The makings of a successful Chinese entrepreneur

THE overseas Chinese or hua-chiao is a term commonly used for the Chinese in Southeast Asia. In a broad sense, overseas Chinese refers to all Chinese who have left their home in China to live and work abroad. The Chinese migration to Southeast Asia, particularly those who arrived between the 18th century and mid-20th century was mainly for economic reasons and focused in economic activities related to employment and trade. Their prime motivation was to make a decent living and survive in a practically new frontier.

Unparalleled work ethic

In my new book, “Ensuring Your Family Business Legacy,” I identified eight out of the twelve most famous Filipino entrepreneurs and included wealthy businessmen whose families emigrated from Mainland China to the Philippines before World War II when the economy was strong.

I mentioned in my last column and I wish to reiterate that even if each took a different approach, there is one common denominator among them before they became famous Filipino entrepreneurs — unparalleled work ethic

While there are other factors that contribute to their achievements, such as being frugal, a good financial sense, and a strong network of fellow Chinese businessmen for support, the collective image of these famous Filipino entrepreneurs working hard and diligently has stuck in the minds of budding entrepreneurs in the Philippines. Indeed, if one aspires to become a successful entrepreneur, there is much to learn from the Chinese Filipino entrepreneurs.

The following list, initially three due to limited space, gives an overview of the most famous Filipinos in business, mostly Chinese with a handful of Spanish mestizos. I will start with the four most popular and successful businessmen. I am hoping my readers can learn a lot from these icons of the Philippine business scene.

1. Henry Sy. Henry Sy came from an impoverished family in Jinjiang, a town near Xiamen, China. The entire family left China in 1936 to help the family patriarch manage a thriving convenience store in Manila.

As a child, Henry Sy used to work twelve-hours a day to help his father run their small family-owned convenience store. During the Second World War, their store was looted and burned so the young Sy switched to buying whatever he could to sell for a profit. Hard times and a humble background in retail, shaped and molded the young Sy.

Today, he is touted by the business community as the richest man in the Philippines with a net worth of US$14.4 Billion, according to the list in March 2015. With over fifty malls and stores of various sizes, the most recognized of all famous Filipino businessmen has foothold in virtually all the major cities in the Philippines. They recently even expanded to Guam and China. To date, four of the ten largest malls in the world are owned and operated by the Sy family.

2. Lucio Tan. Lucio Tan worked as a janitor in a cigarette factory. After a few promotions, he eventually resigned and started his own tobacco company. This company grew to capture a 60% share of the Philippine market. With its strong revenues, Tan was able to diversify. This famous Filipino businessman now owns several prominent Philippine companies, many of them blue-chippers. The biggest chunk of his fortune comes from his Hongkong based Eton Properties. Among the country’s wealthiest businesmen, Tan is arguably the most enigmatic. He is the most elusive, preferring to stay out of the limelight. His 2015 net worth is US$4.3 Billion according to

3. Andrew Tan. Andrew Tan is a billionaire businessman from the Philippines who engages in real estate, liquor, and fast food. His network currently stands at US$4.5 Billion based on the Forbes’ billionaires list. Originally a simple immigrant from China, Tan was born in the Fujian province of China. He spent his childhood at an apartment in Hong Kong shared by other families and had a short supply of basic necessities. (Please see related article last year where I wrote about his phenomenal rise).

Later, he moved to Manila where he studied Accounting at the University of the East. For economic reasons, he would head to school walking rather than riding on public transportation. During his early years in business, the local government unit of Quezon City honored him as “Businessman of the Year” in 2004. Tan now runs the Alliance Global Group, Inc. (AGI), composed of four companies namely Megaworld Corporation, Emperador Distillers, Inc., Travellers International/Resorts World Manila and Goldern Arches Development Corporation.

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Prof. Soriano is an ASEAN Family Business Advisor, Book Author, Executive Director of Asean-based Consulting group, Wong + Bernstein Advisory and Program Director for Real Estate and the former Chair of the Marketing Cluster of the ATENEO Graduate School of Business. He is slated to deliver a talk on Philippine Business and Franchising Opportunities. The first talk is in NY on Feb 1 at the Philippine Consulate and Boston on Feb 4 at the Harvard Campus and in LA. The talk is organized by the Philippine Consulate in New York, in coordination with the Bagong Kulturang Pinoy (, the Harvard Philippine Forum, TFC with Asian Journal as media partner. For those interested to attend, pls email  Prof Soriano’s business articles can also be accessed at

Professor Enrique Soriano

Professor Enrique M. Soriano is the Chair and Professor of Global Marketing at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business. He has held key positions in a number of Asia – based corporations such as Group CEO of the Belo Medical Group, CEO of Intelligent Skin Care, Inc., Chairman of publicly listed Empire East Suntrust Developers, and Country President and CEO of Singapore based Electronic Realty Associates, Inc.

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