Edgar ‘Injap’ Sia II, the Philippines’ youngest billionaire, shares a glimpse of his life, entrepreneurial insights, and dreams for the Filipinos

Edgar J. Sia II, who also goes by the moniker Injap (a portmanteau of “Intsik” and “Japanese” since his father is half-Chinese while his mother is half-Japanese), made waves in the local fast food industry in the mid-to-late 2000s with his brainchild, Mang Inasal, which he started in 2003 in Iloilo City. The restaurant gained popularity for its tender and tasty barbecued chicken paired with “unlimited” servings of rice, a combination made more irresistible by its wallet-friendly price. Several years later, Mang Inasal branches were cropping up in Visayas and Mindanao. Soon, Luzon caught the chicken-and-unli-rice bug. By the decade’s end, there were already more than a hundred Mang Inasal branches nationwide.

The homegrown fast food giant Jollibee Foods Corp. bought a 70% stake in the owner and operator of Mang Inasal for P3 billion in late 2010. The following year, Mr. Sia landed on Forbes magazine’s 2011 list of the 40 richest persons in the Philippines. At 34, he was the youngest billionaire in the country.

Mr. Sia, who once dreamed of becoming an architect but dropped out of college to pursue entrepreneurship, is now making a name for himself in another industry, real estate, through a company he co-chairs, DoubleDragon Properties Corp. Since going public in 2014, the firm has been aggressively putting up different properties: community shopping centers called CityMall, commercial and office towers, hotels under the Hotel101 and JinJiang Inn Philippines brands, Merrymart grocery stores, and CentralHub industrial warehouses, among others. DoubleDragon aims to build a total of 1.2 million square meters of commercial and office spaces by 2020.

In this pilot issue of Executive Life, BusinessWorld’s new monthly section about the lives of the luminaries of the Philippine business community, we get to know Mr. Sia better — his motivations, passions, and aspirations. Here is the lightly edited version of BusinessWorld’s e-mail interview with him.

What is your typical day like?

I normally sleep at 10 p.m. My day typically starts at 6 a.m. and generally begins with quiet reflections and planning.

Please share with us your passions and how you find ways to do what you love to do.

I believe at this point, I have already found my passion both on the personal and business sides. On the personal side, I derive happiness from being a good son, a good husband, a good sibling, a good friend, and a good citizen.

On the business side, I derive happiness from my entrepreneurial journey — from trying to spot a business gap or opportunity, to the steps in creating and putting together the nuts and bolts of a business model, to bringing to life a brand, to the delicate process of nurturing the business from infancy to maturity.

I am happy to eventually see the business becoming a responsible and strong locomotive that creates positive impact on our economy, provides decent jobs, and continues to be relevant for many decades, while never forgetting the important old-fashioned values of fairness and sincerity in all its business dealings.

How do you feel about being the country’s youngest billionaire? Can you give us some tips on how to be wealthy and how to effectively manage wealth?

I believe keeping your feet always on the ground is the best way to navigate life.

What are the values and principles that are important to you?

For me, it’s very important to do business fair and square. And money should not be the primary reason but rather just the natural result if you do business right. I believe being in business has to be for a deeper mission.

What are the most unforgettable challenges you experienced, how did you overcome them, and what did you learn from them?

To start small from scratch and penetrate and disrupt a mature and highly competitive traditional industry dominated by large established players is very challenging and you start with so much disadvantage. But if you and your team are intensely determined and you plan really carefully and execute passionately, it is still possible to succeed. I think the most difficult and worst part in business is to have a wrong business partner.

What are your most memorable “successful moments” and how did they make an impact on you?

For me, having supportive family members and business partners are my successful moments. Family and partners that have real and sincere intentions to help you grow and succeed. On the personal side, I am blessed to have very supportive family members: my parents Boy and Paz; wife Shella; kids Jappy, John Henry, and Es; brother Ferdinand; and sister Mariz.

On the business side, I am blessed to have very supportive business mentors: Tony Tan Caktiong, Amb. Benedicto V. Yujuico, Carlos Chan, and Antonio L. Go.

Can you tell us something about your relationship with your father? What is his role in your success in life?

My father has been a great father to us and a great husband to our mother. He has guided me to become a responsible and compassionate person. One important thing that he taught us by example is to be very kind, grateful, sincere, polite, loyal, fair, and gentle, but at the same time to know how to fight for the right reasons and not be a pushover. I also learned from my parents the importance of setting your personal contentment low, but continuing to work on your passion for greater reasons beyond yourself.

Can you share with us the significant lessons you have learned as a businessman and as a person?

I hope to eventually be able to inspire other probinsyano entrepreneurs that it won’t be a walk in the park. But if you plan well and work hard, it is not impossible to start small then compete fairly and succeed even in this competitive modern age. And also that one small player can still succeed and become big even if you keep your values and principles intact.

What is your advice to those aspiring to be like you?

My advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs is it’s all right to start small. Before you make your first step in starting a new business, give a lot of importance to studying deeply the industry that you want to penetrate, then carefully prepare your business plan. Once you are ready, be prepared to execute passionately and have laser focus on growing your new business especially during its start-up stage. Also very important before one decides to begin a new business is to make sure the business segment you choose will remain relevant in the next decades and has the capacity to have deep natural roots as having durable natural barrier to entry walls is important.

Start small but think harder and work harder than the rest so that once you successfully disrupt the industry, and your brand penetrates the market, its roots will become deep enough that your competitors and you yourself can no longer create another competitor in the same segment.

What is your vision for the Philippines and your dream for the Filipinos?

When I pass by some informal settlers in the country, I feel more energized to work harder and try my best to make sustainable and lasting positive impact on the lives of other people through the work that I do. I dream that in my lifetime, our country will become a first world country where most of its people are prosperous. So far, I think our country is progressing toward that direction.