Rags to riches stories are living proof that tons of effort and a relentless pursuit of goals do pay off.
The same goes with familiar riches to rags anecdotes, from which we can learn a lot of lessons.
It’s kind of a mix of both for John Gokongwei, Jr., the founder of business giant JG Summit, and the Philippines’ second richest man according to Forbes and he once shared his real-life narrative to the audience of the 20th Ad Congress in 2007.
He began by sharing a little about his household –“a rich Chinese-Filipino family”, he described, that ran a movie house business in Cebu, where he grew up. He was a youth that lived a well-off life, residing in an exclusive village, and attending one of the country’s most prestigious schools, the University of San Carlos.
It was indeed ‘the good life’, until one day.
At 13, Gokongwei lost his father to complications caused by typhoid.
“When he died, we lost everything — our big house, our cars, our business — to the banks. I felt angry at the world for taking away my father, and for taking away all that I enjoyed before.”
To make ends meet, his brothers and sisters were sent back to China “where the living standards were lower”, while he and his mother stayed in Cebu.
Adjusting to a whole new lifestyle was no easy feat, but the young Gokongwei did what he had to do — “I worked”.
After using up the earnings from what was sold of his mother’s jewelry, they ran a stall of roasted peanuts in their new, smaller home.
He further helped with their income by acquiring a booth in a public market to sell soap, candles, and thread. Even at a young age, Gokongwei already demonstrated his strong business acumen, having carefully chosen the market he’d do business, and the goods he would sell.
“I chose one among several palengkes a few miles outside the city because there were fewer goods available for the people there.”
He did this at the tender age of 15, competing head-to-head with merchandisers much older than him. “Many of them could be my grandparents,” shared the business magnate.
Business went well for the young businessman — he earned enough profit to support his family, and to keep his store running. According to him, what he earned back in the day helped build the empire he has today.
“After this experience, I told myself, “If I can compete with people so much older than me, if I can support my whole family at 15, I can do anything!”
Gokongwei began to break boundaries and started trading products with Manila-based enterprises in 1943, going on long trips on sea and on land to bring his goods from Cebu.
At 20, together with his brother, he launched Amasia Trading which imported food and items from the USA after World War II.
Come 1948, he reunited with the rest of his siblings as they returned to the Philippines and became part of the business.
He then decided to start a cornstarch manufacturing company. Just like any humble beginning, financing is a challenge. A determined person he is, Gokongwei pursued a bank loan to set up his new venture. The first bank, however, rejected his request.
It was the second bank that granted him the loan, and since then, the tycoon has always been grateful to banker Dr. Albino SyCip for the support.
“Years later, the banker who extended that loan, Dr. Albino Sycip said that he saw something special in me. Today, I still wonder what that was, but I still thank Dr. Sycip to this day.”
Dr. SyCip wasn’t wrong in trusting the businessman as that very company would be very competitive, and would soon pave the way for more corporations.
According to the magnate, “It is the foundation upon which JG Summit Holdings now stands”.
From there, amidst years of hard work and tough challenges, John Gokongwei was able to build more businesses, introduce affordable but quality options to consumers, and create more job opportunities for his countrymen.
Some of his companies include Cebu Pacific, Universal Robina Corporation, Robinsons Land Corporation, and Summit Media.
Recently, he was recognized as 2017’s Management Man of the Year by the Management Association of the Philippines.
“To be a truly great nation, we must also excel as entrepreneurs before the world. We must create Filipino brands for the global marketplace.” – John Gokongwei, Jr
Featured photo from Exithub