JOHN Gokongwei Jr. passed away on Nov. 9 at 93. He leaves behind a business empire built from the most humbling of beginnings. He was 13 years old when his father died from typhoid fever, and with the latter waned into thin air a good number of businesses that stood on credit.
Gokongwei, eldest of six children, picked up by selling peanuts at the back of their house and later opened a stall, selling soap, candles and thread.
The pesos he made in the market, he said, “were the pesos that went into building the business I have today.”
In his final years, Gokongwei was third richest Filipino, the tycoon whose acumen flexed into an expansive ring of companies with 75,000 workers and a market capitalization of $12 billion—from airline to food to department stores.
We mourn his passing and celebrate the life and success that was achieved through hard work and determination. His life also highlights honesty in the work. As one of his daughters said, his father never resorted to cutting corners, relied on chances or sought favors from connections. The family called it the “3 C’s,” practices that appear to be today’s norm in many business deals.
One thing is clear, Gokongwei will be an inspiration and a model to follow for many of our disadvantaged citizens who are poised for life’s battle and are working their way to weave their own rags-to-riches tale.
One gaze at our busy markets, and we see a multitude of Filipinos working their butts off at daybreak and come home drained and dirty from the day’s toil. And while we see that, we also know that success has been elusive to most of them. The daily labor hardly lifted their lives one bit, and yet they work on as a matter of survival; all the bold dreaming sometimes slowly fading in the cycle.
While at this, we need to highlight Gokongwei’s perseverance and frugality in the life he led. He must certainly have a bit of leverage when he started picking up despite the lost businesses of his father. But there was wiser use of resources, some financial literacy learned along the way.
This is the part that our toiling masses can emulate—to manage their best selves as well, and not squander one’s earnings to senseless vices. There is one’s self to transcend in this rat race. See how Gokongwei’s modest life built an empire.