John Gokongwei was a Filipino businessman and philanthropist best known as the founder and former chairman of JG Summit Holdings, Inc., one of the Philippines' largest and most diverse conglomerates. He amassed a vast empire that included businesses in food, beverage, clothing, aviation, telecommunications, banking, energy, petrochemicals, and livestock farming. He was also a generous supporter of numerous educational and social causes, including scholarships, research grants, and disaster relief. Along the way, he faced numerous challenges and risks, but he persevered and innovated to overcome them.
John Gokongwei's childhood was marked by adversity and resilience, molding him into a determined and resourceful person. He was born on August 11, 1926, in Gulangyu, China, into a modest and enterprising family. Tragic events occurred at a young age when his father died, leaving the family in financial difficulty. They moved to the Philippines in search of a better life, and Gokongwei had to work odd jobs to support his family.
Despite the difficulties, Gokongwei's enthusiasm for learning and entrepreneurship never wavered. He started his first business at the age of 15 in the local market, selling peanuts and other goods. His unwavering determination and business acumen led him to diversify into a variety of ventures, ranging from trading to manufacturing and retail.
John Gokongwei built a successful conglomerate, JG Summit Holdings, through sheer hard work and determination, encompassing businesses in diverse industries such as telecommunications, retail, aviation, and real estate. His inspiring journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of the Philippines' most prominent business tycoons is a testament to the power of perseverance and the pursuit of one's dreams.
John Gokongwei had little formal education throughout his life. He was born in China and grew up in the Philippines. He attended the University of San Carlos in Cebu for primary and secondary school, graduating as valedictorian. However, after his father died and his family lost their fortune, he was forced to drop out of school. To support his family and his businesses, he began working as a peddler and trader. Later, he enrolled in an MBA program at De La Salle University in Manila, but he dropped out. In 1977, he also took a short course at Harvard Business School. He believed that learning was a lifelong process that could be learned through books, mentors, and life experiences.
John Gokongwei began his career as a garment factory worker in Manila. He picked up tailoring skills from his coworkers and decided to open his own shop. He applied for a P50,000 government loan for scheduled caste people and purchased six sewing machines. He hired some workers and began producing clothing for local stores. He also opened a furniture store with a P100,000 loan. He gradually grew his business and established a solid reputation for quality and service.
John Gokongwei began trading after purchasing a small boat with his savings. He used the boat to transport goods between Cebu and Manila. He traded items from the United States such as flour, onions, fruits, used clothing, old newspapers, and magazines. With the assistance of his siblings who had returned from China, he also imported cigarettes and whiskey. Amasia Trading was the name he gave to his trading company.
In 1957, John Gokongwei switched from trading to manufacturing after realizing that trading had low margins and was subject to government policies. He borrowed P500,000 from the chairman of China Bank, Albino Sycip, and established a corn milling plant that produced glucose and corn starch. Universal Corn Products (UCP) was the name he gave to his company, which later became Universal Robina Corporation (URC). URC grew to become one of the country's leading food and beverage companies, producing snacks, candies, chocolates, biscuits, coffee, tea, juices, bottled water, noodles, flour, feeds, and other products.
JG Summit Holdings was founded in 1990 by John Gokongwei as a holding company for his various businesses. JG Summit is interested in a variety of fields, including:
JG Summit Holdings:
Cebu Pacific Air is the Philippines' largest low-cost carrier, operating both domestic and international flights.
Digital Telecommunications Philippines (Digitel) is the country's third-largest telecommunications company, operating under the Sun Cellular brand.
Robinsons Bank operates as a commercial bank, offering deposit products, loans, credit cards, remittance services, trust services, and investment products.
JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation (JGSPC) is the country's first integrated petrochemical plant, producing polyethylene and polypropylene resins.
Global Power is one of the region's leading independent power producers, operating coal-fired power plants.
Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC) is one of the country's leading real estate developers, developing residential condominiums, office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, resorts, industrial parks, mixed-use complexes, and warehouses.
Universal Robina Corporation - Agro Industrial Group (URC-AIG) is one of the country's largest hog producers, owning farms and feed mills.
John Gokongwei was also a philanthropist who contributed to a variety of causes including education, health, the environment, culture, the arts, sports, and disaster relief. In 1992, he established the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) as JG Summit's corporate social responsibility arm. GBF awards scholarships to deserving students who wish to study engineering or science at one of several universities. GBF also funds research and development projects aimed at improving education and innovation in the country. GBF also makes donations to the University of San Carlos, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippine General Hospital, Philippine Red Cross, and World Wildlife Fund.
"Do what is right... do it with honesty and vigor. Be creative - that's important. Don't follow what other people are doing." ~John Gokongwei
"Love your family. Love your country. Never stop learning... And always look back and be grateful to where you came from." ~John Gokongwei
"Love your work. Work hard for it."~John Gokongwei
"I don't rely on feng shui. I believe hard work brings us good luck and success." ~John Gokongwei
"Choose to be an entrepreneur because then YOU create value. Choose to be an entrepreneur because the products, services, and jobs you create then become the lifeblood of our nation. But most of all, choose to be an entrepreneur because then you desire a life of adventure, endless challenge, and the opportunity to be your BEST SELF." ~John Gokongwei
"I chose to live my life unafraid even during times when I WAS afraid. I discovered that opportunities don't find you; you find your opportunities." ~John Gokongwei
John Gokongwei was also a philanthropist who contributed to a variety of causes including education, health, the environment, culture, the arts, sports, and disaster relief. In 1992, he established the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) as JG Summit's corporate social responsibility arm. GBF awards scholarships to deserving students who wish to study engineering or science at one of several universities. GBF also funds research and development projects aimed at improving education and innovation in the country. GBF also makes donations to the University of San Carlos, De La Salle University, Ateneo de Manila University, Philippine General Hospital, the Philippine Red Cross, and the World Wildlife Fund.
"I don't usually make political comments, because I am a businessman, not a politician." ~John Gokongwei
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