Secrets of Filipino tycoons revealed

by Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

Posted at Feb 14 2013 01:19 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2013 12:34 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, George Ty, John Gokongwei, Andrew Tan and Manuel Villar are some of the richest people in the Philippines. 

What is the secret to these tycoons' success? Wilson Lee Flores, a veteran journalist who has interviewed the country's top tycoons, recently shared some anecdotes that sheds some light on how they became the wealthiest men in the country. 

In an interview on ANC's On The Money last Wednesday, Wilson said many of these tycoons went through difficult times when they were young. 

"I noticed one thing that tycoons, including tycoons in the Philippines, have in common is that many of them have gone through some hardships, whether personal, financial or family," he said. 

"(Metrobank owner) George Ty told me, 'everyone who wants success should be able to pay the price whether in terms of hard work or discipline'." 

Tycoons such as Lucio Tan, Villar and Gokongwei share a similar rags-to-riches story. 

"Lucio Tan and Manny Villar are from the school of hard knocks. They are self-made men... Lucio Tan did not finish college so he went to night school every night but he compensated by working very hard and always reading a lot. He reads a lot of Chinese history and philosophy... Manny Villar is a self-made man who came from a poor family but he went to one of the best schools in the country UP," Flores noted. 

Villar, a senator and one of the biggest property developers in the country, was born to a poor family in Manila and helped his mother sell fish in the market. Last year, Forbes estimated Villar's net worth at $720 million. 

Gokongwei, who owns Robinsons malls and Cebu Pacific, was born to a wealthy family but after his father's death, he had to drop out of school to sell rice and scrap metal. The net worth of the JG Summit founder was pegged at $3.2 billion. 

"(Gokongwei) is not just hardworking but one thing I admire about him is that he is probably the most well-read tycoon in the Philippines... He studies non-stop even though he was a high school dropout because he was poor," Flores said. 


Another common trait of tycoons is their sense of frugality. 

"Frugality is already inculcated in the Chinese culture. One of the tycoons I know, she said throughout her life she has never bought any designer clothes and she's one of the wealthiest in the country," Flores said. 

Andrew Tan, who owns Megaworld and the Philippine franchise for McDonald's,  used to walk to school because he wanted to save his jeepney fare. His net worth is now estimated at $2.3 billion.

"He used to walk to school to save on jeepney fare... But when you meet him, akala mo he's the son of a wealthy person, he's very refined, and well-off type," he said. 

Even Lucio Tan, the second richest man in the country with a net worth of $4.5 billion, didn't fly business class or first class on planes. 

"Before Luico Tan became PAL owner, he never flew business or first class. He always rides economy class... I heard one time his executives were in business class and he was in economy," Flores said.

When Gokongwei was a young businessman, he still kept on renting a home, instead of buying one. 

"He told me a lot of businessmen in the Philippines, the first thing they do when they become wealthy is they build a big house. His thinking is, inuuna muna niya factories and businesses and he didn't make the house a priority... He would prioritize building factories since they were cash cows," Flores said. 

While the tycoons are frugal, it is never to the point of depriving themselves of life's pleasures. 

"They lead simple lives," Flores said.


Many of the top tycoons are also very good with time management and are very disciplined. Some tycoons like Gokongwei and Ty don't attend any evening parties or social events, and are very athletic. 

Ty, the founder Metrobank whose net worth is $1.7 billion, is very disciplined about swimming every day. "He swims every day for half an hour. He's been swimming since he was in his 20s and now he's 80," Flores said. 

"Gokongwei does the treadmill and swims. He also takes a 20 to 30 minute nap, which I think recharges him. He works Monday to Saturday," Flores said. 

Filinvest's Andrew and Mercedes Gotianun, whose net worth is around $825 million, are also very low-key and private. 

"Andrew and Mercedes Gotianun are very low key but they are extremely hard-working. I heard they hold meetings at 6 a.m. with their executives. They lead disciplined lives," Flores said.