Lessons from Big John for little Juans and JuanasBy Linda B. Bolido
Philippine Daily Inquirer
A new series of illustrated books designed to enable children to learn valuable lessons from the hard-earned successes of outstanding individuals has been launched.
The release of the first title in the Dream Big Books project, “Big John: The Life Story of John Gokongwei Jr.,” formally launched the series of illustrated biographies for children.
It was also a belated celebration of the 86th birth anniversary on Aug. 11 of the tycoon behind the conglomerate JG Summit Inc., which counts among its businesses such well-known companies as the Robinsons malls, Summit Media, Cebu Pacific airline, Robinsons Land Corp., among others.
Gokongwei’s daughter, Lisa Cheng, president of Summit Media and the moving spirit behind Dream Big Books, said they hoped the series would inspire children to dream big and to pursue their dreams regardless of difficulties, just as the personalities to be profiled by the series did.
Cheng, who said she and her siblings were raised by “Mr. John” to be entrepreneurs, wanted to share their father’s story with their own children and generations to come so they could learn the values that helped propel Gokongwei’s success.
Making things better
Cheng said the series would be a collection of inspiring stories written for children to encourage them to help change things for the better.
Written by Yvette Fernandez, editor of Summit’s Town&Country Philippines, and illustrated by Abi Goy, “Big John” is told from a first person point of view.
Gokongwei, now listed by Forbes magazine among the world’s billionaires, tells the story of his rise as an entrepreneur from selling peanuts to bike-riding vendor of things from threads to candles, to chairing a business empire with interests outside the Philippines.
During the simple book presentation at Bar One of Holiday Inn, which is part of the Gokongwei group of companies, readers Kotaro, the 10-year-old son of actor Jean Garcia; Garcia herself, and Gokongwei’s son Lance, president of JG Summit Holdings and its subsidiary Cebu Pacific, read selected portions of the book.
Kotaro read about the tycoon’s difficult childhood when, as the eldest son in the family, he had to come up with ingenious ways to earn a living at 13, after his father died leaving the family almost penniless: “I was dealing with hardship, but I knew that was something I could overcome if I worked hard at it.”
He and his mother decided it would be cheaper if she and the rest of the family, John’s brothers Henry, Johnson, Eddie and James, and sister Lily, lived in China.
Supporting overseas family
Gokongwei not only had to fend for himself but also had to support the family in China. In a question-and-answer session during the launch, he explained that he decided to be an entrepreneur rather than a wage-earner because a person working for somebody could be fired anytime.
Garcia read Gokongwei’s “rules” on becoming an entrepreneur: “Sell them (customers) what they want at a fair price. Work hard. Love what you do. Don’t give up.”
And: “If you can’t give it (product) at a cheaper price, give them something else for free, even if it’s just a smile … (Buyers) want good service. A happy smile is part of good service.”
When Lance read the portion about his father meeting his mother, Elizabeth, the room was filled with cheers, giggles and wolf-whistles. Somebody noticed the blush on Elizabeth’s cheeks: “I fell in love with her and, fortunately, she loved me back even if I smelled of onions and mothballs (one of Gokongwei’s businesses at the time was selling used clothes, making him a pioneer in the ukay-ukay trade).”
The couple had six children, “good children, smart children who studied hard” as described by Big John.
Aside from Lance and Lisa, Gokongwei is father to Robina, Faith, Hope and Marcia. Although Gokongwei said he was happy his children were involved in the family business, in different ways, he let them decide on their own what they wanted to do.
After the reading, Robina presented her father a framed 3-D version of the book.
Gokongwei proudly announced that Summit was now the country’s top magazine publisher, although Lisa started it without capital.
As for Lance who took over businesses his father started, Gokongwei credited him for their growth. Cebu Pacific, for instance, was “99 percent” Lance’s and only 1 percent his, Gokongwei said, adding his 1 percent was the name Cebu. “I love Cebu,” he said of the city that got him started on his highly successful entrepreneurial voyage.
Cheng said the next two titles in the Dream Big Books series were already in the pipeline. One would be the story of democracy icons Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino and his wife, former President Cory, told from the point of view of their son, incumbent President Aquino.
The other would tell the story of another pioneering entrepreneur, Socorro “Nanay Coring” Ramos of the giant bookstore chain National Book Store.
“Big John: The Life Story of John Gokongwei Jr.” is available at National Book Stores, Bestsellers and other bookstores.