Starweek Magazine

The golden age of Dennis Uy

Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star
The golden age of Dennis Uy

Dennis Uy is at the helm of a growing empire.

MANILA, Philippines - It’s not an easy task keeping track of Dennis Uy and his ever-expanding portfolio of companies. It seems that at every turn, there he is acquiring yet another business or enterprise, or increasing his stake in companies he is already involved in.

The latest addition to his growing empire – it may be premature, but it’s looking more and more like an empire – is Enderun Colleges, a school of hospitality management and culinary arts located at McKinley Hill in Bonifacio Global City, his first venture into the education sector.

As of this writing, Uy has not made an announcement on the deal.

“Will let you know if we close,” Uy tells STARweek.

But the 43-year-old Davao-based businessman hardly looks the part of a corporate Pac-man. Though he rides a sleek, black Lexus and sports a multimillion-peso watch on his wrist, Uy is a simple, soft-spoken gentleman and not one to call attention to himself or his achievements – and there are a lot.

Uy disrupted the top three oil industry players in the country – the so-called Big Three of Petron Corp., Pilipinas Shell and Chevron – with the entry of his Phoenix Petroleum in 2005.

He is perceived to be media shy, more comfortable chatting with journalists over dinner that includes his favorite Hainanese chicken, a green salad with some artichokes and a bottle of Dalmore 12 rather than in a formal press conference.

Yet, no matter how low-key he attempts to be, Uy cannot conceal his success and his aggressive expansion to various industries – from logistics to gaming and now to education.

Strike while the iron is hot, so goes an old adage and it’s what Uy – fueled by passion, armed with hard work and lots of guts – seems to be doing. He has been described as the next big tycoon or the businessman to watch.

And while he is already a known entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience and a track record of building businesses to profit and growth, there’s no time like the present that has seen Uy on such an aggressive expansion mode.

Observers in the business circle say this is not surprising given his close ties to Malacañang.

“That is expected,” says a top official from a rival oil company in the Philippines.

But it’s not his fault that his close friend and fellow Davaoeño, Rodrigo Duterte, would be the 16th President of the Republic.

For sure, Uy isn’t complaining. After all, in the Philippine business environment, who you know matters a lot.

While other tycoons struggle to get even just one foot inside Malacañang to get to Duterte’s “inner circle,” Uy knew Digong long before he even considered the presidency.

Indeed, this might well be called the Golden Age of Dennis Uy.

Since last year’s presidential elections, Uy has been on a deal-making spree, quietly sealing business ventures left and right, but he stresses that these projects have been planned even before the age of Duterte.

In April, his holding company Udenna Corp. successfully gained entry into the 2GO Group, an integrated logistics company, after months of tumultuous legal battle with other shareholders.

“We are committed to bring 2GO to new heights,” Uy says.

Uy, chairman of Udenna, says the company is poised to further expand its footprint in the logistics sector with the planned consolidation of its stake in 2GO with its other shipping businesses under Chelsea Logistics.

Just weeks after gaining entry into 2GO, Uy announced a plan to bring Chelsea to public hands this July to raise up to P8 billion for the company’s expansion.

“We are accelerating the expansion of Chelsea Logistics, with a view to making it the prime mover of goods and passengers in the Philippines,” Uy says.

He also just recently announced his foray into the lucrative gambling business.

The Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., the gaming regulator, has granted Udenna a license to develop a $300-million, 12-hectare integrated resort and casino in Mactan, Cebu.

Lapu-Lapu Leisure Mactan will have iconic modern buildings, infinity pools, a skydiving center on a pier, a retail complex, a convention center, luxury hotels and villas, specialty dining options, private residences, and condominium suites – the works.

But Uy has no plans to stop there.

“We will always look for opportunities to grow,” he tells STARweek.

In the last week of May, Udenna sold its 25 percent stake in Phoenix to ES Consultancy Corp., a little known financial strategy company, for P4 billion, the money to be used to fund the development of Uy’s casino.

Phoenix also revealed plans to acquire the liquefied petroleum gas business of Malaysia-based Petronas Dagangan Berhad in the Philippines, marking its foray into the LPG industry.

“We are very excited about this asset not only because it represents a new product that Phoenix can offer but also because we know that it has been operated in line with the operating standard of Petronas, a Fortune 500 company,” Uy says.

Uy’s success did not happen overnight but entrepreneurship is in his blood, coming from a family of entrepreneurs. “I was born to parents based in Davao City,” he shares.

He is the eldest and the only boy among four children of an entrepreneurial family of Chinese descent.

As the eldest sibling, Dennis is the ideal kuya, says his younger sister Debbie.

“Mabait na kuya, responsible, caring and generous,” she tells STARweek.



Dennis belongs to the third generation of the Uy family whose ancestors Ega Uy and wife Tao Sui Eng were migrants from Fujian, China who settled in Davao as merchants.

Even as a young boy, he was already doing some hustling. “I liked playing basketball. On the side, I would sell school supplies and basketball cards to my classmates,” he says.

He was exposed to business at an early age. His grandparents owned a shop selling fishing equipment and bread. “My parents, meanwhile, operated a small business trading copra,” he says.

After finishing his studies – he obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business

Management at the De La Salle University in Manila in 1993 – he spent a decade working in the family’s copra business.

“I helped in the family business after graduating, spending time with older businessmen,” he says.

While he was in college, he was already trading in the stock market and when he later decided to venture into his own business, he was able to fund this with income from stocks.

He started with a barbecue business, Dencio’s, which is not related to the popular food chain in Manila. He put this up because after playing basketball, he often found himself hungry but could not find a good place to eat.

Known for its chicken inasal, Dencio’s expanded to six outlets, but he later passed this on to his sister when he moved to the oil retailing business, where he made a name for himself.

He started with a six million-barrel oil terminal for existing players in Davao and as he learned the ropes of the trade, he thought of having his own brand.

“Hindi naman pwede benta lang ng benta (You can’t just always be selling),” he reasons.

His main problem was coming up with a catchy name. “I couldn’t think of a name. How about Gas Boy? Ang baduy,” he laughs.

He sought the help of an expert in the creative industry to create a brand that would be able to compete with the oil industry’s Big Three.

“I knew someone, a good creative artist. I asked him, ‘Bai, gawan mo ako ng brand that can stand out against the Big Three’.”

Thus, Phoenix Petroleum was born in 2005, opening its first station in Digos City, the capital of Davao del Sur.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, Phoenix has no doubt disrupted the industry. By the time it listed in 2007, it had at least 20 gasoline stations, mostly in the Southern Philippines, from an initial five. Now, it has 505 gasoline stations and accounts for 6.9 percent of the market as of the first half of last year, according to data from the Department of Energy.

Citing this data, Phoenix said it is “on track to becoming the third largest oil company in the country by the end of 2017.”

Aside from being an acute businessman, Uy is also a known sports enthusiast and patron.

Like most Filipinos, Uy obviously loves basketball – as a player, fan and patron. It had always been his dream to enter the Philippine Basketball Association, Asia’s first professional basketball league.

This dream came true last year when Phoenix purchased the Barako Bull Energy franchise.

It’s this love for basketball that brought Uy and the Sy family together since way back, says Hans Sy in a recent interview.

Uy and the Sy family’s SM Investments Corp. are partners in the 2GO Group.

Before that, the Sy group’s BDO Unibank helped Uy when he was just starting Phoenix.

Indeed, Uy’s love for basketball is legendary, even back in Davao, so when Duterte became president last year, he appointed Uy as Presidential Adviser for Sports.

In this role, Uy plans to advance the interests of the country’s athletes and elevate sports in general.

Aside from basketball, he is also an avid golfer (he has a handicap of 23), his sister Debbie says. Phoenix holds a yearly golf tournament in Davao.

When he is not busy with his different businesses or sports-related commitments, Uy tries to hit the gym or spend more time with his lovely wife and their two children. “He travels with his family when he has the time,” Debbie says.

His wife, Cherylyn Chiong Uy, is a fashion and style icon in Davao and is known for her striking beauty. She is a graduate of Business and Finance from Ateneo de Davao and is also one of the pioneers of Udenna Corp.

They have two daughters, Chelsea Denise and Charlize Donatela, and are expecting their third bundle of joy any day now.

Asked about his secrets to success, Uy says it has a lot to do with timing.

“Timing, timing lang. That is life. It’s destiny,” he says.

But it also has a lot to do with hard work and continuous learning.

“Until now, I spend time learning from talking to people and being curious,” Uy says.

Debbie says her brother also loves to read business books.

And perhaps, it also has a lot to do with sheer luck – having a direct line to Malacañang and being able to convince Duterte, who publicly criticizes oligarchs, that businessmen can help him and the country.

“I met President Duterte when he was still the mayor of Davao City. As a businessman, I was able to contribute to discussions on the economic potential of Davao and how the business sector could help unlock that,” Uy says.

Now with his friend at the helm of the country, Uy says as a businessman, he is all too willing to continue helping.

“When we established Phoenix, we supported the city through road safety programs and disaster relief, among others. And we intend to continue contributing to the growth not only of the city but of the entire country,” he says.

In Greek mythology, the Golden Age denotes a period of stability and prosperity. It is said that during this time, people did not have to work because the earth provided more than enough food. And so they lived to a very old age with a youthful appearance.

It’s the perfect metaphor to describe Uy’s life nowadays.

And it’s not just because of the stability and prosperity that he enjoys but because the man still looks not a day older than when he was in college.

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