Friday, August 5, 2016


Where it Began: Sterling Paper Group of Companies

Dr. Henry Lim Bon Lion came a long way from his childhood experiences. As a child, he did not grew up with a silver spoon, but their family had a modest Chinese bookstore in Binondo that helped them get by. He remembers back then that he would take note of luxurious cars and grand houses of friends in his mind, dreaming that one day he could attain those himself. After graduation, young Henry started working for the family business, Sterling Bookbinding that offered bookbinding services and photo albums. Henry’s father challenged him that if he could sell products at a higher price and higher volume, a feat then unheard of since cheaper prices meant selling more in volume and vice-versa. However, Henry managed to do it by providing higher quality products, which proved to be effective in the growth of their business. At age 23, Henry’s father died and being the eldest among the siblings, took the reins of their family business and expanded it to include lettersets, stamp albums, school supplies, and office supplies. He then renamed the business to Sterling Paper Products Enterprises. Mr. Lim Bon Liong could not stress the importance of quality in products. Back in the 1970s, they were the first adapters to computers. He hired as much as 25 artists to make the best designs and did focus group discussions to determine and deliver the best product to the market. Eventually, his brand Sterling Paper became a household name.

The Idea of Hybrid Rice

After the success of Sterling Paper, Mr. Lim Bon Liong met Yuan Long Ping, a Chinese agricultural scientist who first developed the hybrid rice. Back then when the Philippines was importing rice from Vietnam while China has solved their food problem from hybrid rice, Mr. Lim Bon Liong saw an opportunity in hybrid rice that can make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice.
Bringing and developing the hybrid rice seeds to the Philippines to make them more adaptable to the Philippine climate and for mass production were no easy tasks. They had to pay for an overpriced lot that has the ideal conditions to develop their hybrid seeds during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, which meant they had to rely more on their capital instead of loaning from a bank while businesses were slowing down. Moreover, in 1998, Mr. Lim Bon Liong spent additional large sums of capital for Research and Development to discover the ideal hybrid rice seed variety that can produce more yield than the average rice seed.
On November 2000, tragedy happened when a car hit the family van carrying Henry, his mom, and brother. Henry’s mother and brother died in the accident, but every cloud has a silver lining. On January 2001, Henry’s scientist claims that he saw his mother early morning instructing him to check the rice fields. When the scientist went out to the rice fields, he discovered the ideal hybrid rice variety that they set out to look for. Since then, they were able to commercially produce the rice seeds and sell them to farmers.
Mr. Lim Bon Liong once said there are two basic principles in making a strong dynasty: first is a peaceful country and secondly, rich and strong farmers. He is determined to achieve a strong dynasty for the Philippines with the hope of a proper cooperation from the current administration.
Asides from Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong sharing his story behind Sterling Paper Group of Companies and his hybrid rice, he also offered four tips for the entrepreneurs of Anvil Business Group on diversifying businesses:
1. Grab Opportunities - During the Asian Financial Crisis, Dr. Henry bought a few floors of a building because it was selling for a bargain price during the Asian Financial Crisis. Now, the property is significantly worth more.
2. One Thing Leads to Another – Since he had nothing to do with the office floors, he decided to utilize it by setting up a call center company, which is also a booming industry.
3. Be Top 5 in the Industry – In any business, Dr. Henry Lim Bon Lion believes that you should aim to be in the top 5 of the industry or else don’t go into it.
4. Focus on the Business – It took painstaking time, effort, and capital for Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong to develop and market his hybrid rice before it became successful. For a diversified business to work, the focus should be there even when the times get tough.
All in all, the exchange forum with Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong was inspirational and fruitful to Anvil members as they got to know the speaker and learned from his experiences as a successful businessman in various industries. Truly, Anvil Business Club is grateful to have such a successful and inspiring speaker grace the club’s event.

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