Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ben Chan, the Man behind the 'Bench'

Ben Chan is a prominent Chinese-Filipino entreprenuer who is the founder of the Philippines' largest clothing chain, Bench, under the trademark Suyen Corporation. With his world class fashion style and hardworking ethic, he has expanded the Philippine clothing chain into international markets including China, the land of his forefathers. He is dubbed as one of the most prominent people in the country as mentioned in the Philippine Tatler's list of Who's Who of the Philippines.

Early Life
From its humble beginnings, the t-shirt offerings expanded into a whole lifestyle store, offering Fix Salon for hair products and services, Prescribe(r) a stationery line, Bench Brats, a teenage line, Bench Body and Bath, specializing in bath and fragrance products, and now HerBench offering a complete women's line, including fragrances and cosmetics.
Management of the company is shared with his brother-in-law Virgilio Lim who develops systems and operations, while sister Nenita Lim handles finance. Ben devotes his energy to the creative side.

Celebrity Endorsers

Ben is a legend in marketing strategies, one of the first Filipino entrepreneurs who value the concept of celebrity endorsers and image models. In 1988 with its first dedicated Bench boutique, Ben hired a young new actor then by the name of Richard Gomez, as its first image model. As Gomez's fame increased, so did Bench's, paired with increasingly large and beautiful images of Mr Gomez along highways and malls in the Philipines.
Other endorsers have included Gomez's wife Lucy Torres, models Marc Nelson and Borgy Manotoc, as well as actors Diether Ocampo and Richard Gutierrez.
Besides beautiful young image models, Ben Chan has also pioneered in featuring more mature endorsers, including Ben Cab, the artist, Marixi Prieto, the socialite, and Congressman TeddyBoy Locsin.
Internationally Chinese supermodel Lu Yan, the runner up in Cosmopolitan World’s International Super-Model Competition held in Paris was selected by Ben Chan to be the image model of Bench in China. In 2003, Asian superstar Jerry Yan became its image model in Asia. Actor-singer Peter Ho was hired in 2005 and the following year actress-model Qu Ying was hired as the chain's female endorser in China.
Ben Chan's forays into both print and TV advertising created waves. One of his first TV commercials, "A Day in a Sculler's Life" created in 1991 by Ricky Toledo and Chito Vijandre featured no voice over nor copy. It depicted the image model as rowing stylistically to the sound of Chopin's "Claire de Lune." Its conceptual daring was rewarded with a Best in Cinematorgraphy Award at the Philippine Advertising Congress.

Bench Expansion
In 1994 Bench opened its first fashion store outside the Philipines in Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, soon followed by its first in Shanghai, China. A store soon followed the following year in Kuwait. In 1997 Bench pioneered the first underwear show in the Philippines. In 2002 the show would set a record by attracting 25,000 to its Underwear Show.
By 2007, on its 20th anniversary, Bench had established stores in Eaglerock, Los Angeles, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Guangzhou, Xian, and Dubai, on its road to global retailing. China remains its primary focus with more than 27 company stores and 19 franchises.
Recently Mr Chan has dabbled in philanthropy, establishing the Wear Your Conscience Projet with Photobook for the Sa Aklat Sisikat Foundation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

From super salesgirl to Entrepreneur of the Year

By Karen B. Bitagun

Ask any Filipino to name a bookstore and, more often than not, National Book Store will be the first name that will come up. It is the first place many head to when they need to buy a book. When Socorro Ramos started the business in 1942 with her husband, Jose, she did not have the slightest idea that their small retail store—named after a cash register—would become the country’s largest and most successful bookstore chain, serving generation after generation of Filipinos. Sixty-three years later, National Book Store’s 73 branches, from Vigan to Davao, is a testament to Ramos’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Super Salesgirl

In honor of her achievements, Ramos was named Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines for 2004. Ramos, who also bagged the Woman Entrepreneur of the Year award, bested six other finalists in the annual search spearheaded by the SGV Foundation in partnership with the Asian Institute of Management, Department of Trade and Industry, Bankers’ Association of the Philippines, and Philippine Business for Social Progress. Launched in 2003, the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines program is part of the wider search for the World Entrepreneur of the Year established in 1986 by global professional services firm Ernst & Young to honor the achievements of outstanding entrepreneurs. As the Philippine awardee for 2004, Ramos represented the country last May at the World Entrepreneur of the Year awarding in Monte Carlo, Monaco. She joined the most successful entrepreneurs from 32 other countries at the prestigious event.

“You know,” she relates in Filipino in an interview with Philippine Business, “I never expected to win because I am already old. I’m already 82! Besides, my co-finalists were all equally deserving. They all finished college and had master’s degrees and even Ph.D.’s. More importantly, they were all very successful in what they do and they were all very good English-speakers. As for me, I unfortunately finished high school only. I did not hear the first time they called my name. I did not realize I won until the people from SGV in my table were screaming, ‘Mrs. Ramos! They’re calling you!’ That’s the only time I realized I won! Wow. It was really exciting especially because it was really a surprise.”


Ramos emphasizes that the business was not an overnight success but the product of hard work, frugality, sacrifice, and passion. Hard work meant being not only the owner but also the cashier, purchaser, saleslady, janitor, and helper, all at the same time. “I could never just sit behind the counter and watch the store. In the beginning, we could not afford the extra help, so I mopped the floor, carried books from the warehouse to the store, and made sure that displays were always clean and organized. I am still the same way today, except maybe I don’t carry books anymore,” says Ramos. “I am very frugal and I try not to spend needlessly because I know how hard it is to earn money.”

Fondly referred to by her staff and employees as “Nanay Coring,” Ramos has maintained a low profile as the company’s general manager. In fact, she prefers to be called a “salesgirl” instead of “general manager” or other weighty titles. “I am fond of selling,” reveals Ramos with a smile. Not having had any formal business education, her skill in selling is something she harnessed and perfected through experience. This passion brings out the best in her, from convincing customers to buy their goods to passing on that same passion to her more than 3,000 employees. Up to now, Ramos goes on surprise visits to the different National Book Store branches to get a first-hand feel of the needs of customers and be an on-the-job saleslady just like the old days.
Books and More

Over the years, other bookstores and school supplies stores have broken into the market, but none have come close to dislodging National Book Store from its dominant position. The company secured this position by branding itself as a store with marked-down prices. “I think that’s our edge. For example, by reprinting hardbound reference books into newsprint, they become 70% cheaper than the original price,” explains Ramos. Because it is the market leader, National Book Store enjoys the advantage of being able to clinch deals with foreign publishers to reprint these publishers’ books in the Philippines via National Book Store’s publishing arm.

Realizing that demand for books is highly seasonal, the company had to figure out a way to make monthly sales steadier. This paved the way for the transformation of National Book Store into a one-stop shop that retails school and office supplies, greeting cards, postcards, toys, and other gift and novelty items. To beef up revenues, the stores also started providing bookbinding, gift wrapping, lamination, color stamp printing, and photocopying services.

Family Business

Managing National Book Store is a family occupation. Ramos’s twin sons, Alfred and Benjamin, and her only daughter, Cecilia Ramos-Licauco, started helping out in the business at a very young age. Eventually, they managed a number of National Book Store branches. Alfred is currently president of National Book Store Inc., Benjamin handles the printing side of the business, while Cecilia takes charge of purchasing. Cecilia coined the company’s successful brands—the Best Buy label of school and office supplies and the Laking National loyalty card. Today, Cecilia’s children, Cito and Trina Alindogan, are on top of the company’s information technology and human resources requirements, respectively.

“I did not force my children to join me and my husband in the business. It was their personal choice. I actually wanted them to find their own careers, but they chose to join maybe because of the influence of their environment,” recounts Ramos. Today, her children and grandchildren are not only holding the fort but also striking out into new business territory. Alfred’s son Anton manages Tower Records and Music One, while his daughter Xandra handles Crossing’s Department Store. Benjamin is busy with his Atlas Publishing. His wife, Virgie, owns Gift Gate, and with their son Ivan, they manage the Tokyo Tokyo food chain. Meanwhile, Cecilia’s son Gabby manages the operations of Powerbooks.

A Legacy

The management team of National Book Store aims to have 100 branches in 10 years. There is also a plan to expand abroad. “But of course, the name would not be transformed into ‘International’ Book Store,” quips Ramos. “We will still retain the National Book Store trademark.” When this comes to pass, the company will certainly become a source of pride for every Filipino.

When asked about what she wants to be remembered by, Socorro Ramos humbly answers, “More important than remembering me, I want people to remember National Book Store. I want Filipinos to remember that National Book Store has always been there and will always be there to provide them books and supplies at low prices. I understand their plight and know how difficult it can be because once upon a time, I was in their shoes.”

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Philippines 40 Richest According to Forbes

Philippines 40 Richest

Perhaps it is only fitting that FORBES ASIA wrap up our inaugural series of country-specific lists of Southeast Asia's wealthiest with the Philippines. That's because the list of 40 Richest Philippines takes the booby prize among the region's rich. As a group, wealthy Filipinos are actually the poorest, when compared to their brethren in Indonesia, Malayasia, Singapore and Thailand. They had the smallest total net worth, $16 billion; fewest number of billionaires, just three; and lowest minimum net worth, a mere $25 million. The nation's historic political instability certainly hasn't helped, nor has the fact that the Philippine Stock Exchange has the tiniest market capitalization, an estimated $50 billion, in the region. Still the country is showing signs of life. Its stock market is up a third, making it one of the best performers in Asia this year. And foreign investors and businesses are more welcomed than in the past, thanks to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's policies. One person who has done very well lately is Henry Sy, ranked No. 1, whose sm Investments is up one-third since June. A common trait among the rich listers, in part due to the stock market's size, is their tendency to keep their fortunes private. Another is the fact that almost all the wealth assigned to an individual is actually shared by families, sometimes large extended ones. Several of these tycoons are true bootstrappers: John Gokongwei Jr. lived on the street as a teenager after his father's death; son of a shrimp vendor, Manuel Villar grew up in a Manila slum before building a fortune providing affordable housing. The source of fortunes is diverse, coming from more than a half-dozen industries including media, household products, mining and education. While most of these magnates make their money within the Philippines, several are pushing into new markets. Tony Tan Caktiong, who has more than 100 restaurants in China, is opening his first Jollibee fast-food restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada next year; he also plans to roll out another restaurant chain on the East Coast of the U.S. Plus, he's announced plans to enter India soon, possibly through acquisition. The list was compiled using shareholding information and financial data obtained from the Philippine Securities & Exchange Commission, the Philippine Stock Exchange, analysts or the companies themselves. Privately held companies, for whom in most cases only 2004 data were readily available, were valued based on comparisons to prevailing price-to-earnings or price-to-sales ratios for similar publicly traded companies. Net worths were calculated using stock prices and exchange rates from early December.

1. Henry Sy
$4 billion
82. Married. 6 children.

Philippines' leading retailer opened his biggest mall yet in May on Manila's waterfront. Now on verge of becoming nation's second-largest banker, once merger with his Banco de Oro and Equitable PCI is finalized ( Click here for story).

2. Lucio Tan
$2.3 billion
72. Married. 6 children.

The Filipino-Chinese magnate made his fortune from a variety of sources, including tobacco and beer. Also owns Philippine Airlines. With Hong Kong property portfolio, cashed in on booming Asian real estate market.

3. Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala
$2 billion
72. Married. 7 children.

Patriarch (otcbb: PRRH.OB - news - people ) of Ayala Corp., Philippines' oldest conglomerate, founded in 1834. Interests in real estate, water, telecom. Officially retired in April, though sons Jaime Jr. and Fernando have run daily operations for the past decade.

4. Eduardo Cojuangco
$840 million
71. Married. 4 children.

Known as "Danding." Shares of San Miguel Corp., the food and beverage group he chairs, briefly suspended in November, after alleged inflation of sales figures of its Coca-Cola (nyse: KO - news - people ) Bottlers. Company denies allegations.

5. George Ty
$830 million
74. Married. 5 children.

Founder and chairman of Metrobank, one of the Philippines' largest financial institutions with branches in Asia, U.S. and Europe. Known to wear suit and tie to office every day. May soon relax a bit: founder handed over chairmanship earlier this year.

6. John Gokongwei Jr.
$700 million
80. Married. 6 children.

Lived on street at age 13 after wealthy father died. Peddled thread, soap, candles during World War II. Later founded JG Summit, a conglomerate with telecom, property, food, airline and textiles interests, that is celebrating fiftieth anniversary this year. Chairman emeritus, leaves daily operations to son Lance, who is president.

7. Tony Tan Caktiong
$575 million
53. Married. 3 children.

Got start with 2 ice cream parlors; soon switched to hamburgers. Today his fast-food group Jollibee, which he still runs, has almost 1,500 locations operating under 6 brands. Also 167 restaurants abroad, including 100-plus in China. Plans to open locations on U.S.' East Coast and in Las Vegas, and to enter India next year.

8. Andrew Tan
$480 million
57. Married. 4 children.

Chairs Megaworld Corp., large real estate company known for its Manila complexes that integrate office, residential and commercial units. Now developing technology parks. Just broke ground on a new Marriott hotel in Newport City.

9. Emilio Yap
$350 million
81. Married.

Controls Manila Bulletin, one of the nation's oldest and largest dailies. Hands-on chairman reportedly approves story lineups. Has investment in historic Manila Hotel. Son Enrique helps run the business.

10. Oscar Lopez
$315 million
Harvard grad heads family holding company Lopez Inc., which has controlling stake in ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., founded by late father, Eugenio. Now nation's largest media group, run by late brother's son, Eugenio III. Group also has interests in power generation, construction.

11. Enrique Razon Jr.
$285 million
46. Married. 2 children.

Chairs International Container Terminal Services, which family cofounded in 1987. Group operates 9 port terminals, including 4 in the Philippines and 1 each in Brazil, Poland, Japan, Indonesia, Madagascar. In July won concession to operate terminal in Syria.

12. Andrew Gotianun
$280 million
78. Married. 4 children.

Founded consumer finance group Filinvest 1955; eventually moved into property. Remains chairman emeritus of Filinvest Development; son Jonathan chairman; daughter Lourdes Josephine G. Yap president.

13. Enrique Aboitiz
$275 million
84. Married. 7 children.

Heads family conglomerate with interests in 60 companies in banking, food, logistics. Runs nation's largest private network of ferries and buses.

14. Alfonso Yuchengco
$225 million

Father, Enrique, set up insurance group 1930s. Alfonso took over 1946, diversified into banking, construction, education. Empire now reportedly includes 40 mostly private companies. Yuchengco served as ambassador to China and Japan. In February announced that eldest daughter, Helen Yuchengco Dee, would succeed him.

15. Menardo Jimenez
$210 million

With 2 partners, took control of GMA Network, founded by an American war correspondent, in 1970s. Overhauled media group, adding local programming to stable of overseas programs. Now country's second largest. Former GMA chief executive sits on board of Cojuangco's San Miguel.

15. Gilberto Duavit Jr.
$210 million

Executive vice president and chief operating officer of GMA Network. He and family own 35% of group, expected to finally go public next year.

17. Ramon del Rosario Jr.
$205 million
62. Married. 4 children.

Chief executive of Philippine Investment-Management (Phinma), cofounded by his father. Served for one year as nation's secretary of finance. Known as RRR (Ramon R. del Rosario), this Harvard M.B.A. was recently elected chairman of the prominent Makati Business Club. Has big interest in education, pushing Phinma into investing in colleges. Also chairs board of advisers of the Ramon V. del Rosario, Sr. Center for Corporate Responsibility.

18. Felipe Gozon
$180 million

Part of triumvirate that took over GMA Network in the 1970s. Remains chairman and chief executive of GMA, which has 46 VHF stations and 26 radio stations.

19. Beatrice Campos
$160 million
Widowed. 5 children.

Low-profile widow of Jose Campos, who died in May. He was one of the cofounders of United Laboratories (Unilab), nation's largest pharmaceuticals maker. Secretive group is one of nation's largest private firms.

20. Luis J.L. Virata
$150 million

Investment banker made headlines in 1999 when he briefly stepped in as chief executive of then nearly bankrupt Philippine Airlines, replacing Lucio Tan. His family is now a major shareholder in Nickel Asia, the Philippines' largest nickel producer. Company's plans to go public this fall were reportedly canceled because of poor pricing.

21. David M. Consunji
$145 million
85. Married. 8 children.

Started out making chicken coops in 1954; eventually grew business into one of the largest construction firms. Chairs DMCI group, which has built such landmarks as the Manila Doctor's Hospital and Manila Hotel. Son Isidro is chief executive, daughter Edwina treasurer. Group's coal subsidiary, Semirara Mining Corp., is nation's largest.

21. Bienvenido R. Tantoco Sr.
$140 million

From Cartier to Tiffany (nyse: TIF - news - people ), the Tantocos bring life's luxuries to Filipinos through their Rustan retail empire. Tantoco Sr., who has served as Philippine ambassador to the Vatican, chairs the group, which has interests in malls and supermarkets; son Bienvenido R. Tantoco Jr. is president.

23. Betty Ang
$115 million

President of privately held Monde Nissin, maker of instant noodles, biscuits and snack foods, founded in 1979. Brands include Lucky Me!, Monde and Bingo.

24. Manuel Villar
$110 million

Son of a shrimp vendor, grew up in a Manila slum. Started off with a couple of trucks to haul gravel to construction sites. Big break in 1983 when market crashed: bought up large numbers of abandoned projects on the cheap. Today his C&P Homes is a leading developer, specializing in affordable housing. Currently a senator in the national congress.

25. Mariano Tan
$100 million

Opened a small drugstore in Manila in 1945; helped transform it into Unilab, which makes more than 300 types of medicine. Tan and 4 relatives still hold large stake.

26. Rolando & Rosalinda Hortaleza
$90 million

Newlyweds started personal-care business in 1985 with $240, operating out of 270-square-foot apartment. Big break came two years later when they introduced a popular, affordable hair spray. Today he is chief executive and chairman of their company, Splash, which has $56 million in sales from such items as shampoo, hand lotion and massage oil. Bestselling brands include Extraderm and Skin White. Rosalinda is chairwoman and chief executive of subsidiary HBC chain of retail stores.

27. Oscar Hilado
$85 million
69. Married. 3 children.

Chairman of Phinma. Was Smith Mundt/Fulbright scholar at Harvard Business School. Said to be an eternal optimist who enjoys picnics.

28. Vivian Que Azcona
$80 million

Her father sold drugs from a pushcart, eventually opening a store in 1945 and pioneering many services such as selling drugs in small doses, known as "tingi tingi," that were more affordable to the masses. Family's Mercury Drug, which Que Azcona now runs, is country's largest drugstore chain with 500 locations.

29. Manuel Zamora
$75 million

Chairman and cofounder of Nickel Asia, Philippines' largest nickel producer, formed in early 2006 to consolidate ownership of several related companies. Plans to take group public this fall were shelved. A lawyer by training, also director of Philippine companies Philex Mining Corp. and CLSA Exchange Capital.

30. Magdaleno Albarracin Jr.
$73 million
70. Married. 1 child.

Nicknamed "Mag," known as a cement-industry pioneer. Remains chairman emeritus of Philippine Cement Manufacturers Association. Chief executive of Holcim Philippines, a joint venture between Phinma and Holcim of Germany, and vice chairman of Phinma. Got M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Avid tennis player.

31. Jesus Tambunting
$70 million
69. Married. 4 children.

His family known for chain of pawnshops, but this Tambunting has no connection to that business. Instead, he took control of Planters Development Bank, the nation's biggest private lender to small and midsize companies. Briefly listed before being taken private again during the Asian crisis. Bank recently launched private equity fund with British-Norwegian joint venture to invest in small and midsize companies. Tambunting, who shares fortune with siblings, served as Philippines ambassador to the U.K. and still likes to use the title "Ambassador."

32. Frederick Dy
$65 million
51. Married. 3 children.

Took control of Security Bank (nasdaq: SBKC - news - people ), founded 55 years ago, in early 1989; listed it in 1995. Largest individual shareholder, benefiting from recent run-up in its stock.

33. Tomas Alcantara
$60 million
60. Single.

Father, Conrado, got start, according to lore, with $100, a jeep and a typewriter. Today Tomas is chairman of the family's listed holding company, Alsons, named reportedly for Alcantra and sons, with interests in power, property and distribution. Shares fortune with several relatives. Has an interest in art and M.B.A. from New York City's Columbia University.

34. Lourdes Montinola
$50 million

Father, Niconar Reyes, founded Far Eastern University 1928. Lourdes served as sixth president from 1970 to 1989; now head of the board of trustees. Also its largest shareholder.

35. Salvador Zamora
$45 million

Brother of Manuel (No. 29), Salvador is chief executive and cofounder of Nickel Asia, which has interests in 6 mines. President of its subsidiaries, Taganito Mining Corp., Hinatuan Mining Corp. HMC and Cagdianao Mining Corp. since 1980, 1987 and 1997, respectively. Also chief executive of Montreal Entertainment (Phils.) Inc., a private entertainment company, and director of Baguio Leisure Corp., a resort and hotel operator.

36. Antonio Roxas
$40 million

Family founded one of nation's first sugar mills 1927. Today Roxas chairman emeritus of Roxas Holdings, nation's largest producer of raw sugar and second-largest refiner of raw sugar.

37. Wilfred Steven Uytengsu Sr.
$38 million

79. Married. 3 children.

Chairs Alaska Milk Corp., which was founded as a partnership between a Dutch milk company and his General Milling Corp. in 1972. Now the nation's leading provider of milk. Son Wilfred Jr. is now group's president. AMC recently gained rights to distribute Kellogg (nyse: K - news - people )'s cereal products, helping diversify its business and boost profits in the latest quarter. Firm also owns the Alaska Aces, a contender in the Philippines Basketball Association league.

38. Philip T. Ang
$35 million

Vice chairman of Taganito Mining Corp. and a business associate of Zamora family, holds stake in Nickel Asia.

39. Marixi Prieto
$30 million
66. Married. 5 children.

Family is majority owner of Philippine Daily Inquirer. Newspaper claims to have 2.7 million readers, up from 30,000 when it was founded in 1985, partly to provide an alternative to that era's 3 government-owned papers. Marixi is chairman; daughter Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez is chief executive.

40. Manuel Pangilinan
$25 million
60. Single.

Expatriate is chief executive of Hong Kong's First Pacific Company Ltd. (other-otc: FPAFF.PK - news - people ), which owns major stakes in Philippine Long Distance Telephone (nyse: PHI - news - people ) and Indonesian noodlemaker Indofood, controlled by Indonesia's wealthy Salim family. Loves badminton; well-known tournament named after him.


By Justin Doebele Additional reporting by Chaniga Vorasarun, Jessica Ramakrishnan and Suzanne Nam