Sunday, April 20, 2014

John Gokongwei, Jr.

John Gokongwei, Jr.

John L. Gokongwei, Jr. was born on August 11, 1926 in Gulangyu, Xiamen, Fujian Province, China. He is the grandson of the Go patriarch, a wealthy Cebu-based family, who came to the Philippines from Kengdong Village in Jinjiang, China in the late 19th century.

After the death of his father, Mr. John began peddling soap, thread and candles at age 15. His day began at five in the morning – he biked to neighboring towns in Cebu (Liloan, Mandaue and Talisay) to sell his goods. On market days, he rented a stall, laid out his goods from the bike, and made about P20 a day, enough for him to survive and to buy even more goods next time. After two years of biking and peddling, at 17, he entered his Batel Age. The batel was a small boat that defied the open sea and took him farther from Cebu, all the way to Lucena, from where he took a truck to Manila, with companions twice or thrice his age. Towards the end of the War, the young lad would also make money selling cigarettes to American GIs.  

John put up his first company (1946), Amasia Trading, when he was in his 20s. Amasia was engaged in imported textile remnants, fruits, old newspapers, magazines, and used clothing from the US. He converted a two-floor building on Borromeo street in Cebu into a residential apartment which became their office, warehouse and place of residence. He and his siblings worked as bodegeros, clerks, delivery boys, cashiers and collectors while pursuing their degrees.

In 1957, seeing that trading would always have low margins and would always be dependent on government policies, the family concern entered the era of manufacturing. With a loan of P500,000 from Dr. Albino Sycip, then chairman of China Bank, and DK ChiongHe started a corn milling plant, producing glucose and corn starch. The company was named Universal Corn Products, which would challenge Ludo and Luym, then the biggest cornstarch manufacturer in the country. Later, it expanded into Universal Robina Corporation. San Miguel Corporation was a big customer of theirs.  

In 1961, as his company started to launch brands such as Blend 45 (an instant coffee brand, to compete with Nestle's Nescafe), John returned to school, to study and obtain an MBA at the De La Salle University. A decade later, he underwent a 14 week advanced management program at Harvard.

In 1968, Big John takes his first tentative steps into the retail business with the opening of Cebu Foodarama. Although it has closed its doors, the JG Group is still heavily into retail with Robinsons Department Store, Robinsons Supermarket, Handyman, Big R Super Center, and Ministop. Hoping to build a transportation powerhouse someday, Mr. John bought Luzon Stevedoring Co. in 1972 from Jobo Fernandez. Luzteveco was then one of the ten most profitable companies in the Philippines. In the face, however, of huge political and economic risks, he sold the company 36 days later to the Puyat family.

In 1993, he ventured into the telecommunication industry by buying 57% of the outstanding shares of the Digital Telecommunications, Inc. (DIGITEL). Appalled that the Philippines was the only country in Southeast Asia without its own petrochemical complex, he put up JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation in 1994 through a joint venture with Marubeni Corporation of Japan. Mr. John expanded his business interests to Singapore through the acquisition of 23% of United Industrial Corporation. UIC has interests in real estate, manufacturing and trading.

John has very clear priorities in life: his family and his business. Although he spent a lot of hours at work, he never failed to set aside time for dinner with the family. He never spoiled his children but when it came to books, he took his kids to the bookstore and bought as many books as they wanted. His focus was always on education and self-improvement.

He has a mini-library everywhere: his den, bedroom, and office. He starts reading all the local papers and the Asian Wall Street Journal during breakfast. He continues reading while on his treadmill and while watching CNBC. He pores over books on history and science. At night, he reads Business Week, Fortune, The Economist, Time, Newsweek, Forbes, Financial Times and other publications, as well as research from investment banks and annual reports of local and foreign companies.

His favorite dishes are adobong pig’s ears and sautéed pig’s kidneys with chocolate as dessert. His favorite people in history are Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great. He loves listening to classical music and his favorite composer is Tchaikovsky. Because of his love of classical music, he forced all his six children to take piano lessons.

He is married to Elizabeth, and has six children (1 son and 5 daughters) - Lisa, Robina, Lance, Faith, Hope and Marcia. All his children play an active role in the Gokongwei empire and companies owned by JG Holdings. His only son, Lance Gokongwei, is now in charge of the Gokongwei Empire, serving as president and COO while John serves as Chairman Emeritus.

        At the age of 87, Big John is on the way to achieving his dream of creating a Philippine-based branded food multinational with operations in the ASEAN and China. His JG Summit Holdings outperformed market, making him a billionaire with a net worth of $3.9 billion (P173 billion). Brother James Go chairs JG Summit, son Lance is president. JG Summit has interests in airlines, telecoms, property development, banking, hotels and power generation in the Philippines. Late last year, John bought a 27% stake in Manila Electric Company for $1.6 billion. Retail arm Robinsons Retail Holdings, which he controls, went public in what was the country's largest IPO in 2013, raising $620 million.

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