Everyone has a shared appreciation for the crispy, juicy chicken skin of Chickenjoy—a food stuff that is deeply imbued in Filipino culture—all thanks to Tony Tan Caktiong, founder and chairman of Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC). That iconic chicken dish has even taken on the world: with Tan Caktiong at the helm, Jollibee and its stable of brands have successfully planted the Philippine flag in 21 countries, with close to 3,800 stores.
Aside from that, he has also allowed a Filipino fast food chain to acquire a stake in an American company (not the other way around) when it purchased 40% of Smashburger in 2015 for nearly $100 million, following it up with another $100 million just last February 13 to bring its ownership in the firm to 85%.
Yet despite the evident prowess in dealing with numbers, Tan Caktiong didn’t study becoming a businessman early on. Jollibee’s biggest boss is actually a chemical engineering graduate of the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and could have gone on developing chemical manufacturing processes. He, instead, put up the ice cream parlor that would soon become a multinational chain.
“Some of you may be wondering whether studying here [at the university] figured heavily on my future,” he said in his speech this morning when he received an honorary doctorate degree from UST. “One may wonder how taking up engineering could have possibly led me [to concoct the secret ingredients of] Regular Yum with Cheese, Chickenjoy and Jolly Spaghetti.”
“I can share to you now that the answer is a resounding yes.”
Engineering, he said, “nurtured [his] natural curiosity and helped develop [his] analytical skills,” something that came in handy “in preparing [him] better for business and [forming his] aspiration to become an entrepreneur.”
“I never stopped being a student,” he added. “My incessant thirst and love for learning continued on more than 40 years since I graduated.”
Tan Caktiong said students opting to embark on a business venture should “dream big” and “never be afraid to fail.”
“[After you’ve] achieved your dreams, you need to dream even bigger,” he said. “Having countless mistakes, I can say firsthand that some of the greatest and most meaningful learnings come from failures.”
Despite his wealth, Tan Caktiong isn’t content with just starting at his bank account.
“I’ve learned that the most successful businesses are those whose reason for being goes far beyond simply making money,” he said. “The businesses that are admired and built to last are those that also believe that everything ordinately begins and ends with people.”
“[Running a successful business] enabled us to improve countess people’s lives,” he said. “[By] creating more employment, one can improve not only [the lives of your] people, but your people’s families as well,” he said.
“Regardless of industry,” he added, “taking care of your people is paramount.”
“We started very small as a family business 40 years ago,” he recounted. But after serving up perhaps millions of carton boxes of crispy chicken goodness, Tan Caktiong now believes that a great way to “make a difference in society” is “through growing a very successful business.”