Through this new section dedicated to JG Summit’s founder, a better understanding of the conglomerate’s core values, ethics, and culture may be gained by reflecting on Mr. John’s storied career and his indelible contributions to myriad facets of Philippine society.
John L. Gokongwei, Jr. devoted much of his life to making the lives of all Filipinos better. From offering the first locally made branded snacks to presenting a wide array of value-for-money lifestyle choices, his unparalleled entrepreneurial vision was the driving force behind JG Summit’s rise, enabling it to becoming one of the largest and most highly diversified business conglomerates in the country.
A pioneering entrepreneur, industrialist, and philanthropist, Mr. John, as he was fondly called, was the quintessential business tycoon. Through hard work, creativity, and passion, he became a paragon of success in business and industry, and a true role model for aspiring entrepreneurs everywhere.
Despite his humble entrepreneurial beginnings—he got his start in business at the tender age of 13 by selling peanuts cooked in garlic—he went on to build a diversified business empire consisting of companies that boldly challenged the status quo and became major players in their respective fields. Today, JG Summit holds significant interests in air transportation, banking, food, power, property and hospitality, and petrochemicals.
Mr. John was seen by other business leaders as an “industrialist challenger” and a disruptor primarily because he was unafraid to venture either into highly competitive industries or uncharted territory. Through the decades, Mr. John developed a reputation as the brave and fearless David who challenged the Goliaths of capital-intensive industries such as food and beverage manufacturing, air transportation, and telecommunications. Whenever he got involved in a business, he was in it for the long haul, staying the course no matter how difficult or long it took to achieve profitability.
The roots of the modern-day JG Summit conglomerate stem from Universal Corn Products, which Mr. John established in the 1950s to engage in cornstarch manufacturing. In 1961, he founded another company, Consolidated Foods Corporation, which produced Blend 45, the first locally manufactured coffee blend that become one of the company’s first hit products. With the establishment of Robina Farms, Mr. John would venture into poultry, meat products, and animal feeds. Founded in 1966, Universal Robina Corporation began dominating the snack market with the Jack ’N Jill brand, which continues to be enjoyed and loved by generations of Filipinos to this day.
During the economic turbulence of the early 1980s, Mr. John began his foray into mall development. His first project, Robinsons Ermita in Manila, eventually spawned a chain of malls, supermarkets, and department stores, expanded his businesses’ consumer appeal to include lifestyle, entertainment, and dining options. In line with this, he created Robinsons Galleria, the first modern mixed-use complex in the Philippines. Located at the corner of EDSA and Ortigas Avenue, a historic spot that bore witness to the first People Power Revolution, a portion of this prime parcel of land—the corner on which the Shrine of Our Lady of EDSA now stands—was generously donated by Mr. John to the Catholic Church.
By the early 1990s, Mr. John entered the airline business, a field dominated at the time by Philippine Airlines. Through Cebu Pacific, he successfully pioneered the budget airline model in the country by streamlining operations and mounting innovative marketing campaigns. Cebu Pacific revolutionized the way we travel through pocket-friendly air fares and promotions that captured the public’s attention. Today, CEB is the leading carrier in the local airline industry.
Likewise, his investment in JG Summit Petrochemicals Group was a crystal-clear sign of his commitment to grow the Philippines as an industrial power. To date, JG Summit Petrochemical Corporation is the first and largest integrated polyethylene and polypropylene resin manufacturer in the Philippines, while JG Summit Olefins Corporation operates the country’s first and only naphtha cracker plant.
With the well-known Robinsons brand expanding to include Robinsons Land and Robinsons Bank, Mr. John sought to make the dream of owning a home and financial inclusivity possible for a greater number of people. By entering in business sectors that positively affected many Filipinos on a daily basis, he truly lived up to the conglomerate’s long-time mission to make lives better.
Mr. John was often hailed as a visionary for planning decades ahead, such as when he planted the seeds for overseas diversification even long before the creation of unified economic blocs like ASEAN in the region.
Under his watch, JG Summit Holdings became the first Filipino multinational corporation, a feat enabled by the prudent overseas expansion of URC. Today, URC is recognized as one of the largest food manufacturers in Asia, with market leadership in categories such as biscuits in Thailand and beverages in Vietnam. The company has a growing presence in 13 countries in the ASEAN and Oceania regions, generating close to US$2.6 billion in annual sales in 2019.
The Gokongwei Group (composed of JG Summit Holdings, Robinsons Retail Holdings, and the Summit Media Group) is one of the biggest Philippine-based employers today.
Philanthropy & Education
When he turned 80, Mr. John blazed a trail in philanthropy when he announced on his birthday that he was donating half of his personal holdings in JG Summit to establish the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Gokongwei Group. Among its chief goals is to provide Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics education and scholarships to the underprivileged.
Mr. John considered education as an investment for one’s future. Even though the former elementary and high school valedictorian of University of San Carlos in Cebu City had to stop schooling in his teenage years to support his family, he always understood the value of having a good education. He firmly believed that education is the best way to uplift the country’s people, and that a quality education is what would enable Filipinos to compete on equal footing in this world.
Today, GBF supports close to 600 scholars a year, most notably in the technical-vocational field. In 2019, it inaugurated a Php150-million Technical Training Center in Calamba, Laguna, to serve as the new home of its flagship Iskolar ni Juan Tech-Voc program.
The foundation was among the first to establish large-scale educational endowments in the Philippines through the John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila University, as well as the John Gokongwei School of Engineering and the John Gokongwei Innovation Center both at De La Salle University, among others. In recognition of Mr. John’s invaluable contributions to Xavier School in San Juan, the learning institution named the Gokongwei Junior High School Building in his honor. At the neighboring Immaculate Conception Academy, the Dona Juanita ML Gokongwei Building was named in honor of Mr. John’s late mother.
A Leader & an Inspiration
For his role in making the Gokongwei Group of companies a force for nation building, the Management Association of the Philippines bestowed on Mr. John the prestigious MAP Man of the Year award in 2017. Paying tribute to his business acumen and management qualities, it recognized how he steered the Gokongwei Group towards substantial growth through keen foresight and the ability to launch new ventures and transform existing ones to adapt to challenging or unpredictable times.
In that same year, he also received the Legacy Award from the ASEAN Business Advisory Council for supporting the growth of micro, small, and medium enterprises in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. The award is often conferred on business leaders who provide inspiration in advancing entrepreneurship, which is key towards achieving genuine inclusive growth and sustained prosperity in ASEAN.
Despite his passing in November 2019, he continues to inspire countless entrepreneurs and business leaders through his exceptional life, his pioneering ideas, his strong work ethic, his passion, and his perseverance. From peanuts to petrochemicals, Mr. John really did it all, and did everything well.
It is a testament to Mr. John’s remarkable vision and boldness to dream that the Gokongwei Group stands today as a solid pillar of the Philippine economy. It is a stable yet progressive and dynamic conglomerate, painstakingly built by Mr. John for the people he loved – his family, his employees, and the Filipino people – to make everyJuan’s life better.