI), the business that has brought the major luxury brands to the Philippines, from Ferragamo, Gucci, YSL, Tod’s, Kate Spade, Burberry, Prada, to recently, Tory Burch, doesn’t just work 24/7. “She works 36/7!” marvels an associate of many years.

She also knows the business, having been exposed to it at an early age. “(These days) shoppers are becoming more prudent in their spending. But Rustan’s has thrived for over half a century because we know that it’s less about price than about value. You get what you pay for, as the saying goes. The brands and products we offer are top of the line when it comes to quality, craftsmanship, innovation or aesthetic beauty. Our customers recognize that, and even in challenging times, value rather than price is the deciding factor for every shopper.”

Nedy also wants to “give back” and “pay it forward,” Christmas or not.

“With our charity partner, The Children’s Hour, we plan to distribute aid to the children who need it most. In addition, for Christmas, Rustan’s plans to provide groups of needy children and their families with gifts, toys and a Noche Buena feast so that they, too, can feel the spirit of Christmas,” she shares.

With grandson Kameron Huang.
Photo by Joanne Rae Ramirez

Being a pioneer and leader in retail, what else is Nedy proud of? “I think one of the things I’m most proud of is how our family has been able to continue the legacy of my mother Glecy. While my mother is no longer with us (she died in 1994 at the age of 70), I believe she would have been proud of what her family has accomplished, and that makes me proud as well.”

At the end of the day, Nedy says she has much to thank God for. “I begin and end each day in prayer, thanking the Lord for all the blessings as well as the trials, for I know He will only give me challenges that He knows I can overcome.”

And overcome trials she has. “I have one paramount philosophy: Trust in yourself and in the Lord. I have learned to trust in myself, in my instinct and my feelings. And I believe that, through this and prayer, God will always guide me to the right path.”

That cheerful spirit again. Nedy Tantoco brings to Rustan’s not only a woman’s touch, or her mother Glecy’s touch — or the proverbial Midas’ touch. Nedy brings to her work her own unique touch — and it’s a legacy on its own.



You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.

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