Henry Sy, Tony Tan: 6 business stories to inspire you this 2017

All great things had its humble beginnings – the great pyramids started as a block of stone, clothes are an intertwining of several threads, humans started from a merging of two cells. So it also follows that businesses, no matter how big they are, also started as a small firm.

How can we be so sure about that? Let’s learn the transformation story of seven big Filipino businesses that started small:

Tony Tan Caktiong, Jollibee Founder, and CEO

Jollibee might be the only food chain in the Philippines that can compete – even surpass – other popular foreign food businesses like Mcdonald’s, Burger King, and others. With more than 2,500 stores nationwide, several branches in the US, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brunei, Jollibee can be considered one of the most successful food business made by a Filipino.

But the man behind Jollibee, Tony Tan Caktiong, didn’t start out big right away. In fact, he started only as an ice cream vendor in 1975. Imagine this picture: a man sitting on the sidewalk beside his Magnolia parlour, waiting for customers all day. That’s someone who you will simply ignore, right? Well, Tony was once that man.

Tony, being business-minded that he is, wasn’t going to sell ice cream forever. After talking with his customers about their food preferences, and several observations on how the market works for food chains, Tony decided to include sandwiches, fried chicken, and French fries on the menu. His menu was a huge hit. By 1978, Tony have generated enough money to open six more restaurants. Tony then named his business “Jollibee” after the phrase “busy as a bee”, his self-claimed work ethic.

Fast forward to the future, aside from Jollibee, the ice cream vendor now owns Red Ribbon, Mang Inasal, Chowking, Greenwich, Tita Frita’s Uling-Uling, and Manong Pepe’s. Who would’ve thought?

Photo courtesy of Sunshine De Leon at sunshinedeleon.com

Mariano Que, Mercury Drug

Mariano Que was once a humble drugstore employee in Manila back in 1945. After the World War finished, everything in Manila was utterly destroyed, including the drugstore that he worked for.

Left with nothing but his previous drugstore experience, Mariano then thought of selling something that everyone in that time would surely need: medicine. With only P100 in his hands, he bought a bottle of sulfathiazole, then tried selling each of its tablet for a peso. Because of its affordability, he sold out the tablets quickly, which enabled him to buy even more medicine to sell.

Soon, people heard about Mariano’s business and tried copying him. But they eventually lost customers because they succumbed to selling fake and expired products. Because of that, Mariano became a trusted figure for selling quality and affordable medicine, until he finally put up a physical store which he named Mercury Drug.

Today, with more than 1,000 branches nationwide, Mercury Drug has become every Filipino’s go-to drugstore. It was the first drugstore in the Philippines to adopt a 24/7 operating time, motorcycle delivery system, and other firsts in the pharmaceutical industry. With dedication, genuine concern for the Filipino people, the drugstore employee became a drugstore legend.

Photo courtesy of Ailex Villamor at Medium


Henry Sy, Sr., Founder and Chairman of Board of Directors at SM Investments 

Some of us may be familiar with the rags to riches tale of Henry Sy, but not all of us actually know the full details of the story.

Henry Sy came from a poor family in the town of JinJiang, China. His entire family went to Manila in 1936 to help their family patriarch manage a convenience store in Manila. After the World War 2, however, their family store – along with their other resources – were burned down.

But that didn’t stop Henry from continuing doing business. Henry collected second-hand military boots and other postwar goods from the ravages of war and sold them to supportive American soldiers. He got progress in this line of business, so much so that he has opened his first shoe store in Avenida, Manila.   

But his first Shoe Mart in Avenida didn’t go smoothly right away by then. With no post-war goods to sell, Henry found it difficult to collaborate with shoe manufacturers with regards to the shoe designs that he wants.

But again, he didn’t lose heart. He expanded his network of friends, customers, suppliers, and manufacturers to help him achieve his vision for a shoe store. Eventually, people started flocking his products, until his store became what it is known now as SM.

Now known as the Philippines’ Retail King, Henry Sy continues to expand his business. He owns SM Investments Corporation, SM Prime Holdings, Banco de Oro Universal Bank, CBC, Belle Corporation and Highlands Prime, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Forbes

Alfredo M. Yao, Zest-O Corporation

Who says that a sidewalk vendor can’t also be a millionaire?

Alfredo M. Yao, the owner of Zest-o, didn’t have a smooth childhood like everyone else. He lost his dad at the age of 12, leaving his mother alone to support their family. To help his mother, Alfredo opted to selling goods in sidewalks.

For years, with a little help from a kind relative, Alfredo reached college, but their finances weren’t enough to actually finish his studies. So he tried working in various jobs, one of which is in a printing press. Alfredo learned to print cellophane wrappers for candies and biscuits. Eventually, the experience that he had at pushed him him to start his own printing business.

Alfredo discovered the Doy Packaging system from Europe, a machine used for quick packaging, and tried to sell it to juice manufacturers, however, no one is interested. Frustrated, he tried to use the machine himself by making his own juice business.

His products had such a huge appeal to parents who prepare lunches to their children. The packaging is brightly colored, light, and is easy to chill. The sweet flavor of the juice was also a plus for the kids. Thus, Zest-O was born!

Until now, Zest-O still reigns 80% of the juice market. It even has a dedicated market in Australia, China, New Zealand, and several countries in Europe.

Photo courtesy of Good News Manila

Corazon D. Ong, CDO Foodsphere, Inc.

The CDO company is a glaring testament that being a housewife doesn’t excuse any woman from becoming successful. Corazon D. Ong, the real name behind the famous acronym, is living proof of that.

Corazon D. Ong was once a dietitian for a hospital, until she decided to stop working to focus on her family. With no much work to do, Corazon has put her attention into preparing good food for her husband and two kids. Using her work experience, she experimented on making better versions of native delicacies, like siopao.

And Corazon became good at it. Soon enough she created skinless longganisa as a filling for her homemade siopao. When the neighbors tasted it, it became popular real quick. Orders became plenty, and people themselves spread the word. That’s when Corazon decided to turn it into a full-scale business.

In 1995, Corazon founded CDO Foodsphere, the name which will become a staple in local groceries and Filipino household. The story of a mother who only wanted to serve her family turned into multimillion peso investment.

Photo courtesy of Far Eastern University

Mother Lily, Regal Films

Being a strong, independent child has its own benefits. Lily “Mother Lily” Monteverde was a rebellious kid in her youth. Her father, the founder of the Chiang Kai Shek School, didn’t lend her any financial support because of her headstrong behavior. However, this didn’t stop her from doing what she wants in life: to be in the movie industry.

Mother Lily used to visit the studios of Sampaguita Pictures and LVN Pictures just to see her beloved movie stars. After marrying her husband, Leonardo “Remy” Monteverde, she made it a point to pursue her dream. She worked for her father-in-law in 1961 for P200 a day. When she saved enough money, she bought two popcorn machines (for P1,500 each) and installed it at Cherry Foodarama in Mandaluyong and in Podmon Theater in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

With so many moviegoers at that time, her popcorn machine earned well. She later earned almost P7,000 – an already big amount at that time. Soon enough, she bought the screening rights to the Hollywood film, “All Mind To Give”, which doubled her income after earning P50,000 within half a month of its screening.

Her business continued on. Lily and her husband then went to the US and Europe to buy more film rights. She also produced Filipino films such as the 1976 box office hit “Kayod Sa Umaga, Kayod Sa Gabi,” starring Elizabeth Oropesa and Gina Pareño, which grossed about P4 million.

With all her income, she then created Regal Films, the film and entertainment firm that gave rise to all known stars today.

Photo courtesy of Philippine Showbiz Republic

Success isn’t impossible as long as you’re doing what it takes to arrive at that goal. Persistence, dedication, and wit are just few of the qualities you need to have in order to become big in your business.

But having the right personal qualities doesn’t always guarantee success. You also need a solid business plan that will serve a foundation for all your business steps.

So start studying how to make a good business plan now. Who knows, your story might one day became an inspiration to others, too.

Photo courtesy of Sean Pollock at StockSnap.io