ONE of America’s top construction companies is Hawaii-based Group Builders, Inc., founded and owned by Filipino-American Anacleto “Lito” Alcantara. Group Builders Inc. ranked 186 among the Top 600 Specialty Contractors in the US(2007). It has consistently been in Hawaii’s Top 250 Largest Companies since 1998, presented by Hawaii Business; the First Filipino Company included in the top 250 companies in Hawaii (ranked 100 in 2010). It was awarded Hawaii’s Top 20 General Contractors since 1999, the First Filipino Construction Company to receive such an honor. Since then, it has consistently maintained being among the best and has even won 5th place in Hawaii’s Best Places to Work among the large companies division (150 or more employees) in 2008. Currently, it is number 79 among the top 250 corporations in Hawaii, and number 15 in Building Industry’s Top 25 contractors.
Lito Alcantara has received numerous awards for his successes, among them the 1997 Hawaii Entrepreneur of the Year award (presented by Ernst & Young LLP) ,Entrepreneur of the Year Award presented by the Filipino Chamber of Commerce in Hawaii (1996 & 2008); 2006 Outstanding Union Builders Award (presented by the Hawaii Carpenters Union); the Pamana ng Pilipino Award – Outstanding Filipino Overseas (Presidential Award for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1996); Lifetime Achievement Award (presented by the United Filipino Council of Hawaii in February 2006); Businessman of the Year Award (Presented by the Kalayaan Centennial Celebration Huwaran 2006); and the 2010 Outstanding Filipinos Abroad Award.
Looking at his record achievements, it is hard to imagine that Lito was born into a poor farming family in Ilocos. His life is truly a rags to riches story that will inspire anyone and prove the worth of hard work and perseverance.
Lito never forgets his roots back in the Philippines. He was born on June 13, 1937 in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur, Philippines. He learned at an early age the value of hard work and persistence.
He earned a full scholarship at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila where he finished his Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1960. In 1961, he passed the Civil Engineering Board Examination. He worked for the Manila Railroad Company as Assistant Project Engineer from 1961 to 1963, being awarded the Model Assistant Project Engineer in 1963.
For the next nine years, he was Dean of the College of Engineering at the Northeastern College of Santiago, Isabela, Philippines.
In 1964 established his own company, the Alcantara Construction Company.
When martial law was declared in the Philippines, Lito moved to Hawaii to start a new adventure with his family.
“I worked through the ladder of success,” admitted Lito. His first job in Hawaii was at the Acoustic Insulation & Drywall, Inc. where he worked his way up from 1973 starting off as a janitor until he became Executive Vice President in 1978.
When Acoustic Insulation & Drywall, Inc. was sold in 1979, Lito founded Group Builders, Inc., a General & Specialty Contractor, with the financial assistance of Charles Cook who was then the Executive Secretary of the Contractors’ License Board.
Despite the volatile industry, the company grew to become the 17th biggest construction company in the State of Hawaii today.
“The destination is about giving, not receiving. I want to share my blessings and that is my happiness,” shared Lito. “The main objective of Group Builders is to help our fellow Filipino carpenters and workers because there were a lot of good Filipino workers at that time who did not have jobs because they were not members of a union. Then when I became an officer of the unions, I put in a lot of Filipinos because they’re very qualified and honest workers,” he related.
Before the recession, Group Builders had around 700 workers in the field, which had drastically gone down to more than 300. “Still, that’s a big number, considering their take home pay is $65 an hour. You can imagine the payroll every week,” he said.
“My management style is I put my shoes in the shoes of the working people. Alam ko ang feeling ng mga tao. Kaya I often tell my people, ‘You are my idol and you are my boss.’ Alam ko kasi, without them I cannot do anything. That’s why I am here to serve them, as they serve our customers,” said Lito.
Lito is passionately and proudly Filipino. “The image of Filipinos in Hawaii is very good.
We are hardworking, honest workers that people can trust. But more importantly, our kababayans must prove to other races that we are good people.We have to make sure our character is above all, kasi maski magaling ka, kung masama ang ugali mo, walang gugusto sa iyo,” said Lito.
Married to Carmelita Santiago Alcantra, they have four children: Anacleto “Joey”, Jr., Maribel, Anamelita and Jeaneth, all established entrepreneurs at present.
Lito’s style of management and excellent professional ability have earned him the admiration of countless organizations in America. The Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii awarded him the 1989 Outstanding Filipino Business Person of the Year. He also received the Outstanding Engineer of the Year Award, presented by the Filipino-American League of Engineers and Architects in 1994. In that same year, he received the Regional Minority Contractor of the Year, presented by the US Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency in 1994 where he competed with construction firms from Alaska, Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
In the midst of the hectic schedules of his successful company, Lito always finds time to give back to the community, especially to his homeland. He has been actively involved in cultural and trade organizations, interactive with Filipino-American community activities, versatile in projects such as extending technology advancement, and coordinating business investors and dignitaries visiting Hawaii and the Philippines.
He chaired the 11th and 12th Annual Trade Mission of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce, provided labor & construction for the Bayanihan Health Services which provides free Medical treatment to new immigrant families without medical insurance, and initiated the establishment of the Filipino Community Center during his term as the president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii in 1992-1993.
Asked what he appreciates most about his success, Lito said, “I am happy that I am able to help a lot of people, for it is truly in giving to others when we feel most fulfilled.”
(LA Weekend Dec 17-20, 2011 Sec A pg.10)