Three of the country’s brightest budding titans are battling their way into markets dominated by giants that a generation of competitors have come to consider impregnable.
Expanding aggressively in this period of pandemic, when most businesses are struggling just to survive, they represent a counterforce that gives credence to the maxim that opportunity always exists even in the darkest of times and are a source of inspiration to other entrepreneurs.
Rising challengers vs reigning champions
Contrary to common expectations, all three are from the province and started from humble beginnings. They did not have exceptional schooling and did not come from already-rich families. The three are not in privilege or pure consumption businesses; they are in businesses that enable other entrepreneurs in a large way, the country and the government.
Edgar Saavedra, 43, Zamboangeño. Megawide, in a stunning coup, has just been named the official contractor to rehabilitate the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in a $3-billion (P150 billion) bid. This comes after having won and successfully building en masse classrooms, and finishing the Mactan Cebu airport and sections of Clark and the PITX Integrated Terminal Exchange, all in just the last few years and substantially on time. Not just building the airport, Megawide helped build the market by organizing logistics with the airlines and other parties, promoting to the tourists, which altogether helped more than double the passengers in a few short years. The NAIA contract was originally given to a consortium of taipans joined with Aboitizes, Ayala and Alliance Global groups, which withdrew their P350-billion project due to tax and terms disagreement. These groups are also clients of Megawide, and, in this case, rivals for the airport contract. The Megawide construction and 18-year concession bid is a joint project with Indian partner GMR. It will upgrade and expand the capacity of NAIA, much needed to bring in more tourists and support businesses of all levels in the country. The project is still subject to bidding challenge and agreement on specific terms.
Injap Sia, 43, Ilonggo. The Mang Inasal chain founder, last month, went public with MerryMart, with the stocks going up against a downward trend of the market. In his 30s, he joined his Filipino-fast food chain with rival Jollibee, whose owner he further joined up with SM earlier for Citymart. He also joined with the Yujuicos in Double Dragon and with Oishi tycoon Carlos Chan for Hotel 101. Merrymart’s business model allows tying up with existing supermarkets to join forces, as well as giving franchises, serving as a platform and partner for new and old businesses.
Dennis Anthony Uy, 46, Kapampangan. Uy could not speak English when he migrated here at 11 years old from China. Starting work by maintaining refrigerators and from betamax rentals, he went into cabling services and television through Converge ICT, which also worked with PLDT Inc. and Globe Teelecom Inc. The company is a broadband service provider, servicing about half of the new residential broadband needs in the country. It plans to lay optic fiber cables between Hong Kong and the Philippines, adding competition to the two existing giants, at lower cost and increase the speed of access. This is to be funded by the IPO for $726 million (P36 billion) to be raised later this year — the biggest ever in the country. One of his projects is with Angeles City to provide 90,000 students free internet.
The three entrepreneurs, with their breathtaking plans, show that the model for success presented by Western institutions, i.e. requiring high education, starting with high capital, nurturing family — although useful, are not necessary, and are expensive for undeveloped nations to pursue. The culture of starting small, dreaming big, working hard, working even with rivals and immersing with expertise in your area of operation are more important as a starter.
Action, not words, is what the Philippines needs more of.
Do we pat ourselves? Enterprise and dynamism are alive, but not well. While we have successes to point to, we are way behind our neighbors in the number and breadth, and renewal cycles. The US top corporations or business people have a sea change every decade or so. The basis for top fortunes moved from the auto companies, to Coke, IBM, General Electric, garments fashions; changing to hardware makers HP, Dell and Intel; moving to enterprise software like Microsoft; then to mass social apps, along with the always-there finance and realty related industries. The characters ruling each industry changed every 10 to 20 years. In the Philippines, the same families have ruled politics since the 1940s till today, being periodically challenged by new entrants. The business families dominate for some 30 to 40 year cycles. In China, the changes come every five years; the top fortunes have moved constantly from industry to industry — from agriculture, to consumer drinks, appliances, solar, finance, real estate, somewhat residing among tech players now. This turnover both in dominant players in an industry and the dominant industries in an economy are an indication of the dynamism of the economy and the competitiveness of the entrepreneurial spirit.
How do we move up the ladder?
We need more doers, less talkers. Opinion pundits, entertainers and media outfits excessively focus the people’s attention on politics, entertainment and attention-grabbing news rather than on events and ways they can model themselves for improvement. Most people here listen to those they feel good about listening to rather than from whom they can improve their skills and attitudes.
The frame of thinking presented is to pity one’s self, to get angry or sad, to blame others, or to gratify one’s immediate desires. There is a dearth of presentation of options, planning, peaceful and constructive persuasion techniques, and recognition of wrong decisions as being responsible for poor outcomes. To continue these is to always be a laggard except by circumstances of fortune, which in itself is volatile.
Our country has good macro fundamentals and demographics; is positioned geographically to benefit from China, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (being growth engines); and has a special affinity with the United States. We should not let any party demonize the other; we need to do our homework, knowing what is the reality of history and current events. We need a proven reality-based model for decision making, and try to balance things and resolve differences rather than constant adversarial approaches as advocated by opinion-givers who have no record of success and by countries that have the biggest violations of rights and fairness that they preach.
In any circumstance, success can be attained with the right actions. With poor foundations, the failed groups will blame the ones who did well. With good foundations, everyone will benefit more. A rising tide lifts all boats.
George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI). He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and the United States.
New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (email@example.com).
**Also published in: https://www.manilatimes.net/2020/07/19/opinion/columnists/ph-needs-doers-not-talkers-challengers-rising/743339/