The Story Behind the Success of John Gokongwei

Succeeding and making a stable reputation in the business world is never an easy task. Going against the flow, and standing out of wars and tight competition is something that requires extra amount of dedication, discipline and determination. These three characters have been the backbone of success of the old John Gokongwei. JG is the man behind Cebu Pacific, Universal Robina, Robinsons Land, and the J. G. Summit Holdings. Looking at these, one can say that indeed JG has achieved his life’s victory, his life’s ultimate goal. But how did he accomplished this? Let us look at the story behind the success of this business tycoon, John Gokongwei.

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John Gokongwei, a prominent Chinese Filipino prominent businessman was born in August 11, 1926 at the scenic Gulangyu isle in the Fujian Province in China. It was a hard life in China back to the time when he was born, so to escape that, the family flew to Cebu, Philippines to start a new life, and made use of what they have saved up then. Upon transferring, his father has set-up a chain of movie houses, the first air conditioned ones in the PHilippines. Having said this, JG has enjoyed a life of abundance and luxury. Growing up, he used to have personal servants to aid him and a lot of money to buy whatever he wants. He had the world under his feet – wealth, friends, everything. But as life goes, these all changed when his father died. They did not know that the business they were running were just founded on credits. So when his father died, the banks took everything from them – house, car, and other possessions.At 13,  JG’s family was left with nothing. It was the most difficult time of JG’s life. He cursed and blamed everyone for the things that has happened to them. His mother was forced to send back his sibling in China, because it is less costly to live there. He was left in Cebu together with his mother. And this is when he realized that there’s so much to life, and that this defeat is just the beginning of a lot more victories.

At 14, he used to sell roasted peanuts in their backyard so he can help in providing for their family. When he thought that can do better, he decided to sell stuff at a local market, the one which is far from the other villages. He used to sell soap, candles and thread. He thought that these were the best-selling ones because people who lived in that village were poor so they would buy basic necessities first; soap to clean, candles to give light at night and thread to sew their clothes. The young JG, would stay in the market until his last was bought. While selling those things, he noticed that the other vendors were old, and right there and then, he realized that there’s so much that he can do. Everyday, he earns 20 pesos from selling those stuff.  If at 14, he already can do what these elders can and he can already earn up to that amount, what more if he grows up? That’s what keep the determination burning inside him.

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In 1943, when JG was 17, he expanded his trading business. From small palengke, he went on to trade from Cebu to Manila and vice versa using the batel; a small boat which was used to carry goods. He would endure the five-hour boat travel to lucena then another 2 hours to Manila, just to sell those goods. It was a good business for him, and he was able to send money to his siblings in China. After the war, JG had noticed that great opportunity to be even bigger in the trading industry. He wanted to go international so he put up his very first official business, the Amasia Trading  which imported onions, flour, used clothing, old newspapers and magazines, and fruits from the United States.

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A year after Amasia was established, JG has been able to get his siblings back in the Philippines. They also have acquired a bigger house this time, which also served as their warehouse for their goods. Together, the whole family worked hand in hand to strengthen the business JG established. In 1957, JG saw the opportunity to expand his business. This time, he wanted to venture into corn-starch manufacturing. He went on to borrow from banks, which he suffered a lot of disapproval and rejections. But that did not stop JG from pursuing it.  It was China Bank’s Dr. Albino Sycip who gave him the P500, 000 loan back then. Until now, John is still grateful for what Dr Sycip has done for him. He named the cornstarch business as Universal Corn Products. This business has been the foundation of the JG Summit Holdings. Since then, JG has planned carefully for his visions of his company. He started training professionals, and managers to execute these plans. He also started defining the values and principles of his business that he then transferred to his kids. At his early 30s, JG has started an empire.

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The time when John Gokongwei made his scene in the business world was when he aggressively bought shares in San Miguel that made him want to occupy a seat on the board of directors. It was a very aggressive move that made the business people ask, “Who is Gokongwei and why is he doing all those terrible things to San Miguel?”. John said, that it was really a move that made him nervous but excited as well. He may have lost during that time, but it made him realize that he is able to put up a fight. That loss have made him overcome his fear, and made him to become a better person that he is today.

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Despite being a business magnate already, JG did not stop right there and he even pursued a lot of business ventures. His story on Cebu Pacific is also an aspiring one. Out of his need and dream to make the Filipinos travel for a “lower cost, but with greater value”, he invested in Cebu Pacific. Cebu Pacific primarily spends less than other airlines,, so the savings trickle down to the customers through lower air fares. Today, Cebu Pacific caters to an estimate of five million passengers – 120 daily flights to 20 local destinations and 12 Asian cities. Another breakthrough, is his C2 product in 2004. He got the idea when he visited China where people are very tea-drinkers. Although Filipinos are not, JG has thought of revolutionizing the traditional tea by making it in accordance to the Filipino taste. Also, C2 stands for “cool and clean”. Three years later, Filipinos drink around 30 million bottles of C2 per month.

John Gokongwei’s story is really an inspiring one. Although life may knock you down countless of times, always get back up like what JG did. Always face everyday with determination and aspiration of becoming better. Always make use of opportunities as a learning ground. And keep in mind that if you really want something, don’t let fear hinder your way; overcome that and reach for your dreams! Let us all be John Gokongwei, the man who never gave up.