Real-life Lessons from Forbes’ Top 10 Richest Filipino Billionaires

What set these industry titans apart is really just plain-old good attitude

Wilson Lee Flores

Genius Conversations

ATTITUDE IS KEY. Success is never about your abilities but what you do with your abilities.

Not everyone can be part of Forbes’ list of billionaires and millionaires but we can try, can’t we? I have interviewed some of the country’s top business leaders and really, they are not so different from any one of us. They also have goals, fears. They have succeeded in getting their businesses to the top but they are not impervious to failures. In fact, most of them have really built their businesses from the ground up, overcoming challenges and working day in and day out to get to where they are now. 

What I noticed though is they have this singular attitude that really helped propel these Top 10 Forbes’ Richest Filipino Billionaires of 2018 to success. And if we want to be like them or at least be able to achieve a quarter, half or more than they have achieved, I suggest we work on developing the same kind of attitude. 

Hard Work of Henry Sy ($18.3 billion)

The “rags-to-riches” SM retail chain and BDO Universal Bank founder Henry Sy, Sr. has strong work ethic, exemplifying the adage: “There is no substitute for hard work.” Even at his stature, he would work late at night and there is no holiday for him. His daily exercise? Walking around the mall so he can also check things out. He has inculcated the same value to his children. At 13 years old, Teresita Coson would report to work and help out in the family business every day after school. Not only during summer vacation but every day. 

Perseverance of Manny Villar ($5 billion)

The first time I met Manny Villar was during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, his realty business was in crisis, a rival realty group was about to buy him out. When a US investment bank asked me to criticize him in my columns, I interviewed him to get his side of the story. He was down and out then but Villar never gave up. He not only survived that crisis but also his loss in the 2010 presidential election. In fact, on the day he lost the election, he supposedly called his architect and asked for a meeting. He wanted to get to work stat so he can recover quickly. For Villar, there is no room to get depressed or worry over what already happened. He’s all about moving forward. His “never give up, never surrender” attitude carried him through. And now, he’s wealthier than ever. 

Nonstop reading and strategic analyses of John Gokongwei Jr. ($4.4 billion)

I’ve never seen a billionaire in the Philippines read as many books, magazines, and annual reports as Gokongwei. He even collected annual reports from all over the world and pored over each one, studying them. His favorite is to read about history and bio of successful people. Roberto Ongpin once told me that Gokongwei, for him, is the most well-read tycoon. He really has a thirst for knowledge, which led to profitable insights for his business. Quite impressive considering that he never finished high school or college. 

Picking the right people by Jaime Zobel de Ayala ($4 billion)

The Zobel de Ayalas have stakes in many businesses—real estate, banking, telecommunications, utilities, education, etc. The secret to their multi-generational and multi-industry success? Their Midas touch in picking the right people and building the best teams. They supposedly offer the best salaries and benefits to its people but more importantly, they know how to manage and develop their talents. Zobel de Ayala's knows that he can’t be the expert in everything and that he doesn’t hold all the answers. So he makes sure to hire the best and the brightest to help him. How very wise of him! 

Global thinking of Enrique Razon Jr. ($3.9 billion)

Ricky Razon isn’t just the king of Philippine ports, his International Container Terminal Services, Inc. (ICTSI) has gone global, managing ports in 18 countries including China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Columbia, Argentina, Mexico, Congo, Poland, among others. Asian Development Bank even named it as one of the top five major maritime terminal operators in the world. All this won’t happen if not for his vision to go global and his sheer gumption to get at it. Who would have thought that a Philippine company can operate ports in the Americas, Europe, Middle East and Africa? Razon believes that the whole world is his market and that there is nothing wrong in thinking big and in thinking global. When you think it, you can make achieve it. 

Humility of Tony Tan Caktiong ($3.85 billion)

The founder of Jollibee is as humble as a bee in his business dealings and life. Tony Tan Caktiong down-to-earth attitude allowed him to see and feel the pulse of the masses. Franchisees also like and trust him, perhaps because he was also a franchisee himself. Jollibee actually started out as a franchise of an ice cream parlor but noticing what the market needs, he slowly added products like burgers. Thus, Jollibee was born. 

'I have interviewed some of the country’s top business leaders and really, they are not so different

from us. They also have goals, fears, success, and failures.' 

Nonstop studying of history and philosophy of Lucio Tan ($3.8 billion)

Not known to many, behind many of Lucio Tan’s bold strategies are his years of continuous studying of Chinese history such as the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” as well as the exploits of emperors and warriors. “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” is known across East Asia and has been a legendary source of strategy and bible for many businessmen. Such is Tan’s passion for learning that he would even hire professors from China and fly them in to wherever he is via helicopters, just so they can teach him more about history and philosophy. 

Bold vision of Ramon Ang ($2.85 billion)

The self-made engineer boss of San Miguel Corp. (SMC), Petron and Eagle Cement Ramon Ang envisioned the transformation of SMC from a mainly beer/food group into a diversified, much bigger conglomerate. Among his exciting visionary projects is a new international airport in Bulacan. Many people criticized his vision. That it can never happen. That it was overly ambitions. That going outside its core business will endanger the whole company but he forged on and is now proving everyone wrong. 

Discipline of George Ty ($2.75 billion)

The late Metrobank Group and Toyota Philippines taipan George S. K. Ty epitomized discipline not only in his hard work, but also in his lifestyle. He enjoyed a strict schedule—swimming half hour daily, starting early at work, ending events and parties at 8:30 pm so everyone can start the next day early. In fact, two weeks before he passed away, having been sick with pancreatic cancer, he was still going to the office. His son Alfred once told me that all the sons are required to report to work earlier than employees to prepare for an 8 am meeting with their father. And they go home much later than other managers. 

Resourcefulness of Andrew Tan ($2.6 billion)

The self-made Megaworld, Emperador, and McDonald's Philippines boss Andrew Tan is a resourceful and creative entrepreneur. He thinks out of the box and is open to new ideas. When he was promoting Emperador, he forbade his advertising team to use sexy women for his liquor ad, which is the norm even until now. Instead, he wanted to go with a different approach and associate his brand with success. 

About the Author

WILSON LEE FLORES is a multi-awarded writer, college professor, real estate agent, economics and geopolitics analyst, baker, art collector, poet, public speaker, and philanthropist. He has won a record 15 Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) for his “Philippine Star” newspaper columns and three Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. He has also been honored with a record three CMMA Hall of Fame Awards, including CMMA Hall of Fame Awards for “Best Business Column” and "Best Opinion Column". Having bought and revived the pioneer, artisanal, 79-year-old Kamuning Bakery Cafe of Quezon City, he has added entrepreneur in his long list of creds. Follow @wilsonleeflores on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.



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