Cebu Business icons share lessons from the pandemic

·4 min read

HOW did Cebu’s notable business icons manage their companies and navigate through the challenging Covid-19 pandemic?

In an informal conference staged by Cebu Business Month 2022 organizers, some of them shared their ups and downs during one of the challenging economic crises in history. They told their stories during Cebu Business Month 2022’s panel conversation that inspired a fully packed room of entrepreneurs and aspiring ones.

The session dubbed as “GO Invest Cebu: Meet Your NeGOsyante Icons” elicited their success and failure stories and proved how personal, corporate, and business experiences make the best teacher under any situation.

The business icons emphasized the importance of taking care of employees during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Christopher Vincent Kokseng, management committee head of Harbour City Dimsum House Co. Inc., said protecting the physical well-being and mental health and improving the skills of his employees were among the urgent measures taken in response to the global health crisis.

“In my years of business, I learned that nothing is ever certain,” said the second-generation steward of the 53-year old family business. “But doing nothing is worse than doing something to respond to the times. We do not mind committing mistakes and learning from them, especially when, during the pandemic, it was like navigating through the dark. We have kept on calibrating since the business must go on.”

Jaja Chiongbian-Rama, founder and chief brand cultivator of Bigseed Public Relations & Events Inc., added that not all things can be controlled. During the pandemic that caused a domino effect across industries, her company focused on things within their realm of control, such as taking care of her team, improving processes, and ensuring sound financial management.

This demonstrated her team’s agile and growth mindset and ability to adjust and adapt quickly. Bigseed holds a track record of having collaborated with over 250 brands and organized more than 300 events across 15 industries and sectors.

For Lery Chik, chief operating officer of Cloudkart, whose business was formed in direct response to the lockdowns brought about by the pandemic, “mental toughness” is required in the face of adversities. He explained that they need to keep their emotions in check as they serve customers, provide jobs, give opportunities to suppliers, and ensure that food reaches the doorsteps of the Cebuanos.

By embracing technology, Cloudkart has become a one-stop online shop of groceries and essentials. It now features an Food and Drug Administration-licensed pharmacy, one of the company’s measures when the government started lifting some pandemic-related requirements, easing public mobility.

Resiliency was another important highlight during the GO Invest Cebu conference.

Elizalde Berdon, chief operating officer of Zink Studio, defined resiliency as constantly moving forward, finding ways to achieve one’s vision. During the pandemic, he took serious measures to streamline his fitness business processes to ensure his team gets paid. With this, and the fitness videos he made, he has continued to work on his dreams of setting up branches for Zink Studio amid growing competition.

“Just because the business closed down, it does not mean the business was not good. We can always evolve into something else. As long as you find your purpose in what you do, you will never be unsuccessful,” he said.

Charmaine de Leon, one of the owners of Sugbo Mercado and Pop District Bazaar, sees resiliency as a humbling opportunity to assess the impact of a critical situation (including the Covid-19 pandemic and the Typhoon Odette), openly communicate with her team, and work around concerns to the best of their ability.

As a co-owner of Sugbo Mercado and Pop District Bazaar, she makes use of her financial knowledge growing up as a breadwinner and from experiences and lessons gained from past small businesses.

For her part, Andrea Aldeguer, founder of Better Food Market and financial development head of The Islands Group, advised starting entrepreneurs to enjoy their days as a “small ship” before going big because the experiences they will gain from being so will strengthen their values, allowing them to go through any situation with determination and resilience.

She works for her family’s business, The Islands Group, and founded Better Food Market, an online specialty grocery store, in November 2020—during the pandemic—to introduce Cebuanos to healthier food option and get them excited about maintaining a healthier lifestyle.

Entrepreneurs are confronted with challenges surrounding staff recruitment, distractions along the business journey, and empowering the youth—concerns aptly raised by the audience in an interactive exchange that followed the panel conversation. In response, the icons recommended to always keep abreast of trends and developments, make use of every opportunity to learn, and find their purpose in business and act on it while taking calculated risks.

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