“Great things start from small beginnings.” This is probably one of the best catchphrases to portray the victorious journey of self-made billionaire Lucio C. Tan, who once worked as a janitor to put himself through college. As an individual fueled by passion, hard work, and perseverance, Mr. Tan has become one of the country’s richest men, with business interests spanning from banking, airline, liquor, tobacco, real estate, and education, among others.
The now 85-year-old business tycoon was born in the province of Fujian in China whose family moved to the Philippines in hope of better fortune when he was still young. As the eldest among his siblings, the young Mr. Tan grew up with a heavy responsibility on his shoulders to help provide for his family. He worked his way through college studying Chemical Engineering at Far Eastern University in Manila and started taking on different works to earn a living.
In one of his early jobs, Mr. Tan worked as a janitor in a cigarette factory. As the owner saw his hard work, he was promoted as a tobacco cook, creating and regulating the product mix, and assigned as a tobacco leaf dealer thereafter.
Using all the knowledge and experiences he acquired from his previous jobs, Mr. Tan in 1966 opened his own cigarette company named Fortune Tobacco. It became successful and was able to expand in the following years. In a span of just nearly 15 years, the company turned to be the largest cigarette manufacturer in the country.
From there, Mr. Tan’s success likely continued across other industries. In 1977, Mr. Tan acquired the General Bank and Trust Co. from the Philippine government for only P500,000. It was later renamed as Allied Bank. After about five years, he established and put up the Asia Brewery, Inc., the only brewery allowed to compete with the market leader San Miguel Corp. It was able to develop innovative products that were easily patronized by consumers.
Mr. Tan didn’t stop expanding his business ventures in the coming years. He secured control of the country’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines and became its chairman and chief executive officer in 1995. Among others, he also acquired Tanduay Holdings, Philippine National Bank, Eton Properties, and the University of the East.
In 2012, Mr. Tan consolidated his major businesses under one conglomerate named LT Group, Inc. According to its Web site, the LT Group’s diversified portfolio of consumer-focused businesses is well positioned to benefit from broad-based growth in the Philippine economy.
In the previous year, the LT Group continued to gain momentum, as reflected in its financial performance. Its attributable net profit grew by 50% to P16 billion on higher earnings across its banking, tobacco, liquor, and property businesses. Its revenues also went up by 19% to P75.56 billion.
“Our positive result was no accident, nor was it achieved overnight. It was the product of years of planning, careful execution and hard work,” Mr. Tan was quoted as saying in the group’s 2018 Annual Report.
At present, aside from being the chairman and chief executive officer of the LT Group, Mr. Tan serves as the chairman of the Philippine Airlines, Inc.; Asia Brewery, Inc.; Eton Properties Philippines, Inc.; MacroAsia Corp.; Fortune Tobacco Corp.; PMFTC Inc.; Grandspan Development Corp.; Himmel Industries, Inc.; Lucky Travel Corp.; PAL Holdings, Inc.; Air Philippines Corporation; Tanduay Distillers, Inc.; The Charter House, Inc.; AlliedBankers Insurance Corp.; Absolut Distillers, Inc.; Progressive Farms, Inc.; Foremost Farms, Inc.; and Basic Holdings Corp. He also sits as a director of the Philippine National Bank.
Despite all Mr. Tan’s many achievements, he never forget to give back to the community. As early as 1986, Mr. Tan and his siblings established the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Inc. (TYKFI), which was named in honor of their father Tan Yan Kee. The companies under LT Group and other firms that are majority-owned by the Tan family conduct most of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities under the foundation.
“I am grateful that in our small way, we help narrow the gap between lack of knowledge and a good education; between lack of medical treatment to access to equipment and better health services; between a decaying world and a healthier environment we can leave to the next generations,” Mr. Tan said in the group’s Web site.
The TYKFI and its partners pursue projects that focus on four advocacies, namely education, health services, social welfare and the environment. In the following years, Mr. Tan assured that the foundation and its various companies will continue its commitment to uplift the lives of Filipinos.
“As we go about our daily business, let us not forget that we have a responsibility to our community and the less fortunate. Today, and in years past, Tan Yan Kee Foundation, Inc. and our various companies have been investing time and resources for projects that help uplift the lives of Filipinos. We will continue those noble endeavors,” Mr. Tan said. — Mark Louis F. Ferrolino