Alfred Yao: the juice king of the Philippines

EVEN with a great idea, thorough research and hours and hours of hard work, one rule still applies: nothing is certain in life and in business. No one can unfailingly know if one will fail or succeed in life, how investors will receive a startup idea or whether a company will survive past the one-year mark. So, how can one increase the odds of, well, beating the odds?

Determination is a key attribute sought after by recruiters of graduates and for many, it can be more important than sheer intelligence. It is sometimes referred to as drive: “the determination to get things done, to make things happen and constantly look for better ways of doing things”.

Alfredo Yao is one of the most admired businessmen in the Philippines today. The two flagship companies of his sprawling Zesto Group are the Zest-O-Corp. and Zest-Airways, now Air Asia Zest—enterprises built on the foundation of Yao’s enormous enthusiasm for finding another way. His other core business is the RC Cola, another turnaround story worth discussion in a separate column.

Fred’s story is yet another rags-to-riches tale of a self-made businessman who rose from poverty through hard work and determination. I first met Fred close to two decades ago when he invited me to drop by his two-story office in Manila to discuss a townhouse project. It was aptly called Villa Soledad in honor of his mother.

Yao became a breadwinner at an early age after his father died when he was only 12 years old. He is the eldest of six children. Being penniless, he started to work to help the family because his mother’s earnings as a sidewalk vendor could not support their needs. He would accompany his mother to Chinese gambling dens to sell.

Through the help of a relative, he was able to finish his elementary and high school education. However, he was unable to complete his college education at the Mapua Institute of Technology.

Yao worked hard and did odd jobs such as working in a warehouse of a packaging company. Through a cousin who was employed in a printing press, Alfredo Yao learned the ropes on printing cellophane wrappers for candies and biscuits and went on to venture into operating a printing press business. It was the birth of Solemar Commercial Press, named after his mother. The business thrived for about 20 years.

In 1979, while touring Europe, Mr. Yao came to discover the packaging format called ‘Doypack’ in one of the exhibits. It was then the latest European packaging technology. He bought the machine and tried to market the idea of using the Doypack format to local juice manufacturers in the Philippines but nobody seemed interested.

Never one to lose faith, Yao began making juices enthusiastically in his own kitchen and packaged them using the equipment he had just bought. His optimism was not misplaced. Zest-O orange drink was launched within the next two years. It became a hit with moms who saw the practicality of putting the light but tightly packed orange drinks in their kid’s lunch boxes. Children loved it that their chilled fruit drinks stayed cold and fresh till snack time.

Today, Zest-O drinks come in 12 variants and command 80 percent of the market for fruit juices. It has expanded its business to China, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Singapore, the US and Europe and has helped revitalize the fruit growing industry in the provinces, particularly the Philippine’s native orange variety called “dalandan”. The doypacks are being recycled by local cottage industries into handbags and are now being exported to other countries.

Popularly known as the “Juice King”, he is not just the CEO of Zest-O Corp. but also the founder of a clutch of firms – Philippine Business Bank, Asiawide Refreshments Corp. (franchise of RC Cola), Summit Hotel and Resorts Specialists, Semexco Marketing, SMI Development Corp., among others.

Some of his notable achievements include being the: (1) 2014 MVP Grand Bossing Award; (2) 2005 Ernst and Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year; and (3) Most Admired ASEAN Enterprise Award for Innovation. He also served as the special envoy to China for tourism cooperation.

Thus, Alfredo Yao proved that choice, not circumstances, determines success. As Geoffrey Gaberino, 1984 Olympic gold medalist says, “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”

Asked about his secret to success, he said: “…hard work, perseverance and foresight, plus having the right people working with me to develop and sustain the business are key elements to my success.”

sorianoasia@gmail.com

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I am excited to deliver a very timely Real Estate talk on Sept. 25, a Friday, at the AIM Conference Center in Makati. The one-day talk will singularly focus on a very relevant topic entitled, “Anticipating a Real Estate Bubble? Manage Your Growth During Uncertainties”. To reserve slots, please call the session organizer, Octopus Branding, at 0915-9108686.

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