Re-reading John Gokongwei Jr


His story is worth getting back to, to draw lessons and insights
The John Gokongwei story is undoubtedly familiar to many Filipinos.

But like a well-worn book begging to regularly be re-read, it is a story worth getting back to, to draw lessons and insights from at a different place and time in one’s life.

John Gokongwei, Jr., 92, founded and serves as chair emeritus of JG Summit Holdings, a conglomerate that is very much a part of our everyday lives as consumers.

JG Summit’s Universal Robina Corporation counts brands that include Jack N Jill snacks, C2 teas, Great Taste and Blend 45 coffee, Cream All creamer, B’lue water, Huntscanned beans and sauces, and Nissin and Payless instant noodles.

It is a property developer of malls, offices or residences under Robinsons Land or Robinsons Retail.

It has interests in travel via Cebu Pacific Airways, and the Summit and Go Hotels; in media, via Summit Media; banking, via Robinsons Bank; and in utilities, via a 30 percent stake in energy producer Global Business Power, and a 29.6 percent stake in Meralco.

Using the phone? They have

Any probinsyano
Before all this success though, Gokongwei had to start from scratch.
Though born to a rich Filipino-Chinese family in Cebu, he and his family lost all their wealth when his father died. His mother decided to send his siblings to China where the cost of living was more affordable.

Left behind, the man who would come to be known as Big John assumed the role of padre de pamilya and began supporting his family as a trader of many things and all things in his teens during World War II: in the merkado/palengke, later on plying a route been Cebu and Manila and then eventually expanding that route to the United States.

In 1957, he spotted an opening in the cornstarch manufacturing business and set up Universal Corn Products–beginning what is now the JG Summit empire.

The family man
One of the words seemingly automatically attached to the Gokongwei name is family.

He is a relatable taipan owing to his very apparent love for family, and to how well they all work together to grow the business–no mean feat, considering the pressures of the business world.

The succession of management in the Gokongwei Group from Big John to his siblings, to the next generation, has been well-covered and admired, and is an uncommon testament to how values can still be upheld even among titans of industry.

Their corporate social responsibility arm also speaks of his devotion to family: dedicated to developmental and scholarship programs on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, it is named the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, commercial and retail properties there that are owned by the Group under their SG-listed United Industrial Corporation business.

The Asean man
The Gokongwei Group may trace its beginnings to the toil of trader Big John in the markets of Cebu. These days though, its footprint spans the Asean region. Across surging Southeast Asia, JG Summit’s brands are proud ambassadors of Filipino ingenuity–and quality. And in its most advanced–most costly–nation, Singapore, its locally-listed United Industrial Corporation also has commercial and retail properties.

Lessons to learn
The Gokongwei story is a treasure trove of life lessons.

Beyond business, it speaks of perseverance amidst the odds, of getting back on one’s feet after a reversal of fortune.

More importantly, it inspires love for family–and that old-fashioned values such as love for them-can co-exist with the demands of business. That discipline, frugality, and hard work are not out of style; and are in fact values to aspire for.

And that, most of all, the Filipino can make it, if he or she only rises to the challenges ahead.

Yes, Big John is Big John. But, to borrow from his airline, all of us have it in us to be Big Juans as well. That, resting on the solid foundation of his brands and businesses, is ultimately Big John’s biggest legacy.