Lance Gokongwei on Big John: You can never beat the original

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Feb 23 2013 09:36 AM | Updated as of Feb 25 2013 07:12 PM

Lance Gokongwei on Big John: You can never beat the original 1
Lance Gokongwei and John Gokongwei. Photo courtesy of

MANILA, Philippines - JG Summit president Lance Gokongwei describes his father John Gokongwei Jr. as a "fearless" entrepreneur who wasn't afraid to challenge giants such as Philippine Airlines and Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.

"Big John," as the elder Gokongwei is fondly called, is the founder of JG Summit whose businesses include snack food, airline, property development, financial services and petrochemicals.

In an interview on ANC's Inside Business, Lance recalled how his father got the idea for budget airline Cebu Pacific after he read about US low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines in a magazine at a time when the government was liberalizing the aviation sector.

But it was also their failed bid for Philippine Airlines (PAL) that fueled John Gokongwei's desire to start an airline.

"We lost the bid for PAL. My dad felt he wanted to put up a competitor to PAL. He was in the States and read about a low cost carrier, called Southwest and that's how it started," Gokongwei said.

Cebu Pacific is credited with introducing the low-cost carrier model in the Philippines, challenging then dominant carrier PAL. With its "piso fares," the airline has helped boost the domestic and international travel market.

Gokongwei's Digital Telecommunications (Digitel) also challenged Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. and Globe Telecom, with its cheap rates and pioneering "unlimited call and text" promos. In 2011, PLDT merged with Digitel.

Where do the Gokongweis get the gumption to challenge giants like PAL and PLDT?

"That's my father, he's a classic entrepreneur, someone without fear. I don't know, he doesn't consider the largeness of the competitor as an obstacle but rather as an opportunity. He thinks he can do things in a quicker or in a more creative way unbogged by bureaucracy," he said.

Gokongwei said his father always makes a careful study before going into any new business.

"It may seem he's doing things on the fly but there's a careful study before it's done. He says you have to do three to four things. First, you have to assess the market. Second, is it large enough? Is there growth in the market? Third, do we have the capital to compete and fourth, do we have management and technical expertise to compete?," he said.

Asked how he compares with "Big John", Gokongwei said, "You can never beat the original. My job is to make sure the company is run well and continues all the success that he's built."