A story of faith: outperforming and outthinking giants

IN our fast-paced, hectic world we all need a daily dose of faith, hope and love. Stories of heroic struggle against odds, survival and eventual triumph have always inspired people, given them hope, courage to fight, and egged them on to persevere.

When you read inspirational rags-to-riches stories, you’ll start to see a few common threads. Hard work, passion, determination, and drive are all common elements of these stories. Surprisingly, obstacles, failure, and incredible odds are also elements of these stories. In almost every case, the main character of the story would never have been expected to achieve so much in a single lifetime. These individuals, however, overcame tough odds, surpassed difficult obstacles, and laughed in the face of failure.

“Things aren’t always what they seem.” If you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage. You might not know it until some time later. I am sure Cecilio Pedro’s story would ignite your never-say-die spirit and inspire you to become all that you can be. His company, Lamoiyan Corp., is the manufacturer of Hapee toothpaste, the first homegrown toothpaste in the Philippines.

I first had the opportunity to exchange notes with Cecilio more than a decade ago when he was our speaker in an Ateneo MBA roundtable meeting with fellow professors. Then a little more than a year ago, we had the rare opportunity to share stories when we were both invited as resource speakers in a family business conference at AIM. Knowing the man up close and listening intently to his inspiring story gave me goose bumps in a positive way and today I want to share his story.

Reflecting upon it, the key to success is the owning of the family’s devotion to the business, its resilience in coping with disappointment, and the intensity of its long-term commitment to the business. That in a nutshell best characterizes the country’s Toothpaste King.

It is my fervent hope that family business owners and visionaries can learn so many lessons about Cecilio’s values, faith, tenacity and vision for his company.

Cecilio Kwok Pedro is an entrepreneur who made it to the top after his failure back in 1985. His principle is much grounded and to quote this man of humility, he once said, “We are competing against the giants. Without faith and without the intervention of the Divine, it is really difficult to survive in this industry.”

Twenty-five years ago, people thought Cecilio Pedro was crazy for competing head-on with global toothpaste brands Colgate and Close Up.

Before he went head-to-head with Colgate and Close Up, the two multinational toothpaste brands were Pedro’s only customers. His first company, Aluminum Container Inc., sold aluminum toothpaste tubes to these foreign firms from 1978 to 1985.

“At that time, I was thinking that toothpaste is something that everyone uses. And multinational firms will be here for the long term, so I thought it was a safe business,” he said.

All was going well for his company until plastic toothpaste tubes were invented. Both Colgate and Close Up decided to switch to plastic tubes in 1985, forcing Pedro to close shop.

“I never thought that they would switch to plastic tubes. My business got in trouble when they left,” he lamented.

Relying on a few customers was Pedro’s biggest mistake yet. Money stopped coming in, and he was left with millions of aluminum tubes.

Deeply mired in debt, he could have committed suicide had it not been because of his deep faith in God’s power and mercy. He turned his crisis into opportunity when he opted to compete with Colgate despite its being a multinational. With faith, guts and hard work, he put up a “David vs. Goliath” type of fight. When his sales started to dent Colgate’s, they offered to buy him out but he answered, “I don’t think you can afford my price.” Lamoiyan has now captured 30 percent of the market and is still growing.

Now, Hapee toothpaste tubes and sachets are selling like hotcakes in the Philippines, making his company, Lamoiyan Corp., the country’s first homegrown toothpaste empire. Part 2 of his story will follow.

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