Gokongwei a 'common man' who flew economy, kept nuts in pocket, son Lance says


Posted at Nov 15 2019 01:06 PM

Gokongwei a 'common man' who flew economy, kept nuts in pocket, son Lance says 1
Cebu Pacific CEO Lance Gokongwei (left) and his father John Gokongwei Jr., stand in front of a new Airbus A330-300 from Toulouse, France in a ceremony at Manila's International airport on Sept. 12, 2013. Jay Directo, AFP/file

MANILA -- The late industrialist John Gokongwei always flew economy, until he got too big for budget airline seats, said his only son, Lance Gokongwei, paying tribute to the billionaire who remained a "common man."

In one of their many trips, Lance said he endured the stench from the blue cheese that his father kept in his pants while shuttling between business meetings, just so they could save on lunch money. On most days, his shirt pockets were filled with peanuts.

"Till today, I think Dad was most successful with businesses that catered to the every man, the common man, because that’s who he was himself," Lance said in his eulogy published in full on Esquire Philippines' website.

The Gokongwei patriarch passed away on Nov. 9. He was 93. His JG Summit Holdings controls the Philippines' largest airline, Cebu Pacific, Robinsons Malls, Robinsons Land, Universal Robina Corp and Summit Publishing.

"From producing snacks like Chippy that are part of every Filipino’s childhood memories, to Robinsons Malls with affordable necessities, to Sun Cellular that had cheaper rates than the competition, to Cebu Pacific, the budget airline, so that every Juan can fly," Lance said.

In an earlier eulogy by elder sister Robina Gokongwei-Pe, she said her father made sure she and Lance worked in the storage rooms of Robinsons Department Store, where there was no air conditioning, to teach them the value of hard work.

Lance, she said, was made to sort through bras. Like her sister, Lance referenced their father's line: "If you don’t work, you don’t eat."

Throughout the wake this week, Lance said he and his sisters still had business meetings in the morning as a tribute to their father.

"That’s how Dad would’ve wanted it. Business as usual. Our going to work is a tribute to Dad, who always believed in the dignity of work," he said.

After his grandfather died, Lance said their father lived with distant relatives. To save on money, young John Gokongwei offered to split the 10-centavo calesa ride with a relative around his age, whom Lance introduced as Auntie Pacita.

"However, whenever the calesa was halfway home, Dad would jump off the calesa and walk the rest of the way home. That meant he didn’t have to pay for his half of the calesa ride, right?" Lance said.

Traveling from England to the US, Lance said his father once chose a flight with a stopover in Germany instead of a direct flight to save cash.

"Dad also always flew economy, until he got too big to fit in the seats. That’s why we set up Cebu Pacific, a low-cost carrier, because we’re all used to riding economy," he said.

Father and son also shared hotel rooms. Lance said he once slept in the bathtub to escape his father's loud snoring.

"Dad was an every Juan, a simple man who wore ill-fitting clothes, whose ties were almost always stained, who loved to stay home and read his piles of books.," he said.

Lance said he promised his father that he would take care of his family and the business that the patriarch left behind.

"I accept it humbly, gratefully, with open hands, heart, and mind. And I am running with it," he said.