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Life Lessons From John Gokongwei, Jr., Management Man of the Year

Dream big. John Gokongwei, Jr. once sold soap at the public market
By Kwyn Kenaz Aquino for |


John Gokongwei, Jr. is a force to reckon with. At 91, he is still a top player in the Philippine economy, and has consistently retained a spot on Forbes' annual Billionaires List. This year he is number two with $5.5 billion.


On Monday, November 27, Gokongwei, Jr. received the Management Man of the Year 2017 award from the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) at the Shangri-La at the Fort. He is the 41st recipient of the award, which is given to those who have distinguished themselves in the practice of management.


Gokongwei, Jr. is the founder of JG Summit, a conglomerate that has stakes in various industries, including Cebu Pacific, Robinsons Land, Universal Robina, Robinsons Bank, PLDT, and Meralco.

He was only 13 when his father died and he had to work to help his family get out of debt. He started selling roasted peanuts to his classmates in Cebu. He later sold soap, thread, and candles in the town market. With the profits he made there, he went back and forth to Manila to sell his products in a bigger market. He went into trading, and then manufacturing. Today, Gokongwei, Jr.'s conglomerate has diversified businesses around the world.



Today MAP honored him "for his contributions in shaping national values and inspiring others by his outsanding achievements attained from humble beginnings through hard work, perseverance, frugality, and discipline."

Gokongwei, Jr.'s only son Lance has a lot to say about his fatherâs wisdom. In the privately published book Lessons from Dad, written with Yvette Fernandez, Lance outlines what he has learned from a lifetime of lessons his father taught him and his five sisters. Here are some of them.


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

John Gokongwei worked hard for his success, setting a good example for his children



Let your children find their passion, and be the best they can be in the field they choose. And then make them work hard at it. When they were young, Gokongwei, Jr.'s children were not given cash gifts at birthday or Christmas. They had very small allowances. They spent their summer vacations working in the stockroom or putting prices on groceries. They had to work hard for their money.




The dinner table is a place for ideas

The Gokongwei family at one of their family gatherings in the 1980s. Top row: John, Elizabeth, and daughter Robina. Middle row: John's mother Ana Juanita, son Lance, and daughters Lisa and Hope. Front row: Daughters Faith and Marcia


Make time for your family and show up for dinner, as Gokongwei, Jr. did when his children were growing up. Turn off all gadgets so there is room for conversation, which is just as important as healthy food on the table. Tell stories about your day and learn lessons from each other. Dinner is a great time to exchange ideas and opinions.



Ask for advice

John Gokongwei, Jr. at work with his son, Lance, and his brother, James



You can never stop learning from others. Even when you are the boss or manager, you will benefit from the ideas of your colleagues. If you must, hire consultants and join industry groups that discuss problems in your field. No matter what challenges arise, make sure to find the solution, even if it doesn't come from yourself.



Women are just as smart and as strong as men are, maybe even more

John's daughter Marcia Gokongwei, an executive at Universal Robina Corporation



Gokongwei, Jr. has five daughters who are doing what their mother did: They go to work every day. Women are just as capable of running projects and businesses as men are and should be given the same opportunities.


Thank the people who helped you along the way, and give back

Universal Robina, one of the biggest companies in the Philippines, also gives back



Helping others is a circle. Friends and family assist you in hard times, and when you are able enough, you should do the same for other people. Never forget the people who helped you. And pay it forward. Get involved in an advocacy. Make a difference where you can.



Live simply, but spend on experiences

Gokongwei, Jr. traveling with his family



The Gokongweis dress simply and remain humble. They don't spend on designer brands or flashy cars. They spend on travel and books, their means to expand the mind. This is how they constantly come up with new ideas.




Deciding on the one you marry is the most important decision you'll ever make

John and Elizabeth Gokongwei on their wedding day; the couple with daughters Faith and Hope


Marry a good person. Your spouse should be an ally in happiness and not a source of misery. The challenge is to find someone who shares the same beliefs and principles and can be your partner in parenthood and all aspects of your life. For women: The right man will work hard to win your heart.





Entrepreneur Philippines and Town and Country Philippines is published by Summit Media, a subsidiary of John Gokongwei Jr.'s JG Summit Holdings, Inc.

This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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