Cora D. Ong: A delicious success story

Cover photo by Ernie Peñaredondo

MANILA, Philippines - CDO founder Cora Ong’s office is lined with her collection of mother and child paintings, plates, and figurines. Prominent also in her spacious office are photos of her family.

“Women have the motherly instinct and charisma,” says Ong on the unique qualities that women entrepreneurs bring to the workplace. An active member of the Women’s Business Council, Ong adds, “Women are more approachable. My employees can relate their problems to me, both personal and work-related.”

Originally a dietician, Ong says that her business started out of boredom. “I was taking care of my eldest and second children,” she recalls. During this time, she took cooking lessons where she learned to make skinless longganiza and siopao.

Ong then decided to combine the two and make more than the usual asado and bola-bola siopao – she came up with siopao that had longganiza filling. “It was a hit among friends and neighbors,” she says. With this first unique product, Ong launched what would become a highly successful career in the food business.

Eventually, Ong got tired of making siopao dough – “I was making everything by hand then” – so she stopped making her famed longganiza-filled siopao, and added tocino to her offerings, a product that CDO is still known for today.

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“It was really like a ‘mom and pop’ business before,” Ong says of the beginnings of CDO in 1975. Starting with only two helpers, Ong shares, “I was in the kitchen cooking, buying the ingredients, and doing all the mixing myself.”

Even Ong’s husband, who was a teacher at the Ateneo, started helping out in the small business. It was an unfortunate accident in 1977, where he cut his hand, that made them seriously consider investing in manufacturing equipment. “In a way it became a blessing,” says Ong of the accident. Concentrating on the business together, they were able to further diversify their products.

With the support of her family, friends, and neighbors, Ong was able to grow the business little by little. Always thinking of more innovations to offer, she was able to apply her knowledge on nutrition, experimental cooking, and food technology to develop new products.

“I never dreamt of having a business as big as this,” she says of her success. “It’s because of luck, divine providence, and passion for what I do. I love my work.”

It was not an easy road to success, though. Ong says that her number one problem, as in any start-up business, was capitalization. Another problem was sourcing good quality materials and ingredients.

“During the Asian crisis, many companies suffered a lot,” she says, recalling another problem that the company had to overcome. Because of financial constraints, consumers started to be more cost-conscious. To address this, CDO started offering smaller, more affordable, sizes of their products. By prevailing over the various problems that have arisen through the years, Ong knows that the company has become strong, well-established, and truly successful.

At the time she founded CDO, Ong recalls that there were not so many women business executives. Now, she notes that women have really asserted themselves in the business world, as well as in various other fields.

“I never saw a difference between men and women,” she says. “Women are very much involved now and many are very successful in their own fields.”

From their first product to the selection that CDO presently offers in the market, innovation is what Ong says sets the company apart from rest. “We don’t just do the usual products. We make sure our products are of high quality, those that are new and exciting in the market,” she adds, noting that they started the corned tuna trend in the market.

Among the company’s successes, Ong says that CDO’s greatest achievement is its growth. “It has expanded a lot and generated more employment and livelihood for the community.” The company gives back further to the community through their foundation that addresses the nutritional needs of impoverished children.

Being able to support the community is what truly motivates Ong to make the business expand and grow. “When I see so many unemployed, and how employees, who have families that depend on them, look up to you – that is what motivates me,” she says with satisfaction.

Now semi-retired – her children, who are all involved in the family business, are set to continue making the company flourish – Ong says, “I am not after the many awards anymore at my age. I cherish the recognitions I have already received. They are a legacy for my children and grandchildren.” 

On her vision for the company’s future, she says, “I want to make more products that are affordable and can be found on every Filipino table. I want to continue to innovate.” She also hopes to bring CDO products to other countries.

“Love your work,” Ong says, revealing the secret to her success. “Enjoy what you are doing. Focus on your project and be involved – be hands on. Have perseverance and dedication.” 

For those – men and women alike – who aspire to build companies like Ong’s, she recommends attending the W2W conference on Nov. 8, an initiative of the Women’s Business Council. “So many experienced speakers will be there to discuss different topics,” she says. “It will be inspiring for both successful and aspiring entrepreneurs.”

The Women’s Business Council of the Philippines (WBCP) will hold the WOMEN CONNECT: W2W Women to Women Mentoring Summit Part 2 on Nov. 8 from 8:30 a.m. To 5:30 p.m. at the Philippine Trade & Training Center (Gil Puyat Ave. cor Roxas Blvd., Pasay City). The event has an inspiring line up of speakers and a special treat for lunch which remains a surprise. Registration fee is P4,000; student rate is P1,500, government, NGO and academe rate is P2,500. The fee includes lunch, snacks and many gifts from sponsors. There also is a raffle for a Jewelmer pearl pendant. To register, log on to www.wbcp.ph or call 813-1028 (Gladys) or email wbcphils@gmail.com.