7 success secrets of the Gotianun clan behind Filinvest & East West BankDate: September 2, 2014
The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus. — Bruce Lee
How do you succeed as a start-up business with little capital and limited manpower? How do you build a family business into a multi-generational success? How do you expand a business by recruiting professional talents? What are the secrets to a successful marriage and to raising good heirs?
These were among the diverse topics discussed at a recent dinner meeting of the Anvil Business Club’s young Filipino-Chinese entrepreneurs with the Gotianun family of Filinvest Group and East West Bank. Anvil honorary chairman Jeffrey Ng of Cathay Land personally invited the Gotianuns; the hardworking project chairman of this dinner forum was officer Jeanne Kao.
I had the privilege of sitting beside 88-year-old Filinvest founder Andrew Gotianun Sr. and, as honorary chairman of Anvil, delivered the introduction for the main speaker, his daughter, Filinvest Development Corp. president Josephine Gotianun Yap, a graduate of Ateneo and the University of Chicago.
Others who actively participated in the discussions were East West Bank chairman Jonathan Tan Gotianun, Filinvest Asia Corp. president Joseph Yap, and East West Bank president Tony Moncupa.
Among the numerous Anvil officers there were George Siy, Jeffrey Ng, Steve Cua, Bernard Go, Eduardo Cobankiat, Jovenson Ong, Stefan Tong, Ronald Alan Ko, Peter Mangasing, Reginald Yu, Marcelo Co, Alvin Teng, Hubert Chua, Edison Kwong, and Jeremy Sy.
Here are the most priceless lessons shared at that dinner:
1. Take care of shinyong or creditworthiness. Andrew Gotianun Sr. said that throughout their over 60 years as entrepreneurs, he and his wife, the former Mercedes Gotamco Tan, have never left unpaid any financial obligation or loan to any supplier, business colleague or bank. They have consistently kept up their exemplary credit standing, whether for themselves or Filinvest firms.
He continued, “There’s one thing very important to me in business and for the long-term: always be honest with people. For the past 60 years, I always pay my debts.”
Josephine Gotianun Yap said, “In the long run, you can make more money by being honest than by being dishonest.”
2. Be fair to all. Gotianun Sr. said that his family’s main policy towards others has always been “Be fair to all.” He explained that this sense of fairness in their business dealings is not just due to moral principles or building a long-term track record, it applies also within his family, such as breaking the old Chinese tradition of favoring sons or daughters. He said that his only daughter Josephine is given equal shares and equal opportunities.
Josephine, in turn, revealed that women in any profession “shouldn’t feel or agree to be victims but we should think like an amazon.” She said that her mother, Filinvest cofounder Mercedes Tan Gotianun, is her “role model” of an empowered woman. Her mom showed her often that being a woman could also be a unique advantage in deal making and in the tough arena of business.
3. Never spoil children. It was a revelation for Gotianun Yap to share that her parents never spoiled them — the second generation — and trained them in traditional Confucian values such as hard work, frugality, discipline, perseverance and humility. They, in turn, are also training the third-generation cousins in the same traditional values, such as having their kids sell movie tickets in mall theaters or wash dishes the whole day in the mall food court.
Josephine also shared that the best period to train kids is between the ages of 8 and 12, when young people “are still obedient and they do not have barkada (close friends) to influence them.” Training kids early on in business also helps create an affinity for the family business.
Clan storyteller, business cofounder, and University of the Philippines magna cum laude graduate Mercedes Tan Gotianun shared another secret: to tell stories about the family history and struggles to the younger generation.
Yap also advised that parents and grandparents keep sharing the positive and exciting things about their family business to youngsters; it’s okay to share the pitfalls but she said there’s no need to share the headaches, which they will eventually learn while working.
4. Strengthen human capital. East West Bank chairman Jonathan Gotianun and president Tony Moncupa stressed the importance of “strengthening the managerial ability, training and organizational setup” in business. They cited as an example the phenomenal expansion of East West Bank to 409 branches and offices by the end of this year, with the rapid growth of the bank’s personnel from 2,500 to over 5,000 people. They said recruiting, training and taking care of professional talents is very important to the success of large businesses like their bank and the Filinvest Group.
Moncupa said an example of training people is to encourage bank personnel to sell more products to every client instead of only a few; the key is training human capital.
Another example of boosting human capital is the recruitment of the Gotianun couple’s brilliant Harvard-educated son-in-law Joseph Yap as a top official in the Filinvest Group based on his impressive credentials and integrity. On tapping good professional talents, Yap’s advice is: “Learn to trust in outside talent and just know how to put in proper controls. Be willing to hire and to pay the talent.”
Gotianun Sr. said that in order to move up from the level of successful trading, it is necessary to become more organized, more technically proficient and to hire good talents.
5. Serve the underserved markets. Yap said that their family has thrived by having “served the underserved markets,” such as being the country’s second company to offer credit for second-hand cars after World War II. I recall Mercedes Gotianun mentioning that this idea was suggested by my late father’s cousin Lawrence Dee to Andrew Gotianun Sr.
Yap also cited Filinvest servicing the socialized housing market for P400,000 vacant lots or P1 million houses each, instead of focusing first on the high-end or luxury market. She revealed that servicing the socialized housing market entailed thousands of transactions, so much more work and smaller profit margins compared to high-value deals, but these are end-users and a more stable market even during hard times, although Filinvest nowadays also develops luxury brands, too, like Beaufort condos in Bonifacio Global City.
In banking, Yap said their East West Bank also seeks to service the consumer banking needs of professionals, SMEs and other ordinary people as their one of their niches.
6. Never stop studying and researching. Yap revealed that although their patriarch is close to 88 years old, Gotianun Sr. surfs the Internet for new ideas, news, trends and shares the information with them, the children and other young executives.
Parents Andrew and Mercedes study, read a lot and research here and abroad for ideas. She revealed that for their first Filinvest subdivision, her parents derived ideas and inspiration from a residential enclave in Florida. For their family’s two previous banking ventures like Family Bank, she revealed that her parents would travel regularly to visit large American banks to request their operating and other manuals as well as study their then-modern processes in order to bring them to the Philippines.
7. Have vision. Movie queen Susan Roces once told me that the two low-key and humble co-founders of the Filinvest Group make a unique team: “Andrew Gotianun Sr. is the visionary, his talented wife Mercedes Tan Gotianun is the implementer.”
An immigrant born in Fujian and raised in Cebu, Gotianun Sr. has had a strategic, bold and long-range vision for their family businesses Filinvest Group and East West Bank since their early years. He said, “I started with no money. I had to borrow money in the beginning. I’m always a dreamer. I dream and envision what to do, then my wife will help me realize those dreams. I always conceptualize.”
By: Wilson Lee Flores