Sunday, March 8, 2015


It took about 20 or so years for Lucio Co to be the latest multi-billionaire.  He is probably the least educated.  His father, Co Se Kiat, was a man of means who earned by the sweat of his brows.  He had the money to send his son to college.

But Lucio Co told me when he was easy to reach he has always been interested in business, particularly trading where most Chinese – those whose roots are from Xiamen, anyway are best in the business.

As far as I know, he started his business in Subic where he set up his first Puregold store that sells imported goods at remarkably cheaper prices than any competitor.

I guess, the Chinese that he is,  Lucio Co knew all along the way to big money is selling big volumes at low prices.  Or as others suspect without proof, Co was not paying the correct tax.  Nobody really knows.

What everybody knows is that Lucio Co believes the secret of successful retail is high volume low margin.  That is plain sense.  It does not require higher education.

Lucio Co was one of the least known but close friends of Joseph Estrada when he was President. At the time of his siege from the forces organized by Gloria Arroyo through massive rallies in spite of the fact that Erap’s impeachment trial was already under way, I saw Lucio Co in intimate conversation with Estrada in his home in Polk street, Greenhills, San Juan. I never knew up to this time how the two became friends.

After Estrada fell, Lucio Co continued his successful importing and trading business under the Arroyo administration.  As far as I know, Lucio Co’s first big deal was the acquisition of the property of Tabacalera along the Pasig River in Manila.

Lucio Co rose obviously through his Puregold chain.  The company bought S&R Price Club, a large retail operation that prospered through membership.

At the start, Puregold’s competitors and the higher level of the local world of business seem to be indifferent to Lucio Co’s operation.  Nothing beats success.  As he grew vertically, Co took steps to be noticed and recognized as a charitable businessman with a big heart.

I am fed with information he donated about P200 million to St. Luke’s Medical Center presumably for the purchase of equipment or for the expansion  of the hospital’s charity operations.

Hardly anybody ever even suspected  the Ayala Group would team up with Lucio Co in the retail business.  The group and Co are now partners in Ayala Gold.  Observers notice the fact that the joint venture does not carry the name Puregold.  The Ayala Group may have its own reasons for refusing to be involved in the name Puregold.

Eight of the 11 billionaires listed by Forbes have Chinese blood.  In fact I personally know that two of them, Henry Sy and Lucio Tan, were born in China.

Hard for me to say which of the two – Lucio Co and Andrew Tan – is younger than the other. 

The full-blooded Filipinos in the list are David Consunji, probably the oldest among them and former senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr., married to Sen. Cynthia Aguilar, daughter of Dr. Felimon Aguilar whose wife had the sense to buy land in Las Piñas when price was reckoned in hectares, not in square meters.  Consunji is past 90 but remains sharp of mind.

Enrique Razon is the son of a Spanish mestizo, Pocholo Razon,  whose grandfather was in the stevedoring business in Spain.

By the time Pocholo died of cancer, Ricky knew port operations like he knew the palm of his hands.  His father trained him well.  Ricky was an eager and fast learner.   He is now a major partner of Bloomberry Resort, which owns Solaire Resort and Casino. Razon is major stockholder of International Container Terminal  Services, Inc. that has an awesome presence in about 20 other countries.

Before the casino hotel came up, Razon was literally spending about 200 days a year in the airplane hopping from one country to another where he has a port operations contracts.

Not strangely, three of the billionaires are competitors in gaming cum tourism projects. Resorts World of Andrew Tan was the first private casino to operate under the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.

Solaire which is probably the most decent-looking and appears to be fit only for the high rollers, soon started with a bang bringing the biggest gamblers from China.

City of Dreams of the family of Henry Sy opened about a month ago.

The oldest among the billionaires are probably John Gokongwei, Jr.,  Henry Sy and David Consunji. 

John, as his employees call him, started his business with a grocery in Cebu.  Henry Sy, on the other hand, had the sense to believe that if he sells about  300 (or was it 300,000) pairs of shoes and makes a hundred pesos from each, he would be on the way to big money and other businesses, initially a department store along Carriedo street in Quiapo.

He started with two trusted certified public accounts – Cesar Recinto, who was married to my first cousin, and Senen Mendiola, who started business life with salt beds in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro.

Recinto left Sy when the business was starting to grow.  Mendiola kept his loyalties to Sy till death. 

Lucio Tan is undoubtedly the poorest among them at the start.  He finished a degree in chemistry from the Far Eastern University as a working student.  He worked for some years with Bataan Cigar and Cigarettes where he might have honed his skills in the chemistry of producing cigarettes.

Before long, his Fortune Tobacco in Parang, Marikina was the biggest cigarette maker in the country employing about 10,000 workers at one time.  Lucio  Tan, more popularly known as “the kapitan” thinks way ahead of his time.

He saw the looming Philip Morris built at a cost of $300 million in Tanauan City as the most serious threat to Fortune Tobacco.  As if there was mutual admiration between Fortune Tobacco and Philip Morris, the two companies came to terms for a merger.

The merged operation called PMFTC (Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corp.) is now the country’s biggest cigarette maker.

Tony Tan Caktiong is the genius behind Jollibee hamburger chain.  It must have at least a thousand outlets all over the Philippines.

Jollibee or Tan Caktiong modernized the fast food industry in this country.

Robert Coyiuto, an old friend, is or used to be a stockbroker but he is more heavy on insurance.  George Ty controls Metrobank, one of the country’s biggest and other companies including real estate and a financial intermediary.

His charity operation is annual selection of the country’s top 10 public school teachers.  He dabbles in collecting expensive paintings.  

Lucio Co is not half as diversified as the other billionaires.  He does not have half the educational background either.

I have not seen a high school graduate amassing big wealth at so young an age and, I must repeat, without higher education.  Maybe the man has a secret his competitors do not know about and do not care to discover.  They will not be in it.  

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