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I was recently invited to speak at the 28th Metro Manila Business Conference with the theme: Vision, disruption, and innovation. Here are some highlights of my message:
For entrepreneurs, everything starts with a vision. To illustrate this point, I would like to share the story behind RFM Corporation, one of the leading food and beverage companies in the Philippines, and the three generations that have led it through crises, one after the other.
My grandfather, Dr. Salvador Araneta, started the corporation 62 years ago. At that time, we did not have a local flour miller and the Philippines was importing all its needs from neighboring countries. As a visionary, my grandfather saw the opportunity and pursued this dream. Today, the business has not only flourished, but we have become an industry leader.
Years after, my father, Jose Concepcion Jr., took over the company and brought it to a new level of excellence. His leadership led to the establishment of many partnerships with foreign companies. He was also very active in government, fighting for democracy during the Martial Law days. He organized NAMFREL, a group of civic organizations that banded together to protect the ballot.
At the age of 30, I took over my father’s role after he was appointed as trade secretary under the administration of the late president Corazon Aquino. I respected my fathers’ vision for RFM Corp., but I had my own vision. I aspired for something greater and committed to establishing brands that would be respected and admired and supported by the Filipino consumer. That was when I purchased Cosmos Bottling Corp. and Selecta. They were still a very small businesses at that time, but I saw their potential as they were one of the first to use carabao milk.
With these two enterprises, I was able to challenge Coca-Cola, the largest soft drink company in the Philippines at that time, and the ice cream giant, which was San Miguel’s Magnolia. It was a struggle, but in the end, we became the largest soft drink company after Pop Cola became the largest soft drink brand available at sari-sari stores. Selecta became and remains the largest ice cream company in the Philippines.
Across all three generations – from my grandfather to my father, to my time – we were not scared of challenging the giants. Whether we succeeded or failed, we pursued new opportunities. My father tried to produce Gerber Baby Food; it didn’t work, but that did not deter him. I had my own challenges. I sold off Swift which could not compete against large companies like CDO and Purefoods.
So, vision is important. That vision may be something you inherit from your forefathers and build on. But every generation has its own set of disruptions. It is not always smooth sailing. There will always be challenges.
In my grandfather’s time, that was World War II. For my father, it was Martial Law. Did it affect the business? Yes, but we stayed on course. Now, I am faced with the pandemic. Three generations, but the vision of the company remains the same: to serve as the Filipinos’ partner in life by offering delicious, nutritious, and affordable food and beverage (although I have now narrowed our focus to consumer brands).
As I have always said, should you feel led astray, always go back to your vision. Vision is not just for oneself and one’s business. It’s greater than that; it’s the bigger picture. Getting involved in national concerns and doing your part in helping other Filipino people is what I call the entire vision of an entrepreneur. You shouldn’t just grow your wealth and forget the people around you. That’s not the attitude of a real entrepreneur.
In the same manner, I find myself involved partly in government. I am not the trade secretary, but I’ve requested to continue my role as an advisor on entrepreneurship to help our micro and small entrepreneurs.
If you look at my grandfather and father, not only did they set the foundation of where we are today as a business, but they also played an important role in nation-building. The vision that they had was not just for themselves, but for the Filipino people. They worked hard and fought even harder for worthwhile causes to ensure better quality of life. Through our companies, we produced quality food and beverage products that Filipinos could enjoy and afford.
In my time, people ask me why Go Negosyo is heavily involved in mass testing. It’s because we need to help our MSMEs which serve as the backbone of our economy and which will play a major part in our national recovery. Opening the economy is the only solution, but we need to do it safely and this is why I have spent so much time in Project ARK to create visibility of the virus through mass testing. The goal is to save jobs, lives, and livelihoods. That’s what we’re trying to do – to uplift our MSMEs from the greatest challenge of our lifetime.