One great journey, one great story

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

I used to pass by the old Cokaliong Shipping office on D. Jakosalem Street on my way to the office back in the early 1990s. I think the company was merely renting space because it occupied only one unit of the two-storey building in which it was located. I did not pay it much attention then. I thought it was just one of those one or two ship affairs that did not really had what it takes to compete in an industry dominated by the giants of shipping at the time.

And I did not get to personally meet and know the man who founded the upstart company on this day in 1989 until I got invited to the launching of a giant three-volume compilation of newspaper clippings that documented one of the great and dramatic labor upheavals that shook the local shipping industry. But the launching of the "Chronicles of the Cebu Port War of 1999" was what also launched my friendship with Chester Cokaliong, a friendship that I am very proud to have.

This is, however, not about that friendship, although that would have made for a very fine topic in itself. But it is best to keep that private, as I am sure Chester would have preferred. This is instead about that company whose tiny offices I used to pass by on my way to work, and my personal and unofficial take on how and why it grew to be what it is today. And, of course, it is about the man who made all its giant strides and strings of successes possible.

By the time I was introduced to Chester during that book launching, the shipping company he founded was already well on its way to assuming leadership in the industry. It has already hurdled the initial challenges that any operation started from scratch would have had to face, endure and overcome. By the time I met Chester, he already had several ships flying the Cokaliong flag.

I will not go into those early years because only Chester is capable of telling that story himself. But ever since I got inducted into the circle, so to speak, I began compiling my own personal and unofficial impressions of the man behind the huge operation that Cokaliong Shipping Lines is today. Remember, what inaccuracies and misimpressions I may commit here and now are purely unintended, and if I do I beg the indulgence of the reader, and of Chester himself and the Cokaliong family.

I think the biggest reason why Cokaliong Shipping grew rapidly from one ship to a fleet of nine, with a tenth set to join soon, and then move its offices from that one rented unit on D. Jakosalem to its own twin multi-story buildings on Serging Osmeña Boulevard at the Port Area in just a short span of 25 years is because of the stuff of which its founder is made and the great support he enjoys from his family.

Chester Cokaliong is a driven perfectionist. And while this has been said and written frequently about him, I will repeat it here -- he is a hands-on operator, a trait that cannot be said of most, if not all, of the other shipowners currently in business. When you are both a driven perfectionist and hands-on, there is no way for you not to excel in whatever endeavor.

His perfectionist streak covers all aspects of his shipping operations, to the point that he seldom gets to sleep more than four hours. If he is not in his office, he is at the pier. He does not go home until the last of his ships leaves port safely. And first thing in the morning, he is back at the docks, to make sure all of his ships, and their precious cargo of people and goods from all over the Visayas and Mindanao, have come in safe.

Not one to compromise safety for profit, it comes as a matter of course that the safety record of Cokaliong in the shipping industry would become legendary. Add to that an almost manic insistence on cleanliness -- to the extent of personally checking on all parts of the ship with white gloves on -- and you get to acquire a reputation that, passed on through word of mouth by a satisfied clientele, is eventually far more credible and palpable than any paid advertisement can build.

But Chester is no superman, even if that is the impression he gives with his passion to be the best in what he does. He could not have taken the business to where it is now if he did not have such a supportive and encouraging family behind him. There is mother Gregoria as chairman, wife Anna Lynne and sister-in-law Leslie who both actually co-founded the firm, brothers Christopher and Charlton, and the children, two of whom -- Chase and Chesna -- are now very involved in the company.

And then there are the staff and employees of the company, who completely understand the passion for perfection demanded of their jobs and have exhibited a great willingness and genuine enthusiasm to go the way their boss wishes to take them. When you have all these elements in play, the man who puts all these elements together cannot go wrong. This symbiosis is the gel that has kept Chester and the Cokaliong team very formidable in shipping.

Today, Cokaliong Shipping Lines marks its 25th year in the business, a quarter of a century marked in the early years by great challenges and disappointments, and of a determination and passion that enabled Chester and his company to eventually gain its lofty and enviable position of success and leadership. I am confident the company will sail even stronger to the next 25 and beyond. I wish I could give more than just a pat in the back. But then, a success story is its own reward.

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