Thursday, August 27, 2015


French fashion creator Coco Chanel once remarked, “Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is the opposite of vulgarity.” The concept of luxury is as old as humanity; a discriminating understanding of it makes it possible to define the rigorous rules of its effective management.
The Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs (Anvil Business Club) was deeply privileged to have Mr. Stephen Sy, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Focus Global, inc. – a dominant marketing company that has built an outstanding portfolio of 20 global brands exclusively represented in the Philippines since 1991 – for its 9th monthly Business Exchange Forum as guest-of-honor and speaker, amid a jam-packed audience easily numbering more than a hundred members and guests.
Held at the Penthouse in the 29th floor of their spanking new tower at the Twenty-four Seven McKinley Building – by far, the country’s biggest luxury lifestyle product showroom housing five stories of luxury brands, with over half-a-hectare in floor area which sits at the Bonifacio Global City, arguably the most expensive piece of real estate in the Philippines today – the entire venue was filled to capacity with Anvil members and guests eager to hear the unique success story of this luxury-brand mogul.
Indeed, while much has been said about our traditional tycoons who have amassed a lot of fortunes catering mainly to mass-market consumers, this meek and soft-spoken Stanford University alumnus decided to make his mark on the opposite end of the market spectrum. Ever the visionary entrepreneur, he audaciously put his chips on the growing affluence of the rich and upper middle class due to the steady economic expansion of the past decade.
Mr. Sy opened his talk by walking the audience through his humble beginnings in the company, which he started with his lovely wife, Lolita, just 24 years ago. He first ventured into the high-end consumer market with the introduction of Coleman coolers and jugs. Realizing early on that marketing premium products requires bigger investments in terms of focus, energy, time and even resources, he invested heavily in promoting the brand. In 1993, his company bagged the "Golden Lantern" Award for being the best distributor of the year – on its first year of distributorship. The following year, the company moved it its new office at Pioneer Street, Mandaluyong. In 1995, they acquired exclusive distributorship of KitchenAid (mixers from the USA) and, in 1996, Oster (small kitchen appliances from the USA). That year, they ventured in the home furnishing market with the launch of Ethan Allen (furniture from the USA). On its 10th year, they successfully bagged the exclusive distributorship of Sub-Zero (built-in refrigerators from the USA) and Wolf (built-in cooking appliances from the USA). With the arrival of SieMatic (kitchen cabinets from Germany) in 2002, Focus Global introduced a new level of lifestyle and quality in the Filipino consumer's kitchen.
Every year, the company expanded its product lines with the addition of new brands, most of which go to them to offer exclusive licensee agreements, such as: Miel (premium home appliances from Germany), Pella (windows and doors from the USA), as well a host of other brands – B&B, Maxalto, Dornbracht, Villeroy & Boch, Hunter Douglas, Tempur, DMC – and invested in even more showrooms in Metro Manila and Cebu, solidifying their already dominant market presence within the archipelago.
But what riveted the members more were his three major "takeaways" of making it big in the luxury market:
1. "If you get a lucky break, make sure you take it and make a run with it." When one gets a great opportunity to exclusively carry a well-known international brand, leave no stone unturned to ensure that you make the brand successful. Know your target affluent clientele well, their needs and wants, and also the existing businesses catering to these customers. In studying and building this target client profile, take into consideration also demographics, psycho-graphics or the unique range of customer circumstances. This also means investing on good people, paying them fairly and motivating them well.
2. "Don't be afraid of the unknown and of taking risks." Nobody ever became successful by just wishing for it. Marketing high-end products requires more focus on energy, time and even resources, so entrepreneurs in this market segment should not scrimp on costs. There should be well-thought-out marketing strategies for this special market. Also, excellent after-sales customer service should be provided. One of the major differences between premium market businesses and others is the much higher expectations in customer service. Even for mass-market or mid-range market businesses, one can achieve and main success if one can guarantee good and consistent customer service.
3. "Don't be afraid to dream BIG." When Mr. Sy was an intern working for SGV & Company, earning a comfortable salary of Php800/month at that time, a colleague once asked him what his dream was. He thought about it and said, "I wanted to own a building in Makati." More than two decades later, Mr. Sy proudly stands on a 29-storey building in Makati (well, he hopes that the pending Makati-Taguig boundary dispute would soon be resolved in the former's favor, that is).
Before he closed his talk, Mr. Sy also advised getting a good partner in life as a big element of his success. "Getting a wife who shares your vision and similar temperament is very crucial," he said. "So, that the husband can spend his time making speeches while the wife works."
After an engaging Question-and-Answer session, guests were later given a floor-by-floor tour personally by the Sy couple to view the latest collections from some of the brands they carry such as Sub-Zero, Siematic, Dornbracht, B&B Italia, and Ethan Allen.
Certainly, Mr. Sy's impressive success in the high-end luxury market proves that one could leave an indelible mark in a nontraditional, "tierra incognita" market, for as long as one possesses the power of vision, hard work and perseverance.
Congratulations to the Programs Team, led by Vice-President for Programs Patrick Cua, Directors Lorina Tan and Katherine Sy-Yap for a job exceptionally done (again!). Kudos to Anvil member, the alluring Val Ang, for doing a mesmerizing hosting stint despite being her very FIRST hosting gig done ever! Special thanks should also go to Moët Hennessy Philippines, led by Managing Director Steven Bullock and Liquor Kingdom, Rudy Ngo, for generously providing the overflowing Hennessy XO Cognac and Hennessy Paradis blends for the members and guests.


Greatly humbled to share the table with some of the country's most esteemed economic experts during the weekly Fernandina Media Forum. Representing the Anvil Business Club (Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs), yours truly was invited to embody the views of the Chinese-Filipino entrepreneurs and businessmen in a panel discussion about the effects of the recent DOW Jones and its concomitant consequences to the Philippine Stock Market, the collapse of the China Yuan (RMB), and the protracted Greece financial crisis. Joining me were former Department of Budget and Management Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Albay Governor Joey Salceda, and "Save the Nation Movement (Philippines)" Convener Antonio Butch Valdes.
The two-hour "kapihan" discussion, which had journalists and mainstream media having a field day covering the event, saw a colorful exchange of ideas, ranging from the recent PSE index (PSEi) plunge; the OFW's "Zero Remittance Day;" to China's weakening economy. Mr. Butch Valdes, a former Undersecretary at the Department of Education and head of the Philippine LaRouche Society, painted a bleak picture of China's "Black Monday," with the Shanghai composite index dropping 8.5% in the biggest selloff since 2007. "We are going to see the worst global financial crisis in these few weeks, even worse than the Great Depression of 1929," Mr. Valdes predicted, "and we are not going to be prepared for it." He pointed to the hundreds of billions of dollars which were wiped off from the world's financial markets in just a span of a day, as the Chinese rout sends shares tumbling in Europe, Asia and the US. "Those who aspire to become the next president of the Philippines at this point in time would have to be, in my opinion, the most stupid people on the planet," he sarcastically ruminated.
On the other hand, former Secretary Diokno played down the perceived effects of the seeming meltdown, citing the country's solid economic fundamentals. "The Philippines has hefty international reserves to sustain it for many months," he said, assuring that "debt service and trading requirements will be served." The falling Peso rate against the US Dollar, he says, could also be seen as something positive, especially for the OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers), as the increased value of their remittances means that they can purchase more with the same dollar amount they remit. "Overall, there is a strong likelihood that the peso-dollar exchange rate would be between P44 to P47 per US dollar in the near term," he says. "This narrow range is not only likely; it is desirable. It addresses the welfare of overseas Filipino workers, the demand of a growing economy, and the desire of monetary authorities to keep their finances healthy."
For his part, Albay Governor Joey Salceda – a multi-awarded economics analyst – downplayed the most recent China crash's effect on the Philippine economy, citing the legendary resiliency of the Filipino to adversity. "Did you know that, in Bicol alone, during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, we registered an even bigger population size that year?" he jokingly mused. "That only means the Filipino believes that he can still afford to produce more babies despite widespread belt-tightening measures." He also expressed his continuing bullishness on the economy, citing temporary stock market price adjustments as a mandatory response to the plunging international stock prices.
Of course, as the person having the least amount of gravitas in the panel, I could only nod in agreement (read: nga-nga) and, at times, just smile in amusement on how these illustrious personalities facetiously engaged in oftentimes passionate – yet illuminating – tit-for-tat.
Established in 1992, the Fernandina Weekly Forum has become one of the most enduring and engaging gatherings organized by members of the mainstream Philippine media, where the people who matter most are asked to talk about the most relevant and pressing issues of the day.
Many thanks to Mr. Rod Cornejo for his gracious invitation for yours truly to play a small part in it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


One of my greatest privileges as president of an eminent business organization, such as the Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs (Anvil Business Club), is the opportunity to meet with young, like-minded individuals who share a deep passion for business within the larger context of nation building.
It was indeed a great honor to break bread with some of today's generation of dynamic young entrepreneurs, led by Anvil Business Club's new member – the captivating Bettina Reyes and two of her equally assiduous friends and classmates from the UP Institute for Small Scale Industries (UP-ISSI)'s Management Course, Douglas Delano Dy and Kevin Tan – who sought my undeserved mentorship for their up-and-coming business plan which can only be described as "catastrophically" out-of-the-box!
Makes me wonder what I have done to deserve this great fortune of witnessing these taipans-in-the-making germinating the seeds for the next CATACLYSMIC idea, up-close and personal. Very inspiring indeed!
Many thanks to Johanson Dy Cheng for your continued faith in my feeble abilities and for endorsing me to these awesome individuals!

Monday, August 17, 2015


 Johnny Litton celebrated his 79th birthday amid the vintage razzle-dazzle, which friends and family have come to expect from the country's iconic and well-loved raconteur.
It was reminiscent of the 30's and 40's "Golden Age of Hollywood Glamour," as the inimitable emcee par excellence and well-loved society columnist
Representing the Anvil Business Club (Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs ) – as well as in my capacity of being his personal friend – I arrived late (as usual, due to Metro Manila's horrendous traffic) dressed in a classic tux outfit, only to discover that I was quite under-dressed for the part, compared to the kind of sartorial magnificence many of his more prominent guests exuded that evening. Even our very own lovely Director for Fellowship, the jaunty Sheree Chua, came in a bewitching 1920s-inspired Charleston gown complete with elbow-length silk gloves, evocative of the quintessential Hollywood goddess, Elizabeth Taylor.
As always, noted personalities from the government, business and social circles as well as the loving family and ever-supportive friends of the witty birthday celebrant were all present to share this very special day with him.
Of course, kleig lights remained focused on Mr. Litton who, as always, played host at his own birthday celebration. The exceptional master of ceremonies had diplomats, captains of industry, and close friends both personal and business in stitches with his trademark irrepressible sense of humor during his 30-minute stand-up monologue.
A delectable three-course plated dinner prepared by the Dusit Thani Manila’s top-notch chefs gave its guests something to rave about, while world-class performances led by renowned theater actress and singer Pinky Marquez, together with Allan Alojipan, Roger Sigwa, Raymond Tolentino, Jill Pena, Cara Barredo and Michael Bulaong kept everyone glued to their seats, as they serenaded the celebrant with snippets from the opera "Funiculi Funicula."
Top prizes – which included a Bulgari pearl necklace, a Hermes folder bag, a Samsung S6, and a Vanity Treatment by Belo worth 100k, among others – were awarded to the "Best Dressed" personalities of the night, courtesy of some of generous corporate sponsors. Birthday gifts were eschewed in favor of donations to the E.J. Litton Foundation, a charitable endeavor named in memory of Mr. Litton's son, the late Ernest John Litton – who passed away in 2007 – that was specially created to serve the needs of impoverished Filipino children.
Indeed, with such a memorable natal day celebration for a well-loved friend and respected society icon, everybody looks forward to an even bigger celebration as he approaches his 80th next year!


 Delighted to represent the Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs (Anvil Business Club) in an exclusive, yet modest, wine-tasting ceremony that re-introduces one of Hennessy's most premium collections: the Paradis Impérial.
Together with select officers from the Philippine-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (菲律賓中國商會), or PCCCII, led by President Wong Cheung Sha (王長沙), a small delegation of Anvil officers and close friends, led by yours truly, accepted the "by invitation only" dinner of fellow Anvil member and Liquor Kingdom's Number One man Rudy Ngo – one of the biggest distributors of Hennessy in the Philippines – to enjoy the delicate and velvety character of Paradis Impérial. Those who sampled – or rather, for most "experienced" fine-spirit drinkers among the PCCCII members – disgorged bottles upon bottles of this rare cognac, hinted at the silky texture of the spirit. The floral notes of jasmine and honeysuckle that burst forth, underlined by a layer of soft red berry intensity, made it an instant favorite among the mainlanders.
PCCCII's ever-reliable Secretary-General Melvin Han Bing Tan played host to a prudently-prepared program that had local executives from Moët Hennessy Philippines talk about their premium product, while a simple toasting ceremony involving key guests followed. The rest of the evening was spent renewing ties among the two organizations, while enjoying the rare blend of spring essences, jasmine and orange flower which swirl in a bouquet of remarkable intensity on the palette.
Moët Hennessy, the world’s leading maker of super premium wines and spirits – as well as the largest cognac producer in the world – has recently established Moët Hennessy Philippines, its exclusive wholesale distribution company in the country, as it set its sights on young, affluent consumers in the hope that they develop a lifelong love affair with the brand.
Inspired by the legend of an 1818 order of a unique blend of rare cognacs for Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Hennessy’s Master Blender Yann Fillioux created Paradis Impérial in 2011. It is the product of more than 200 different cognacs that have been aged in Hennessy's cellars for up to a century. The cognacs are blended and allowed to age slowly in old oak casks, a process that gives Hennessy Paradis its rare, fine aroma and golden color. Encased in a finely-engraved crystal tulip bottle, each piece sells for a whopping USD3,000 (roughly Php140,000).