Wednesday, July 1, 2015


It was an illuminating three-hour session with one of today's most-admired business leaders of his generation, as none other than Edgar "Injap" Sia II, the 38-year-old "whiz kid" – whose barbecue chain has overtaken multinational chain McDonald's in the second top spot in just a span of 7 years since he began Mang Inasal in 2003 – generously shared his "secrets" of his entrepreneurial success to a jam-packed audience of almost 300 hundred members and guests during the Anvil Business Club (Association of Young Filipino-Chinese Entrepreneurs)'s 7th Business Exchange Forum.
Amiable and self-effacing (sometimes to a fault), this low-key founder of one of the most successful home-grown fast-food chains in the country, deliberately hopped on a plane to Manila from another CityMall opening in Cebu, stayed for hours to unselfishly narrate his story, and flew back to Iloilo the following day. His inspiring account, oftentimes couched in humorous anecdotes but littered with invaluable business lessons for all, is the stuff that business legends are made of.
"Back then, I rarely come to Manila," he began, "I am not familiar with the places here; I had no close friends and relatives here. In fact, the first time I entered Makati Shangril-la and all the other five-star hotels here in Makati was only about mid-2000s... So about ten years ago, I was really a pure 'probinsiyano' guy, awed and intimidated by the fast pace and sophistication of Metro Manila. With that provincial background, I thought I can never succeed in a nationwide business."
He revealed that his "tipping point" happened through a specific experience in 2002 which changed his mindset: winning a brand new car in a nationwide text (SMS) competition. At that time, a multinational company announced their "Text Challenge" contest promo where whoever will have the most number of text entries shall win a brand new Honda Civic. After much contemplation, he decided to join... and join to win.
First, he had to deeply understand the scenarios and carefully strategize properly, as well as to come up with a good execution plan. He surmised that his biggest competitors were those from Metro Manila and correctly assumed that people will simply do their texting during daytime or their free time. He decided to do the texting during the day and commissioned a former college classmate who was unemployed at that time, to do the texting at night till the wee hours of the morning everyday... for three weeks. Apart from the Php200 daily salary he gives his friend, he promised to buy him a mobile phone when he wins the car. And to make sure his friend has enough energy to do the texting at night, he passes by the gas station store to buy some snacks and energy drink every evening and calls him up every 3 in the morning to make sure he was awake all night.
This made him realize three things:
1. For as long as one deeply understands the dynamics of what one is going to go into, even a simply young 'probinsiyano' can win a national competition (he computed how many text messages he can send in a day and night);
2. A well, thought-of strategy, passionate execution and advance anticipation of what will most likely happen, are keys to success (hiring and motivating his classmate and giving him an energy drink every night is advance anticipation; while the daily cylce of orchestrating the day-and-night texting for three weeks is passionate execution);
3. The importance of consistent auditing will ensure that one is on the right track (calling his friend every morning at 3:00 a.m. to listen to his voice is auditing).
These three elements made him win, not only the car (which he eventually sold unused), but more importantly, convinced him that he can apply the same formula to compete in a nationwide business landscape. Less than a year later, he opened his first Mang Inasal branch in an Iloilo City mall parking space.
To be sure, Injap's success story was peppered with a lot of challenges, especially when competing and penetrating the highly-competitive fast-food market with much larger multinationals, coupled by the fact that he had absolutely no experience in this industry. It wasn't easy. Suppliers were turning him down because he was young and has no track record. He then tirelessly went around his community in Iloilo and sealed supplier "deals," some of them forged in wet markets, others through cooperatives.
"Back then, for many years," he narrated, "I had to give up long vacations, I had to personally be at the store from opening until closing, and when I get home at around 11 in the evening, I had to stop myself from sleeping yet because I still had to personally mix the marinade every night until 2 o'clock in the morning, everyday."
But Injap was made of sterner stuff. "Since my vision was very clear from Day One, and since I knew that if I apply the same formula with the text competition; couple it with sheer hard work, consistent discipline and passionate execution, I knew that we will be able to make it," he confidently surmised.
Today, after almost 8 years and over 300 owned and franchised stores after, homegrown food giant Jollibee Corp scooped 70% of Mang Inasal. This deal essentially valued Mang Inasal – a barbecue chain that serves unlimited rice wrapped in banana leaves sourced from communities in nearby Guimaras Island, and uses bamboo sticks provided by various cooperatives in the province – at a whopping US$68 million (roughly P2.9 billion).
This catapulted the architecture college dropout to the elite list of Forbes magazine's 40 wealthiest in the Philippines in 2011.
Not contented with his success, he decided to proceed to another chapter of his business journey with Double Dragon Properties – focusing on commercial and office property developments; and Hotel of Asia, Inc. – concentrating on tourism and hospitality sector. With business partners Tony Tan Caktiong of Jollibee and Henry Sy Sr. of SM Group, Injap is poised to become one of the top five property developers in the Philippines within five years.
With his steely determination (and his texting competition experience), Injap is confident that he will get there.
And, judging by an extended Question-and-Answer session (first time a speaker was asked to stay for a full Q&A hour), the awe-struck faces of the audience who hung on to his every word, the long queue of people – many even from the more established, tight-lipped business tycoons of the much older Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry – who lined up (some for over another hour) just to have a photo opportunity with him, gave him their business cards, and engaged in small chats with him, the Anvil membership absolutely believes he will.

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