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One great Cebuano story

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - September 12, 2014 - 12:00am

There is a brand new hotel in Cebu City that you might want to check out. It is called the Bayfront Hotel. I am writing about it now because it is a Cebuano story that I am proud to share with others. It is a story of family, of hard work and dedication, and a passion for excellence -- values that best sum up the true and indomitable character of the Cebuano, and which I believe is what Bayfront will showcase.

But that is getting ahead of the story, a story that had its beginnings in Magallanes. Back in the day, it was in Magallanes that the hum of business buzzed the loudest. Colon was largely for entertainment. It was in Magallanes that commerce flourished. But before the inevitable move of commerce uptown and outward and long before the malls packed everything under one roof, it was in Magallanes that Cebuanos, whenever they needed anything, would eventually find what they were looking for.

Among the stores that lined the ancient street, named after the Portuguese explorer who worked for the Spanish crown who put Cebu on the map of the world, was a modest little textile store called Chester Enterprises, named after the first born of owners Gregoria and Edgar Cokaliong, apparently for good luck. After Chester the first born came two more boys, Christopher and Charlton.

Raising and educating boys while doing business in the Sixties and Seventies was taxing. It required hard work, astute time management, and great parental fortitude. Any slack on any of these responsibilities would have been very disastrous. The decades that followed are littered with proof of lives made topsy-turvy by a failure of any one of these parts coming together. But not in the Cokaliong family. Business, education and upbringing were balanced. One did not compromise the other.

The Cokaliong boys were brought up comfortably but unspoiled. They were taught to learn the ropes instead of just inherit. That way they learned to love the business instead of just run it, cherished the education that unlocked even more business opportunities, and above all valued family beyond any cost or price. But what made all of these gel together was a passion for excellence that made mediocrity almost a sin. One has to excel, whether you are the owner or just an employee.

Toward the end of the Eighties, the Cokaliong family made the jump from textiles to shipping, a move explained two different ways. Matriarch Gregoria Cokaliong explained in her speech at the blessing of Bayfront that it was only logical since she had been "clothing" people for decades with her textile business so it was only right that she would eventually help them "move" people through the islands. Business must somehow be founded on the element of service.

But to Chester, upon whose shoulders fell the responsibility of nurturing and building the business, his early fascination with ships made it seem natural that any diversification would have to be in the direction where his early passion lies. This passion and the solid upbringing from which he transitioned would serve his shipping venture well.

The early failures and industry challenges only served to fire even more his burning desire to excel and be the best in what he does. So from a single ship in 1989, Cokaliong Shipping has grown to become a multi-awarded fleet of about a dozen vessels plying most of the major routes in the Visayas and Mindanao. Along the way, the company's record and reputation for safety consciousness and cleanliness have remained unsullied to this day.

To me, there is no ship in the Visayas and Mindanao that is as clean as a Cokaliong ship. And I can say that here without fear of contradiction. It is a fact that is borne not only by the numerous awards the company has been given, but more importantly by the countless testimonies given by its satisfied and ever expanding clientele.

  And that is because the Cokaliong brand is all about an unflagging passion for excellence, made evident through hands-on management. Chester is the only shipowner I know who personally sees off his ships from the port each night and then meets each of them in the morning, often wearing white fabric gloves that he runs randomly over certain parts of the ship to make sure nobody slips up on his demands for impeccable cleanliness.

The Cokaliong brand is also about innovation, about being ahead of the rest. Cabins on Cokaliong ships are not like ordinary ship cabins. They are like hotel rooms with real hotel room beds. That is exactly how I described them during a recent inauguration of one of the company's ships. Looking back on that inauguration, I should have known it was already a clue to which direction the next Cokaliong enterprise would go.

And so it occurred to me that if a person can get more than what he paid for on board a ship, like a hotel room instead of a mere cabin, how much more if he is in a real hotel. At the very least he can be assured that, in addition to having an impeccable place to stay, he will enjoy service the Cokaliong way, in an ambience reflective of a passion for excellence that is uniquely theirs.

At the helm of the hotel is Charlton, the youngest sibling, as managing director. He is assisted by Chelsea, daughter of Christopher. Bayfront Hotel is new and I will leave it up to its pioneering guests to find out how they like the hotel. I am, after all, entitled only to my opinion. And my opinion is based solely on what I have experienced, and have come to expect, of what I would describe as the Cokaliong Way.

The Cokaliong Way is an honest-to-goodness success story of a Cebuano brand, a success story that goes back to that modest textile store in Magallanes, where good values in business were just as important as good values in family. It is a story of a commitment not just to serve but to serve with a passion for excellence. It is a story that makes one proud to be a Cebuano.

 

 

AFTER CHESTER BAYFRONT BAYFRONT HOTEL BUSINESS CEBUANO COKALIONG COKALIONG WAY HOTEL MAGALLANES STORY VISAYAS AND MINDANAO
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