WITHOUT taking his eyes off his smartphone, Jacinto Ng, Jr. walked into Nostalgia — the dining lounge at the posh service apartment Oakwood Premier Joy Nostalg where he is both the builder and the boss.

He said he’s checking messages at Whatsapp, not from his family or close friends, but from employees of the real estate empire he built the past two-and-a-half decades with the guidance of Taiwanese partners and his father, the biscuit magnate Jacinto Ng.

The younger Jacinto navigated through crisis after crisis — the biggest one he said he clearly remembers.

“That’s July 11, 1997 at around 10 a.m. when the peso depreciated by almost 30%,” Mr. Ng, Jr. said, referring to the contagion that swept Southeast Asia two decades ago.

July this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Asian financial crisis when currency markets across the region failed, starting from foreign-debt laden Thailand after its government decided to no longer peg the baht to the US dollar.

Companies with foreign-currency denominated loans in their balance sheets were the most hit, but real estate companies like Mr. Ng’s Extraordinary Development Corp. was not spared. That company, which catered to the low-income market, was still reeling from spillover effects from the National Home Mortgage Finance Corp.’s woes in the early 1990s.

As dollar-financed companies scaled back investments, the consequent job cuts hurt those who were paying home mortgage. The defaults and the ensuing higher financing cost that go with refurbishing an old home and selling it took a toll on builders.

“97 was my crisis, which is why I stopped playing golf from that time… I felt at that time that golf is too much of an indulgence,” Mr. Ng said.

But the younger Jacinto saw an opportunity amid that crisis. The peso’s weakness meant households dependent on dollars sent home by Filipinos working abroad get more pesos for every dollar. It’s a rising middle income market that, at the time, was not tapped by the big boys in the property sector as the latter’s focus had been the premium market.

“The solution was to develop the OFW market even more. That was the effect of the 1997 crisis,” Mr. Ng, Jr. said.

“It created turmoil but there was some recovery in the middle income market because developers focused on selling to markets that had OFW income.”

Mr. Ng then established a new company Earth and Style Corporation, building the brands Parkplace, Villagio and Jubilation — all horizontal villages targeted at the middle-income buyer.

“There’s something with us and crisis. I can always trace our beginnings with a particular crisis,” he said, noting that the publicly traded Asia United Bank where his family has a significant stake was also built in 1997.

“Definitely there is an opportunity (in a crisis). That sort of built a great sense of resiliency, a great sense of grit, perseverance because you are going against the flow. Everybody is running away from the burning building and here you are going in to that burning building.”

Mr. Ng’s business acumen clearly is in his genes — his father, who counts among Forbes list of the Philippines’ 50 richest, started biscuit-maker Republic Biscuit Corp.

But the younger Mr. Ng has an air of wisdom of the old and at the same time, is a Gen-X who uses WhatsApp for office communication and finds business leads from pop culture. He said lessons can be learned the phenomenal success of AlDub, the love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza, that became a twitter topic so perennial that it generated millions of tweets.

“To me it was a further understanding of the psyche of the Filipino, particularly the masses. The real phenomenon is the fact that they can tweet — the masses,” Mr. Ng said.

“That exposed that the low-income market is accessible digitally. That’s the conclusion. That’s fascinating because that means there are more low-cost ways to communicate with them.”

The low-income class apparently is close to Mr. Ng’s heart, growing up serving at school masses at Xavier School. The family has set up the Joy-Nostalg Foundation as the corporate philanthropy arm of the Joy-Nostalg group, educating low-wage earners how to own a home.

“I really felt challenged wanting to come up with a solution for social housing,” Mr. Ng said.

“It turns out the solution is be compassionate, understand the root of all these problems. The buyer does not have savings.”

The group has a company for socialized housing, with homes priced at not more than P450,000 and financed in full through the Pag-IBIG housing loan. — Maria Eloisa I. Calderon