Trailblazer. Visionary. Larger-than-life.
John L. Gokongwei, Jr. built a sprawling business empire that democratized access to products, services and experiences for every Juan. The power of his legacy, his life’s work, lies in its lasting contribution to the growth of his beloved country.
Born on August 11, 1926, the founder of JG Summit Holdings, Inc. created one of the Philippines’ largest and most diversified conglomerates from humble beginnings. The challenging, difficult years of his young life shaped his disciplined work ethic, values and principles, which continue to guide the Gokongwei Group of Companies today.
Mr. John was only 13 years old when he lost a life of privilege after the untimely death of his father. He became the family’s bread-winner and a father-figure to his younger siblings - brothers Henry, Johnson, Eddie, and James, and only sister, Lily. His five siblings along with his mother moved back to China soon after they lost their properties and businesses to pay off his father’s debt. The young John stayed in the Philippines and did everything he could to make ends meet. This hardship marked the beginning of a storied business career and an inspiring tale of success attained through hard work, perseverance, and discipline.
Mr. John’s entrepreneurial journey began with selling garlic peanuts, which he himself fried, to support the family. Then, at the onset of World War II, he seized the opportunity to peddle various essentials including candles, soaps, and thread. He set up a stall in the public market and earned about 20 pesos a day which he used to provide for his family and to purchase more products. During non-market days, he would get on his bicycle, and travel to neighboring towns around Cebu to sell his goods.
By practicing frugality, he was able to save, reinvest his earnings, and move up the entrepreneurial ladder. Soon, he could afford more valuable products, which he took to Luzon from Cebu via batel. As the war drew to a close, his modest trading business expanded as he broadened his inventory and took advantage of the economic environment that relied heavily on imports. He began importing and trading textile remnants, newspapers, magazines, and used clothing from the United States. Around this time, the young entrepreneur had achieved steady success, enabling him to bring his family back to the Philippines.
Relying on his own entrepreneurial foresight and strong business acumen, Mr. John shifted strategies and turned to manufacturing in what would become the first step to building a series of successful corporations. He secured a loan from China Bank in 1957, and set up Universal Corn Products—the precursor to today’s Universal Robina Corporation—planting the seeds for the future conglomerate. In the ensuing decades, Mr. John steadily built his empire, and entered a diverse set of industries spanning food manufacturing, banking and finance, air transportation, real estate, petrochemicals, power generation, media publishing, and telecommunications.
While it might seem like it, the confident visionary did not invest in disparate businesses. In his book Lessons From Dad, John Gokongwei Jr., Lance Gokongwei revealed that his father’s business investment ideas were all as a response to the needs of the Filipinos. Through Universal Robina Corporation, he addressed the need for affordable, and enjoyable snacks and beverages. He set up Cebu Pacific and Sun Cellular to provide more Filipinos reasonable access to travel and communication. He drew inspiration from the dreams of many Filipinos to provide a comfortable and functional living space for their families, and founded Robinsons Land Corporation.
Incorporated in 1980, Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC), the real estate arm of the Gokongwei Group, is a widely recognized leader in real estate development, building lifestyle malls, office buildings, industrial spaces, residential communities, hotels and resorts, and integrated townships all over the Philippines.
In 1989, only nine years after its establishment, the Company had its initial public offering, owing to its rapid expansion and unprecedented pace of development. Upon the infusion of fresh capital from investors, Mr. John proceeded to execute one of his most ambitious yet industry-changing ideas to date—the first mixed-use development in the Philippines, anchored by RLC’s flagship mall, Robinsons Galleria.
How Mr. John ended up with the prized piece of real estate to turn his idea into reality is the stuff of business legend. It was shortly after the EDSA People Power Revolution when he won the rights to the Galleria land on the toss of a coin.
Back in the 1980s, the vision for the Robinsons Galleria Complex was a game-changer in the real estate industry. The 5.2-hectare property became the first fully integrated mixed-use complex in the country featuring a commercial center with retail shops and restaurants, a few office buildings, hotels and residential properties. It was a city within a city, where all of one’s lifestyle needs could be satisfied. It was a radical idea at the time, but Mr. John took the risk, made it happen, and blazed the trail.
Robinsons Galleria opened in 1990, and the rest of the developments that followed — the Galleria Corporate Center, Robinsons Equitable Tower, Holiday Inn Manila Galleria, Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria, and the Galleria Regency — defined the city’s skyline. The bustling community became the inspiration for numerous mixed-used developments in the Philippines that followed suit.
Today, Robinsons Land continues to be shaped by Mr. John’s innovative spirit and courage to pursue his dreams. Thanks to these qualities, RLC has gone from strength to strength. In the same vein, Mr. John’s belief in always putting the customer’s needs first remains a core principle at RLC, and has become more evident in today’s digital age as the company strives to pioneer innovations and continuously improve customer experience.
Businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist and industrialist were just some of the many hats Mr. John wore in his lifetime. At Robinsons Land, he will always be remembered for the groundbreaking changes he introduced into the country’s real estate landscape. As the company continues to transform dreams into realities through quality developments, his legacy as a true visionary and an entrepreneur for every Filipino will stand the test of time.