MANILA - The fortunes of the Alfonso Yuchengco, 86, was spawned from insurance business, which his father, Don Enrique, built in the 1930’s.
Decades after, the business has grown into one of the largest conglomerates in the country. Aside from insurance, the Yuchengco Group of Companies has stakes in banking, travel, hotels, education, car dealerships and property.
Forbes Magazine currently ranks the Yuchengco family as the 19th richest in the country with a networth of $230 million.
Alfonso was once a diplomat. He used to be the Philippine’s special envoy to China, Japan and Korea. He also served as our ambassador to China during the Aquino administration and to Japan during the Ramos administration.
He used to be Philippine representative to the United Nations.
Unlike typical rags-to-riches stories of oligarchs in the country with Chinese descent, Alfonso was born to wealth. His father Don Enrique, an immigrant from Fukien province on the southeast coast of China, has already established a thriving rice trading, lumber and construction business in Binondo, Manila, when Alfonso was born in 1923.
In the 1930’s, Don Enrique ventured into insurance. He founded the China Insurance and Surety Company, the predecessor of Malayan Insurance Company, the leading non-life insurance firm.
Alfonso, the youngest and only son among the 5 surviving children of Don Enrique, eventually took over the family business. He expanded the family business. He established Great Pacific Life Insurance Co. (Grepalife), a life insurance firm. Then in the 1960’s, he started the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), the group’s banking arm.
His business expansions included two of the country’s firsts. In the 1970’s, he pioneered the pre-need business through Pacific Plans Inc. He also brought in the first credit card business in the country when he brought in Diner’s Card.
Alfonso is a certified public accountant after obtaining a degree from the Far Eastern University. He also completed two doctorate degrees—business administration and law.
Despite his traditional Filipino-Chinese family background, Alfonso’s own family was considered unconventional.
Alfonso divorced his first wife and re-married. He and first wife Paz Sycip had 6 children: the late Susanne, Annabelle, Mona Lisa, Alfonso Jr., Albert, and Alfonso III (Tito).
After Alfonso and Paz separated in the early 1960’s, Alfonso married Teresita Gomez, who later died of lung cancer. They had a ninth child, Maria Elena, who also passed away.
He accepted his eldest son’s decision not to involve himself in family business and allowed his daughters to run the businesses’ major operations. In 2005, he announced that eldest daughter, Helen Yuchengco Dee, would succeed him.
A few years ago, Nick Joaquin was commissioned to write the biography of Alfonso. Joaquin, however, passed away before the book was finished. It was left to writer Alfred “Krip” Yuson to complete the rest of the book.
The book, entitled “To Leave a Good Name: The Legacy of Alfonso T. Yuchengco,” showed different aspects of the tycoon who usually shied away from interviews with business reporters.
It described Alfonso’s devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary, his efforts to keep fit by swimming every morning for an hour, how he toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, among others.
He also stressed how personal integrity, not money, is important to him. He has been active in philanthropic work and currently chairs the Alfonso Yuchengco Foundation, which targets health, nutrition and education issues.
He was also active in giving out scholarships and has been one of the oligarchs that invested in a school, namely Mapua Institute of Technology.
But the Yuchengco group’s pre-need firm, which invested clients’ money to finance future education of plan holders, became a sore part of Alfonso’s life.
A coalition of plan holders of Pacific Plans, which had financial troubles sometime in 2005, waged an all-out war against him and his family. (Read: When Good Plans Go Bad and Lessons from the Fall)
The coalition has a pending syndicated estafa case against the firm, its officials, and members of the Yuchengco family for failing to meet financial obligations to the clients.
In their blogs and in various venues, the coalition members mocked Alfonso’s awards, including a Humanitarian Award from the University of Alabama, and when a group of businessman named a street in Binondo after Alfonso.