“Choose to be an entrepreneur because then you desire a life of adventure, endless challenge, and the opportunity to be your best self.” — a remarkable statement from “Big John”, the founder and former chairman of JG Summit, one of the largest companies in the Philippines.
John Gokongwei, a Filipino businessman, investor, and philanthropist, died in 2019 at age 93, but his legacy and business lessons continue to inspire. John created JG Summit, a worldwide conglomerate with assets in one of the Philippines’ largest Telecommunications companies PLDT, Manila Electric Company, and other international companies.
John’s grandfather, Pedro Gotiaoco, was one of Cebu’s richest persons in the 19th century. He was from Fujian province in China and was the owner of the massive trading firm Gotiaoco Hermanos. However, their family went bankrupt during the Great Depression, leaving them homeless.
John, his mother, and five siblings returned to China while his father stayed in the Philippines. At 14, he started selling peanuts to support his family. He quickly realized a bicycle would help him get more done. He saved money and eventually had enough to sell his goods in nearby cities.
At 17, he followed in his family’s footsteps and entered the trading business. He used a small boat to transport goods between Cebu and Manila.
In order to put his siblings through school in China, he had to double his work. After the war, John saw it as an opportunity to expand his trading business internationally. Amasia Trading, his first company, sold and bought goods in the United States, Manila, and the Visayas region.
Resulting from his fruitful dealings in Amasia Trading, John finally got to see his family again. When they get back to the Philippines, they helped run their father’s business which is American-Asia Trading.
He then got interested in the cornstarch sector but needed the funds to get started. After numerous banks turned him down to secure a loan, Dr. Albino Sycip of China Bank lent him P500,000 ($8900). John founded Universal Corn Products in 1954, and eventually expanded into variety of products, it became Universal Robina Corporation (URC).
URC became one of the country’s major food and beverage firms, while one of the Philippines’ largest business empires, the JG Summit Holdings continues to grow. He also founded Consolidated Food Corporation (later CFC), Cebu Pacific Air, and Robinson Retail Holdings. According to Forbes, John was the third richest Filipino at the time of his death.
Big John’s success was largely a result of his management style and leadership abilities, in addition to the fact that he has proven to be a crafty business leader. He will be forever remembered as a self-made billionaire who began by selling peanuts and was one of the most enduring entrepreneurs in history.