THE overseas Chinese or hua-chiao is a term commonly used for the Chinese in Southeast Asia. In a broad sense, overseas Chinese refers to all Chinese who have left their home in China to live and work abroad. The Chinese migration to Southeast Asia, particularly those who arrived between the 18th and mid-20th century, was mainly for economic reasons and focused in economic activities related to employment and trade. Their prime motivation was to make a decent living and survive in a practically new frontier.
Unparalleled work ethic
In my new book, “Ensuring Your Family Business Legacy”, I identified eight out of the twelve most famous Filipino entrepreneurs and included wealthy businessmen whose families emigrated from Mainland China to the Philippines before World War II when the economy was strong.
I mentioned in my last column and I wish to reiterate that even if each took a different approach, there is one common denominator among them before they became famous Filipino entrepreneurs — unparalleled work ethic.
While there are other factors that contribute to their achievements, such as being frugal, a good financial sense, and a strong network of fellow Chinese businessmen for support, the collective image of these famous Filipino entrepreneurs working hard and diligently has stuck in the minds of budding entrepreneurs in the Philippines. Indeed, if one aspires to become a successful entrepreneur, there is much to learn from the Chinese-Filipino entrepreneurs.
The following list, initially three due to limited space, gives an overview of the most famous Filipinos in business, mostly Chinese with a handful of Spanish mestizos. I will start with the four most popular and successful businessmen. I am hoping my readers can learn a lot from these icons of the Philippine business scene.
1. Henry Sy. Henry Sy came from an impoverished family in Jinjiang, a town near Xiamen, China. The entire family left China in 1936 to help the family patriarch manage a thriving convenience store in Manila.
As a child, Henry Sy used to work twelve-hours a day to help his father run their small family-owned convenience store. During the Second World War, their store was looted and burned so the young Sy switched to buying whatever he could to sell for a profit. Hard times and a humble background in retail shaped and molded the young Sy.
Today, he is touted by the business community as the richest man in the Philippines, with a net worth of 14.4 billion, according to the Forbes.com list in March 2015. With over fifty malls and stores of various sizes, the most recognized of all famous Filipino businessmen has foothold in virtually all the major cities in the Philippines. They recently expanded to Guam and China.
To date, four of the ten largest malls in the world are owned and operated by the Sy family.
2. Lucio Tan. Lucio Tan worked as a janitor in a cigarette factory. After a few promotions, he eventually resigned and started his own tobacco company. This company grew to capture a 60 percent share of the Philippine market. With its strong revenues, Tan was able to diversify.
This famous Filipino businessman now owns several prominent Philippine companies, many of them blue-chippers. The biggest chunk of his fortune comes from his Hong Kong-based Eton Properties. Among the country’s wealthiest businesmen, Tan is arguably the most enigmatic. He is the most elusive, preferring to stay out of the limelight. His 2015 net worth is $4.3 billion, according to Forbes.com.
3. Andrew Tan. Andrew Tan is a billionaire businessman from the Philippines who engages in real estate, liquor, and fast food. His network currently stands at $4.5 billion, based on the Forbes’ billionaires list. Originally a simple immigrant from China, Tan was born in the Fujian province of China. He spent his childhood at an apartment in Hong Kong shared by other families and had a short supply of basic necessities. (Please see related article last year where I wrote about his phenomenal rise).
Later, he moved to Manila where he studied accounting at the University of the East. For economic reasons, he would head to school walking rather than riding on public transportation. During his early years in business, the local government unit of Quezon City honored him as “Businessman of the Year” in 2004. Tan now runs the Alliance Global Group, Inc. (AGI), composed of four companies, namely Megaworld Corp., Emperador Distillers, Inc., Travellers International/Resorts World Manila and Goldern Arches Development Corp.