Success Story of Lucio Tan
By Preciosa S. Soliven
The Philippine Star
A POINT OF AWARENESS
There is a roadmap of life that stretches to 100 years. Divided into four parts, the first 25 years is considered the formative years of schooling from preschool to college when one acquires a career. Even carpenters, electricians, welders or plumbers learn their trade within this period. From 25 to 50 years each one masters a professional career.
Consider then the first 50 years of life as the map of first adulthood and the next 50 years, the second roadmap of adulthood, usually a period of serenity, according to Gail Sheehy, who has done an extensive sociological research interviewing 10,000 men and women from all walks of life. She converted these materials into 14 books including Pursuing the Passionate Life, The Seasoned Woman, and Understanding Men's Passages.
From 50 to 75 when one has become an expert, it is time to mentor others. During the final passage of 75 to 100, a man would be leaving a legacy. The passage of Lucio Tan’s life is worth understanding.
If you just read media reports, Lucio Tan appears to be a less than desirable character: Marcos crony, tax cheat, union buster, greedy capitalist. Unfortunately, for most Filipinos, that is who Lucio Tan is, since that is all they read about and know of him. However, those who have had the chance to meet him personally, to talk to him, to work with him, to interact with him, paint quite a different portrait of the man tagged as Kapitan, Taipan, and Boss.
Lead researcher Rosalina Ora'a-Fuentes found her impression of the man changing after meeting him regularly at the monthly gathering of educators involved with the Foundation for Upgrading the Standard of Education or FUSE. This was reinforced when other people shared stories of their own positive and endearing experiences and encounters with Lucio Tan.
Like a research thesis, she and the project work team make use of 'Appreciative Inquiry' as the framework of the book, Taipan – Stories About Lucio Tan that seeks to locate and highlight the life-giving forces of a person’s or organization’s existence. Widespread participation was elicited in the process of preparing this book, but at the same time keeping the undertaking a secret — not to be divulged to the subject all throughout the data-gathering period.
A gentleman's delights
Lucio lives by the saying of Chinese philosopher Mencius: “A gentleman delights in three things, and to rule the world is not one of these three things. For one’s parents to be both alive, and for one’s brothers to have no misfortune, that is the first delight. To look up and see Heaven without shame, that is the second delight. To obtain the world’s talented people and educate them, that is the third delight.”
Who is Lucio Tan? He was born on July 17, 1934 in Amoy, Fujian Province in what is now the People’s Republic of China. Dr. Lu Kun Chen, two years older than he, remembers him from the boat ride that brought the two of them to the Philippines as children. Three high school friends — Tina Enriquez, Larry Uy and Robin Sy — contributed to the book.
STORIES ABOUT LUCIO TAN. Up close and very personal.
The book begins with the personal statement of Lucio Tan’s wife, Carmen: “Lucio has three great loves – his parents, learning and books. Just allow him space for these great loves and that makes him happy, very happy.”
"Up to now, Lucio continues to learn. Even if he retires past midnight, he is up by 4 a.m., getting only four hours sleep everyday. He looks over his notes, reads his books and tells me — 'There is no end to learning.' I may not be happy with Lucio pushing himself too much, but here I see his big heart for others, especially the young generation."
"Lucio is a simple, humble man. He does not like anything expensive because he is worried about losing it. He says — My mind and heart is held captive when you give me an expensive gift!"
Perseverance and determination supported by practical foresight
Lucio Tan started a degree in Chemical Engineering at the Far Eastern University in Manila in the late ’50s, but failed to complete the degree because he had to work to earn for the family. His first employment was at a cigarette factory. Very soon, he opened his own company, Himmel Industries, which thrived since it manufactured glycerine – an ingredient essential to tobacco, but was then being imported by the major cigarette companies. Despite advice to the contrary, he put up a cigarette company of his own in 1965, Fortune Tobacco.
Domingo Chua, also his brother-in-law recalls: “Working with Mr. Tan is a story of success from hard work. He started with just two second-hand cigarette makers. Those in the cigarette business would say, ‘Huli na kayo’, but Mr. Tan would say – ‘The population is growing and those coming will be our target customers…’”
“Mr. Tan’s perseverance and determination are supported by his practical foresight. He prepared for additional machines well ahead of the eventual breakdown of his first two. This kept his products at constant prices and his supply adequate to meet demands. Never in the history of our cigarette business was there a black market.”
It did not take long. Evercool, Mr. Tan’s first brand of cigarettes, made a surprise leap. Buyers were chasing its delivery trucks. He extended the usual seven-day credit to 45-day credit for the year-end sale and production moved from 5,000 packs a day to 10,000, to 30,000, and so on.
KING OF THE AIR – IN ECONOMY CLASS. Once, one of PAL’s regular clients, Lucio Tan would enjoy traveling in economy class while his executives are in business seats. Now that PAL is under his care, he still doesn’t mind flying in the same old seat.
Navigator of society
Later, Lucio Tan moved into beer and alcohol production by acquiring Tanduay. Then, he took over the ailing Genbank in 1977, again an unwise risk. He renamed it Allied Bank and eventually built it into a global success. Respected bankers Ramon Sy and Gabriel Singson were part of the group that oversaw the bidding on Genbank.
In 1997, Mr. Tan took over Philippine Airlines, which was losing more money than the government could afford. After pouring in substantial capital, he turned the airline around. Today, it is a very successful national carrier in spite of major crises.
Lucio once again embarked on a high risk venture, in 2000, for the sake of what he saw as the better interest of the country. The Philippine National Bank was suffering a serious decline — conventional wisdom said don’t touch it, but touch it he did, and in a few years had turned it around.
Earning the title "Taipan," Lucio Tan has placed himself to be the second richest man in the country and is father to over thirty successful business ventures.
Too simple and practical for a taipan
Lucio Tan has earned a reputation for being a systematic and hard-hitting businessman, succeeding through hard work and perseverance – and calculated risk taking. Big business and government ‘insiders’, as well as ordinary employees of his companies and friends, are deeply impressed by the intensive way he goes after knowledge and information, as well as his business acumen.
Bewley Azul, “anino ng Taipan”, says: “Si boss simple at practical yan. His ordinary wear is barong Tagalog. In a crowd, pwedeng mapagkamalan isa siya sa mga waiters. Another interesting habit of Boss is that he carries with him in his carry-on bag a supply of carpentry tools, nuts and bolts. When he sees a creaking chair or table, without hesitation, he tries to fix it himself.”
Forever the student
PAL Operations Special Assistant Emilio Yu states: “Listen to him talk about aviation! He has no formal training in it, yet he can tell you very important aspects of aviation like bolts and nuts, designs, capabilities and pilots and atmospheric conditions.”
Lucio Tan’s perseverance and determination, anchored by his practical foresight, are his open secrets to having built a business empire.
Perhaps because he truly believes that education is the first line of salvation for the country, Mr. Tan has always had a soft spot in his heart for both schools and students. Onofre Pagsanjan, his Filipino tutor, and Fr. James Reuter, SJ, his English tutor, speak of Lucio’s interest in learning and in students. He affirmed his commitment to education when he bought the University of the East in 1990.
In 1993, the Lucio Tan Group of Companies set up the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, committed to corporate social responsibility, with a particular strong orientation towards education. FUSE, it’s major educational project, has sponsored training programs for thousands of teachers and co-funded the Constel series of tapes for Math, Science and English classes for use by teachers and students in public and private schools. FUSE continues to serve as a monthly forum wherein top educators of the country meet to air concerns and share perspectives and ideas.
Losing 20-years of opportunities for the Philippines
On 8 December 2007, Philippine STAR’s banner headline was “SC to gov’t: Get out of Lucio Tan firms”. Mike Frialde states: “The Supreme Court upheld yesterday a ruling by the Sandiganbayan ordering the lifting of government’s sequestration of companies and other business interests of taipan Lucio Tan.”
“Reached by phone, Tan could only mutter repeatedly, ‘Thank you, thank you, it’s over!’ The 73-year old tycoon lamented, ‘We won the case but we lost 20 years of opportunities.”
Get a glimpse of the life force of Dr. Lucio Tan and discover how he earned the title Taipan. The book claims not to take away your bad boy initial perception of a man as crafted by Philippine media. Rather, after you have read the book, you get to know a different side of this famed man.
A vastly entertaining and inspiring read, Taipan: Stories of Lucio C. Tan, is now available in the market. Don’t miss your copy.