STAR president and CEO Miguel Belmonte:A man after his mother's own heart

- Camille Bersola -

MANILA, Philippines - The media empire now worth billions was not inherited from a long-existing dynasty nor was it acquired from another press baron. At the time veteran newsmen founded The Philippine STAR under the most difficult circumstances in 1986, doomsayers said the misadventure would last for a year. The future was not so clear.

Soon enough, legions of readers patronized The STAR and supported its cause of defending the country’s newly regained freedom. The STAR grew in popularity, its positive approach to news providing readers all over the archipelago a refreshing, much-appreciated change.

Then, in 1994, the company faced a crisis following the untimely demise of its founding chairman and guiding light Betty Go-Belmonte, “BGB” to the newspaper’s staff, whom she cared for like her own family. For the second time in the paper’s existence, the future looked unclear.

Luckily, fate had other plans for The Philippine STAR, and it involved Betty Go-Belmonte’s son, then 30-year-old Miguel Belmonte, who would take on the daunting task of running the family corporation four years later.

Admittedly, he had big shoes to fill. “Mom’s death was a big blow to the company. It was almost like losing the heart and soul of The STAR,” he said.

Being the youngest of three sons, Miguel also felt that his mom had other plans for him at first. He confessed, “In the beginning, I was not the one meant to lead the family corporation, but maybe Mom thought that I was the one prepared to make the sacrifices – to join a company, which at that time had no money and whose future was not certain. We were not even sure that the company would survive.”

A young Miguel with his mom Betty during the STAR’s early years

Becoming president and CEO in 1998 was nothing fortuitous either.

“It was the worst time, because we were right in the middle of the Asian financial crisis. It was really a big challenge for me from the onset,” he recalled.

Looking at The STAR today, however, it is plain to see that Miguel has deftly steered the company to success despite the initial challenges that he faced when his Mom unceremoniously passed the baton of leadership to him.

These days, when Miguel looks out his office window, his Mom’s spotlit painting behind him, the long line of busy presses provides quite a view – it’s proof that under his capable hands, The STAR has grown beyond the imagination of its late founding chairman.

Younger years

Never in Miguel’s young life did he imagine owning a print media empire. If he has developed quite a good-natured character and his competitiveness in many ways, he admits that he was a shy boy growing up in a compound where he interacted mostly with siblings and cousins.

But his personality changed as a teenager when he became exposed to a new school environment. “I became quite carefree and not very studious that’s why it still sometimes amazes me how I finished college,” Belmonte says.

He didn’t even have any clear plans for college. He recalls, “When I was in fourth year high school, I had no idea what I wanted to pursue as a career. So I asked my brother Isaac which course had the least Math and the most girls. And he said, ‘Why don’t you try hotel and restaurant administration?’”

He took his brother’s advice. “It turns out that he was half-right because there were so many Math subjects, though he was right that there were many girls there,” he laughs.

One thing he didn’t regret about following his brother’s recommendation, though, was getting to meet the most special woman in his life during his college days. “That’s where I met my wife Milette, who was also an HRA student,” he shares.

Belmonte has been happily married for close to 25 years now, and he has three children, Regina (also editor-at-large of the paper’s Young STAR section and assistant beauty editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine), Mikey and Santi.

Just like how they grew up in the family, he makes sure he spends quality time with his wife and children despite his busy schedule as CEO. “We make an effort to go to mass together every week, and we dine out and spend vacations whenever we can,” he says.

Despite his carefree attitude as a young man, he was also a very competitive athlete since his younger days. “Even in high school, I was playing in our school basketball team and I was also playing badminton at a young age. I was very competitive even if I was shy. I hate to lose,” he quips.

Miguel (second from left) in their childhood home with (from left) brother and philstar.com CEO Kevin, mom Betty, dad and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., sister and Quezon City Vice-Mayor Joy, and brother and STAR editor-in-chief Isaac

That competitive nature apparently has helped him in good stead in chalking up success after success for The STAR. “It did help me become the person that I am today,” he avers.

The unlikely CEO

Right after college, no one could really tell at first where his own stars would take him. Not even a successful businessman like Miguel Belmonte himself knew that he would be a media mogul someday.

While many business tycoons lean on MBA and other educational degrees, Belmonte again did not plan on becoming an executive of a newspaper company. He recalls, “When The STAR was founded, I was still in school. I was still in my last year in college then. I was supposed to have graduated in 1985, but since I kept repeating my Math subjects, I ended up graduating a little late.”

After graduating from the University of the Philippines in Diliman with a degree in hotel and restaurant administration, Belmonte shied away from working for the family business. He opted to continue his job at a five-star hotel where he was already employed as a front desk clerk even before he finished his practicum training.

“There I experienced working as a bellboy, a waiter, and a roomboy fixing the beds, cleaning the bathrooms and the bedroom because all that was part of the training,” he says.

Before his fate dragged him to The STAR, he was awaiting a big career break in the hospitality business. This job was supposed to be very promising for him as he would’ve become one of the pioneers of the newly built Palace Hotel in Beijing back then. He was enjoying two months of free time while waiting for his contract in China when his mother asked him to try working for the company.

He remembers, “My mom told me that our company was growing fast and we had so many employees. She didn’t even know how many employees we had. So, she asked me if I could help organize the personnel department before I left. That’s how I ended up at The STAR.”

Without any intention of staying and pursuing a career in the media industry, he joined The STAR in October 1987, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chip off the old block

Belmonte lives by the values he learned from his parents. He considers it his success and source of personal fulfillment to be able to reach out to people from different walks of life.

He continues, “I consider it my strength to be able to see the good rather than the negative in everybody. That, for me, is what has helped me to stay so long in such a difficult job.”

The “difficult” job, which entails running the day-to-day operations of The Philippine STAR, its sister publications, and the printing company, also involves being hands-on in the huge personnel needs of the 1,000-strong group of companies, which has the distinction of being the only major newspaper company to operate without a union because employees see no need for one.

“I’m very thankful that God has blessed me with the kind heart of my mom to naturally and sincerely care for the welfare of others,” he says. Whether he is dealing with the company’s employees, its suppliers, newspaper dealers or its advertisers, Miguel has always managed to leave a mark of sincerity and kindness.

Apart from this, if there is a lesson his mother left him that he’d always like to live by, it would be his faith in God.

He shares, “Whenever we have to make decisions here, I pray about it and ask for guidance.”

From swerving to a different direction in his career to the biggest decisions he has had to make as the man at the helm of what’s now a multibillion-peso enterprise, Belmonte knows that it’s all God’s will that made it happen.

“He has made this difficult job quite easy in many ways,” he says thankfully.

Small wonder that The Philippine STAR today is on top of the heap – an empire built brick by brick by people that have strived to make it a successful paper adored by readers in all corners of the country.

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