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Fifty-four years ago, a handful of respected business leaders in the Philippines formed a corporation that aims to make a commodity accessible to Filipinos, while at the same time help the country by providing opportunities for employment. This group, led by a visionary, Dr. Salvador Araneta, thought of having a local flour mill, which would cut down our country’s flour imports. The concept was not as easy as it seemed. The Philippines does not grow wheat, and there was pressure from the Americans for the Central Bank not to grant the company’s required dollar allocation. But with the group’s collective passion and determination, this flour mill company overcame these problems, and has since become one of the strongest corporations in the country.
Republic Flour Mills has been through some challenging times, and we would always emerge better and stronger. My dad, Joecon, did a good job in running the company, and he did it because he puts his heart into everything that needs to be done, from his business even up to his personal causes. Most of my dad’s RFM life was spent fighting for democracy, and it even escalated when he formed NAMFREL, which empowered Filipinos to have the courage and stand up against the dictatorship at that time by guarding the ballots to ensure clean and honest elections. His passion was something that my siblings and I acquired, and our bullish attitude in business and in life is something that we owe him. Our country may have not been the same without him and his unyielding principle of standing up for what is right.
Today, RFM has been very active in engaging the youth to do their share in nation-building. Through its corporate social responsibility arm, RFM Foundation, we have been recognizing the best students in the Philippines through the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines, whom we believe can make a difference in our society. Just a couple of months ago, we awarded another batch of TOSPians, and we were lucky that P-Noy himself was there to hand out the recognition. And of course, RFM is one of the major supporters of Go Negosyo, which has been constantly teaching the basics of entrepreneurship for more than seven years. Go Negosyo has started to hold its major summits outside Metro Manila for us to bring the advocacy closer to the people.
In this light, we are adopting these values of excellence and entrepreneurship in our company. After all, RFM was able to build a solid foundation because of the enterprising attitude of its founders. I believe that it is about time that the company somehow provided an opportunity for Filipinos to be enterprising and allow them to succeed through their own means. Currently, RFM is beginning to do “entrepreneurship programs” among our key brands. Since it is our anniversary, let me share the stories of these ordinary entrepreneurs, whose efforts in building their own lives with RFM’s help should also be celebrated.
Selecta has developed a program called the Selecta Ice Cream Stock Point Partnership, where we invite entrepreneurs to become dealers of our products and become mini bossings. One of them is Angelito Arenas of Binangonan, Rizal. He has been working for Unilever for some time, when a friend encouraged him to apply for the program. He began in September 2011 with a couple of mobilers. On his fourth month, he started to experience challenges such as controlling the daily expenses and monitoring his mobilers. To increase his sales, he started to offer incentives to those who can meet the target daily sales, out of his pocket. He also held weekly meetings to check on their performance. Today, as the business turns one year old, Angelito already employs 20 mobilers. He was also able to renovate his house and save for his son’s education.
One of Angelito’s mobilers is Gilbert Alinea. He used to be a security guard and a construction worker. He has a wife and two young kids, and it was very hard for him to make ends meet because of his salary. One day, he went to Angelito to apply, and he was hired as a mobiler. On his first day, he only earned P69 from peddling ice cream the whole day. The following months became just as hard and he was at the point of quitting, when he started to plan ahead and change his selling technique. From P69 a day, he is now earning P500 a day during lean seasons and rainy days. Moreover, Gilbert was able to invest in a TV and refrigerator, send his eldest daughter to a private school, and even give an allowance to his parents.
Another program of Selecta is the Destination Store, which aims to bring Selecta products closer to the consumers. And for Francis Despues, the Destiny Store became his negosyo that he can rely on. He used to be in the sales and marketing department of an IT company, but an accident caused his right eye to go blind. He thought of other ways in which he could sustain his wife and three kids despite his limited vision, until he was offered to join the program. He then converted a space near his house into a Destiny Store. Today, he has been able send his children to school and pay off their debts with his earnings.
Another brand under the RFM group is Swift, which transcended from manufacturing processed meat into a source of livelihood for entrepreneurs who would like to invest in a food cart. For Cheryl Sarmenta, the Swift Mighty Meaty hotdog cart was her first venture into business. It was her husband who saw an opportunity to secure the Mighty Meaty franchise at Isetann Recto. She had no background in doing business before, but it was through her own initiative of asking questions from people who knew that she was able to guide herself through. Another problem that Cheryl had to face was to keep the sales high. A mall franchise doesn’t guarantee regular customers, so she and her husband thought of making large signs to attract consumers, and it worked. To make sure that her books are balanced, she sought the help of an accountant to do that for her. Today, Cheryl believes that more than the material things that she was able to acquire, the experience of running her own negosyo has been much more valuable.
Another franchisee, Lucy Cubico, was an employee for 17 years, and the last position that she held was as a purchasing department head. She grabbed the opportunity to retire early because of two things: she was tired of being an employee, and she wanted to become more hands-on in attending to her husband and three kids. Lucy started investing in food carts because it’s easy to manage and the return-of-investment is higher. From experimenting with different food franchises, she acquired a Swift hotdog cart. She encountered challenges in managing her time and her employees, but she was able to overcome these. At present, she owns four Swift carts. Her family was also able to move in their own house and buy a car of their own, which Lucy believes would not be possible had she stayed employed.
These stories are testaments that RFM indeed went beyond being a corporation into a provider of opportunities for Filipinos. With the current economic status that the Philippines is enjoying, things are looking rosy for all of us. RFM will continue to assert its position, and we hope that the company will not just expand — we are also hoping that ordinary Filipinos can also benefit from our success.