MANILA - Tycoon John Gokongwei Jr. is taking a step back from his business empire, turning over more control to his son Lance Gokongwei.

Gokongwei promised last year he would retire once he hit 90 years old. His birthday isn't until August 11, but he is already letting go of Robinsons Retail Holdings Inc. (RRHI), which handles the Gokongwei group's supermarkets and retail brands, including Toys "R" Us, True Value, and Mini Stop.

"Big John" gave up his position as chairman and chief executive officer of RRHI on Friday, stepping aside for his son Lance.

Lance talked to ANC about filling the shoes of his father when the right time comes.

"Even from 20 years ago, my father had the vision and the imagination, if I can put it to say, we've been very successful with Philippine brands in the Philippines, and we should build the same brands in the ASEAN," said Lance.

John Gokongwei still sits on the board of directors at JG Summit,
Robinsons Land, Cebu Pacific and Universal Robina Corp. (URC).

Former Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Ramon Kabigting calls URC a "wonderful example" of regional expansion, and he doesn't expect that to change with John Gokongwei entering retirement.

"They're in good hands. They're doing very well in that respect now, and it's just making me happy to see companies like URC play in this way...They go there and also taking advantage of the lower input costs so that operations are cheaper. From that production base, really taking it all over ASEAN and that's the sort of game that we really wanted to see: a Filipino firm that played so well when we were negotiating the free trade agreements during my term of service at the Department of Trade and Industry," said Kabigting.

Gokongwei group shares closed mixed in Monday trade with JG Summit and URC being among the top index gainers.