Filipino-Chinese and Taipans: Behind a richer Philippines

Every Filipino’s lifestyle is touched by a Filipino-Chinese.

Chinoys, as they are sometimes called, are part and parcel of Philippine culture and heritage.

Filipino-Chinese

McDonald’s Philippines chairman and founder Dr. George T. Yang (middle) with the owners of postinglife.com

A Filipino family walks into a department store and it must be in one of the largest shopping malls operated by SM Prime Holdings. Filipino-Chinese Henry Sy owns it, the Philippines’ richest man for the 10th year in a row, according to Forbes Magazine, with a net worth of $18 billion.

As the kids get hungry in the mall, they eat in a fast-food chain. They could settle at the one owned by Tony Tan Caktiong, the founder and chairman of the Jollibee Corporation, the world’s fastest-growing Asian restaurant chain. Or at the fast-food chain built by George T. Yang, known as the McDonald’s guy for opening the first-ever McDonald’s restaurant in the Philippines.

As the family plans for their summer get-away, they get excited to book their tickets right away. Just nearby are two choices for their plane ticket purchases: Cebu Pacific owned by tycoon John Gokongwei Jr. of JG Summit; and the country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines by tobacco taipan Lucio Tan who recently paid P6 billion peso debt to the government.

Wanting to shop at the mall, the father of the family is now short of cash and decides to get money from the ATM. There are various choices that he can withdraw from but definitely, one of the choices is owned by a Filipino-Chinese. If he chooses Metrobank, it is built by a Filipino banker and business magnate George Ty.

Whatever the Filipino family does, there is a touch of Filipino-Chinese ancestry in it. From food, textile, and fashion, to furniture and banking. Name it, and there must be something Chinoy about it.

According to townandcountry.ph, below are 12 of the top taipans in the Philippines and their heirs who help in the country’s development:

  1. Ramon Ang, president and chief operating officer of San Miguel, Net Worth: $1.2 billion; Heiress: Cecilia Ang, president of Diamond Hotel and local franchisee of upscale chocolate brand Royce
  2. Ben Chan, founder and chairman of Bench; Heir: Bryan Lim, vice president for business development
  3. Lucio Co, chairman, Puregold Price Club, Net Worth: $1.81 billion; Heir: Ferdinand Vincent Co, President of Puregold, 514 Shaw Property Holdings, KMC Realty Corporation, VFC Land Resources, and Pajusco Corporation, and is the treasurer of Fertuna Holdings
  4. John Gokongwei Jr, chairman emeritus of JG Summit Holdings, Net Worth: $5.5 billion, as of December 2016; Heir: Lance Gokongwei, Cebu Pacific president and CEO and president of JG Summit.
  5. Mercedes Gotianun, co-founder and chairman emeritus of conglomerate Filinvest Development Corporation, Net Worth: $1.3 billion; Heiress: Josephine Gotianun-Yap, Filinvest Land’s president and chief executive officer
  6. Ricardo Sy Po, chairman and founder of Century Pacific Corporation, Net Worth: $950 million, Heir: Christopher “Chris” Po, CEO and president of Century Canning Corporation
  7. Henry Sy, chairman and founder SM Investments Corporation, Net Worth: $13.7 billion; Heiress: Teresita “Tessie” Sy-Coson, vice chairman of SM Investment Corp (SMIC) and chairman, Banco de Oro Unibank.
  8. Andrew L. Tan, chairman of the board and president of Megaworld and chairman and CEO of Alliance Global Group and Global Estate Resorts, Net Worth: $2.5 billion; Heir: Kevin Tan, executive director of the Alliance Global Group, commercial division vice president of Megaworld.
  9. Lucio Tan, chairman and CEO of the Lucio Tan Group of Companies; Net Worth: $3.5 billion; Heir: Michael Tan, president of Lucio Tan Group of Companies
  10. George S.K. Ty, group chairman of GT Capital Holdings, Net Worth: $3.4 billion, Heirs: Arthur Ty, chairman of GT Capital and Alfred Ty, co-vice chairman and is also current Corporate Secretary of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Company and Vice Chairman of Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation.
  11. The late Emilio T. Yap was chairman emeritus of Manila Bulletin Corporation and Philtrust Bank. He passed away in 2014, Heirs: The heirs of Emilio Yap have controlling interests in the Manila Bulletin and Liwayway Publishing, Centro Escolar University, Philtrust Bank and Philtrust Realty, and the Manila Hotel, Net Worth: $1.1 billion
  12. Alfonso Yuchengco, chairman of the Yuchengco Group of Companies, Net Worth: $400 million; Heiress: Helen Yuchengco-Dee, chair of RCBC, National Reinsurance Corporation of the Philippines, and House of Investments; Director, GREPALIFE, Malayan Insurance, and Mico Equities

Even Jack Ma, the founder and executive chairman of Alibaba Group, China’s biggest e-commerce company, has recognized the role of the Filipino-Chinese in business.

“The Filipino-Chinese here—I think there’s a big community here—they can understand Chinese, English and also Philippine culture,” Jack Ma, with an estimated net worth of $38.3 billion, said.

He urged the Filipino-Chinese community in the Philippines to invest to turn the country into a cashless society.

Filipino-Chinese: Moving out of stereotypes

However, Chinoy.tv says that Chinoy’s are already moving out of stereotypes. “They are more than just math Olympiads, tycoons, hardware owners, or businessmen.”

“Today, the Chinese community is comprised of several groups from different sectors – students in all levels, teachers, alumni groups, established businessmen, young entrepreneurs, firefighters, fashion designers, celebrities, models, and even in LGBT community,” the website says.

According to Alvin Tan, owner of Chinoy TV, the character traits that define Chinoys are as follows:

  • Being resilient amidst challenges
  • Persevering
  • Believer of delayed gratifications
  • Having a long-term thinking

“I think cohesiveness (among the Filipino-Chinese) is still strong especially in doing business,” Tan said.

“Being a community show like Chinoy TV, we owe our existence through the support of the Chinese community,” Tan said.

He, however, recognized that there are also divisions within the community “and the cohesiveness amongst Chinoys in Manila and in other provinces are not as strong. That’s one of the reasons why we thought of using “diverCHIty” as our central campaign this year.

ChinoyTV expanded “diversity” – being composed of differing elements or qualities – to their version diverCHIty which means “Different Individuals Valuing Each other Regardless of Culture Heart Intellect Youthfulness.”

ChinoyTV explains that “Chinoys are also exemplifying their #diverCHIty across different fields such as modeling, media, arts, fashion, and sports. While each one is united by their Chinoy roots, they still possess the concept of #diverCHIty within them. Every person is special, as seen in their #diverCHIty, but also at the same time ordinary in their #individualiCHI.”

Moments with Taipans

I had the humbling opportunity to be invited by Mr. George Yang at his Forbes home for a short feature on his life and was fascinated by his opera singing.

Before getting married, I also had the opportunity to work in the Advertising Department of Megaworld. Mr. Andrew Tan was very hands-on then on his choices of building names and logos for his properties and we could just casually greet him as he comes in and out of the office located then at the 30th floor of The World Centre at the center of Makati.  His beautiful home was the location of my last marketing collateral produced for Megaworld.

Also, it is a rare opportunity to have a meeting with the country’s richest men and much less a merienda with one of them.  Below was a note that I wrote sometime in 2008 (Dr. Lucio Tan was the Phillippine’s 3rd richest man then):

Business tycoon Dr. Lucio Tan, Chairman and chief executive officer of Philippine Airlines with the owner of postinglife.com

According to Forbes, Dr. Lucio Tan is the 3rd richest man in the Philippines (1st – Jaime Zobel, 2nd – Henry Sy).

I was given the task to negotiate on behalf of my company, the renewal of a partnership with the Lucio Tan Group of Companies. Accompanied by the owner of Kopi Roti, Mr. Wilson Tecson, I found myself in the company of CEOs of the Kapitan’s empire – from Allied Bank, Century Park to Electro-Systems.

I sat with him on one sofa and went directly to business. Reports say he is shrewd, secretive and reclusive. In my personal experience, I felt the sincerity of a businessman who values hard work and relationship.

After signing the contract, he asked again for my name and contact number. I handed out my business card. He received it and read it aloud. This is something that is to me quite unexpected from the person who ranked 451 in the Forbes list of the richest people in the world.

While being the richest in this part of the globe, I felt the modesty of his lifestyle as I joined the rest in a huge round table that can accommodate 18 people. I was seated exactly right across the Kapitan.

“We have a simple meal”, he said and we shared pancit and arroz caldo.

I had a vantage point in the table as he began talking technological advancements – from a laser than splits water to its hydrogen and oxygen components, how big the galaxy is – about 300 million years in diameter or something like that (even converting light years to seconds just to illustrate how gargantuan space is) and also went on to show how minuscule bacteria/virus is down to the size of 1/10 to the 64th power.

I got a glimpse of his interest. “Research on solar energy and I will give a reward” – he said with a smile as he looked at the German scientist guest seating beside him.

He moved from other topics and shared laughter with the rest of the group – from serious topics on Catholic priests’ sexual abuse of children to as light as the order of planets in the galaxy and shared a technique to remember the order of the planets right.

He supports people who conquer the world and in jest, he shared a mountain climber who approached him again to ask for funding even if he got his leg cut at the Cardinal Santos Hospital for a gangrene acquired in summiting the Everest.

“There’s a lot of things to do”. That describes how energetic and sharp his mind is. The Kapitan is 73 years old. He mentioned creating a museum as one on the list of his things-to-do.

“The next generation must use water as fuel”, he said on a serious note.

I shook his hand twice and he responded with a smile and up to now, I am still at awe as I visualized that the third richest man in the country used to mop the floors to pay for school.