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5 timeless lessons we can learn from tycoon John Gokongwei Jr.

5 timeless lessons we can learn from tycoon John Gokongwei Jr.


Airamae Guerrero

Airamae Guerrero

12 Nov 2019, 12:30 — 5 min read

Entrepreneur and philanthropist John Gokongwei Jr., founder of JG Summit Holdings Inc., one of the country’s biggest conglomerates, has passed away on November 9, 2019, at the age of 93.

Ranked as the third richest Filipino according to Forbes’ list, Gokongwei Jr. came a long way from a 13-year old young boy who used to sell garlic-cooked peanuts to his schoolmates to building largest corporate names in the country with Cebu Pacific Air, Universal Robina Corp., and Robinsons Bank and several other businesses.

With his peaceful passing, his inspiring rags-to-riches story lives on. Here are the things we can learn from Gokongwei Jr’s business journey:

1. Love your work

In his speech at his alma mater University of San Carlos in Cebu where he received a Lifetime Achievement Award, Gokongwei Jr. recalled waking up before dawn “to sell spools of thread, bars of soap, and candles” at the market.

When you love and enjoy what you do, you will not easily give up when challenges arise. Instead, you will understand that all these challenges are stepping stones for your success.  

“I earned about P20 a day by working longer and harder than everybody else. But it didn’t matter since I really love my work. I love being an entrepreneur,” he humbly shared.

When you love and enjoy what you do, you will not easily give up when challenges arise. Instead, you will understand that all these challenges are stepping stones for your success.  


2. Family comes first

Though a workaholic, Gokongwei Jr. always showed up for dinner, exchanging stories and making time for his family.

In the book ‘Lessons from Dad, John Gokongwei Jr.’, Lance Gokongwei, the only son of Gokongwei Jr. and the President and CEO of JG Summit Holdings Inc., shared: The best lessons I learned from my parents were from being with them, observing them, and listening to them at the dinner table. I learned about the importance of family, and the importance of working hard. I learned about running a business from the stories my father told us – he had many adventures! We shared in his many successes and failures.

Also read: Finding the right work-life balance - 9 practical tips for the workaholic

3. Work hard. If you don't work, you don't eat. 

Despite being a billionaire, he did not let his children have everything handed to them on a silver platter. His children do not receive cash gifts on birthdays or Christmas. Instead, Gokongwei Jr. taught the value of hard work.

In a commencement speech of Lance, he recounted how he “worked harder than anybody else” to prove that he wasn’t just the son of the boss.

Despite having a degree from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, he started working as a management trainee, earning P2,000 to “sell Jack ‘N Jill snacks to supermarkets, groceries, and sari-sari stores.” 

This kind of experience allowed Gokongwei Jr’s children to understand the dignity of labor, which now helps them in managing their businesses.

Also read: Managing the challenges of a family business

4. Never stop learning

For Gokongwei Jr., learning never stopped. At the ripe age of 92 he shares, "Through the years, I've stayed an entrepreneur, working hard and always learning from the school of life. Today, I'm 92 years old. I still know what has been going on in my company and I study and learn and always read books and now stories in this new digital age."

When he had the means to go back to school, he juggled managing his businesses and finishing his MBA. “When I got my diploma it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Then I went to Harvard in 1972 for 14 weeks to take the advance management program.”


5. Be grateful and always give back

On his 80th birthday, Gokongwei Jr. donated P20 billion – half of all his personal holdings – to Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF). “Life has been good to me, and I want to give back the blessings I have received,” he shared.

He also reminded to “love your country, never stop caring, and always look back and be grateful to where you came from.”

With his significant contribution to make Filipino lives better, John Gokongwei Jr. has left a great legacy.

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.

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Airamae Algentera Guerrero

I shine the spotlight on business owners who are doing exciting and innovative work by featuring them as part of our 'SME Inspirations' series. Connect with me and share...

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