“All the lessons my dad taught us, he taught not through words, but by example. And all the lessons he taught, guide me until now.”
That's what Lance Gokongwei has said in his latest book titled “Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei Jr." He wrote everything that he learned from the multi-billionaire Filipino tycoon from business to love and family.
The 49-year old president and chief operating officer of JG Summit Holdings Corp., which serves as the holding company of the majority of Gokongwei group, was already prepared and groomed by his father from a young age about their family business.
“In business, my father showed us that having the courage of your convictions is one of the most important qualities of a strong businessman. He is a true entrepreneur, with the innate energy, curiosity and competitiveness of a visionary and a trailblazer,” he says.
The older Gokongwei started his business empire from scratch at the fresh age of 13. He faced a lot of naysayers which motivated him to be successful.
“When he set up the Philippines’ first low cost carrier, as well as the first integrated petrochemical plant, which is now operating in Batangas, a lot of naysayers said we would lose our pants. But my father, the ‘businessman who dared’ and backed by the courage of his convictions, always did what people said could not be done. He believes in marching to the beat of your own drum— be willing to take chances and if everyone is headed in the same direction, question it,” the younger Gokongwei adds.
Lance also recalled how his father reminded him to properly distribute their total investments to various companies, noting that they should never put more than 15 percent of share to one company.
"That’s why we invest in different industries and take chances in different companies. We never have that much leverage in one business. We make sure not to have a lot of overhead. We’ve learned not to get too fat when times are good so that we’ve never had to make huge layoffs when times are bad. I am not ashamed to say that our company is tough on spending. We are known as a frugal company," he said.
And just like their father, they also started from not-so-glamorous jobs. Lance's first job was putting price tags on women's bras while his sister, Robina, started as a receiving clerk at the bodega of Robinsons Department Store. Their other sister Marcia's job was to scoop ice cream and make waffle cones at a Tivoli kiosk back in her high school.
Now, Robina runs a whole retail business while Marcia is one of the top executives in the food manufacturing business.
Lance also noted that his father, despite being busy with work, would always assure that he would be at their dinner table by 7:30 p.m. and would always tell stories to inspire and motivate them.
"Dad was always home for dinner. He worked very hard six days a week, many hours a day," Lance said. "But he always made sure that when we sat down for dinner at 7:30 p.m. after a long school day, he was there to join us after his long workday as well. Some days he had to leave after dinner to head back to the office or go to another meeting, but at dinnertime, he was there with us. His presence made us realize that despite the pressures from his growing business, our family was always important to him."
"The best lessons I learned from my parents were from being with them, observing them and listening to them at the dinner table. I learned about the importance of family, and the importance of working hard. I learned about running a business from the stories my father told us— he had so many adventures! We shared in his successes and his failures. There were many of both. Fortunately, more of the first than the second," he added.
His father also noted that choosing someone to marry should not be based on financial gain. One should choose a partner based on how she would be your best friend and partner in taking care of the family.
“The most important decision you have to make in your life is whom you’re going to marry. That decision will dictate the rest of your life, whether you will have a happy life or a miserable one. He said I should marry someone who would be my friend and my partner in raising our children," Lance said.
"Dad got it right when he made the most important decision of his life and married Mom. He knew she was the right one for him—she was the perfect one for him. They raised their children well. Humility aside, I’d like to think we all turned out very good. And Mom is a really good person. Everyone adores her," he added.
His book was released as a celebration of his father's 90th birthday last year. The book also consists stories from Lance's sisters and their family friend Yvette Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Town and Country.
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