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The top 40 wealthiest Filipinos

September 9, 2009

That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest. — Henry David Thoreau

The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things… it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.— Steve Forbes

The latest 2009 Forbes magazine roster of the Philippines’ 40 wealthiest people or families is interesting and I agree with their top five, but it’s surprisingly inaccurate and incomplete. I shared this opinion as part of two speeches on Sept. 1 before college students at the Sister Miriam Thomas Hall of Miriam College and on Sept. 2 at the 14th national convention of the Printing Industries Association of the Philippines.

Dream Big, Turn Crisis Into Opportunity

Without commenting on the unimpressive quality of the Forbes list, I nevertheless shared that of those in the top 40 wealthiest, 17 belong to the category of self-made wealth and not inherited. Only a few are women.

The organizer of my talk at Miriam College was the Society of Junior Entrepreneurs (SJE) president Claire Santos and executive vice president Jacqueline V. Bautista, and I learned from Dean Ma. Concepcion Lupisan and Entrepreneurship Department chairman Dr. Elaine Boquiren that one-third of all college students in Miriam College are now studying business.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Miriam College students’ interest in entrepreneurship, so I challenged the audience — including students who sat on the floor or stood because all seats in the hall were full — that I hoped 20 years from now, in 2029, many of the 40 wealthiest people on the Forbes list would come from among them. I reminded them not to forget me when they’re already billionaires in the future!

Telling them that the best resorts, the best factories, the best exporters and other top businesses are not yet in existence because we’re waiting for them to create them, I encouraged the students to dream big, to list their life goals on paper, to work hard, take calculated risks, to study nonstop even after college, use innovation to surpass the current crop of wealthiest business leaders, and to claim their destiny of ultimate success.

To the national printers’ convention led by president John L. Choa, first vice president Winifredo Tan, second vice president Leonardo de Jesus, third vice president Enrique Tansipek, and other officers like respected director Joseph Yam, whose family owns Printwell, I shared my observation that many of the finest entrepreneurs in the Philippines and the world are people whose successes were forged in the crucible of crisis. Their convention theme was “Turning Crisis into Economic Opportunities.”

Wealthy Tycoons & Families That ‘Forbes’ Missed

On Forbes magazine’s top 40 list, at No. 39 were Rolando and Rosalinda Hortaleza of Splash, with an estimated net worth of US$39 million or P2 billion; and at No. 40 Marian Rosario Fong, whose family used to be a partner of Henry Sy in SM Supermarkets, with a net worth of $38 million.

I believe that Forbes erred in ranking popular Jollibee boss Tony Tan Caktiong as richer than San Miguel boss Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., without taking into account that Tan’s other siblings have their own big shareholdings and that Tan’s father-in-law reportedly had among the biggest investments in Jollibee.

Here are only a few of the very successful business people — there are actually more — whom I believe Forbes mistakenly omitted from its wealthiest list (in no particular order):

Manuel V. Pangilinan — The enterprising and driven boss of PLDT/Smart and Hong Kong-based First Pacific Group is perhaps the richest corporate leader in the Philippines. His success shows us that, like in America, with its highly compensated chief executive officers of giants like Microsoft, one can become a tycoon by being a world-class corporate executive.

Imelda O. Cojuangco — The mother of PLDT and Bank of Commerce former boss Tony Boy Cojuangco is one of the wealthiest people in the Philippines and immensely cash-rich after the sale of the family’s shareholdings in PLDT to the First Pacific Group. Anvil Business Club honorary chairman and Wharton/University of Pennsylvania Alumni Association president George T. Siy told this writer: “She should definitely be on any list of the Philippines’ wealthiest, or else that list would be inaccurate.”

Heirs of the late Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal Collantes — She was a philanthropist, former boss of Solidbank (sold to Metrobank), owned cement factories and was one of the biggest landowners, from Intramuros all the way to Alabang.

The Ortigas family — Due to this Hispanic family’s allowing a professional management team, led by the talented Rex Drilon, to reinvent the once lackluster and stagnant landowning Ortigas & Company, this clan is again cash-rich and super-wealthy.

The Floirendo family — Founded by former car salesman Antonio Floirendo, his family controls the Philippines’ biggest banana-exporting business empire. Most probably in recognition of this family’s business clout and political influence in the southern Philippines, plus their prime real estate holdings, the Zobel Ayala clan are partnering with the Floirendos for a mall/office/hotel development project called Abreeza, according to Ayala Land, Inc. senior vice president Marivic Añonuevo. The project will be fully completed in 2011 and total project cost is between P4 billion to P5 billion.

Ambassador Alfredo Yao — A special envoy to help promote Philippine tourism, this authentic rags-to-riches taipan is the big boss of market-dominant Zest-O juice, the price-busting RC Cola, the most aggressive new airline Zest Air, has a major stake in Export Bank, controls Philippine Business Bank (which is ably managed by his vice chairman, Francis T. Lee), plus other ventures here and even in central China.

Carlos Chan — Less known compared to his famous and talented younger brother Ben Chan of Bench, Metrobank Group boss George S. K. Ty describes this industrialist as “the biggest and most successful Philippine investor in China, and a very humble and good person.” He controls the Oishi and Liwayway snack food enterprise, which is not only doing well here in the Philippines but also has huge operations all over China, headquartered in Shanghai. Oishi is also present all over ASEAN, including Vietnam and even in reclusive Myanmar.

Jacinto “Jack” Ng — The rags-to-riches boss of Rebisco and Asia United Bank has vast real estate holdings and more.

The Concepcion family — There are two famous branches of this clan, both of them very wealthy, controlling RFM and also Concepcion Industries.

Ricardo Po — This low-profile, self-made man used to work for a local Manila-based Chinese newspaper before eventually making a fortune as the builder of Century Tuna and 555 Sardines.

The most important realization for any entrepreneur reading the annual Forbes list of global or Philippine tycoons is this: if we are still not on their list, we need to work much harder, innovate, be cost-efficient, dream big and do our very best! –Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star)

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