By Myrna M. Velasco
That whole narrative of ‘humble beginnings’ for businesses is the same track that Lifeline Diagnostics Supplies Inc. had treaded on before it reached the scale of success it now has.
The diagnostics firm, which already counts roughly 20 years of history, kicked off from a 20-square meter office in Quezon City with a meager capitalization of ₱1 million and a modest employee base of 5-6 people. Today, the company has grown into more than 210 people and had logged ₱1.3 billion at its top line (revenues) last year and is projecting to increase that further to ₱1.6 billion this year.
Rex A. Tiri, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Lifeline Diagnostics Supplies Inc. professed that when he started the business, he was simply a young man “with an idea and a lot of passion” – and with a compelling goal to get his company thrive with uncompromised values.
Gradual but constant growth
“I put this up when I was 28, that was in 2000,” he narrated, emphasizing that putting up his own company was his next jump-off point after working with multinational firm Abbot Laboratories; and then with pharmaceutical firm Organon Teknika.
The company’s first supplier of diagnostics products that it first sold to smaller plinth of clients, like the clinics catering to overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), was Organon Teknika (his previous employer). Then two years later, a big break came for Lifeline when American firm Bio-Rad Laboratories scouted for a local partner that will be distributing its products in the Philippines.
Tiri said former clients and connections referred him to Bio-Rad, and when their partnership was firmed up, it was the US company that helped opened new doors of opportunity for Lifeline Diagnostics – including shoring up its credit line so it can cater to wider array of clients, including big-ticket hospitals nationwide. To date, Lifeline’s partnership ventures already expanded to other major players like global player Illumina and the Philippine subsidiary of European giant Siemens Healthineers.
The company is also now supplying key diagnostics products to almost all major hospitals in the country – the likes of St Luke’s Medical Center, Asian Hospital and Medical City; and even government hospitals like San Lazaro; and it is also a major blood reagent supplier to the Philippine National Red Cross.
According to Tiri, their in-demand products are those on HbA1C test for diabetes, newborn screening test, blood reagent, and those for immunological tests, among others.
In extremis, Mr. Tiri professed that his life journey and business odyssey both literally and figuratively sprung from humble beginnings. Growing up as a kid, he shared that he came from a poor family, but one that he was never apologetic about to have because that kind of humble beginning taught him to work hard for everything that he wants to achieve in life; and to always cling in to the values of honesty and integrity that his parents taught him.
What exactly defines his success in business? He stressed “it is very important to be very consistent with the quality of your products and the services you render; and to always take care of your people because they are your company’s best assets.”
Tiri enthused he’s never the type of a businessman who is in a hurry to achieve rapid growth or expansion. In fact, he never aspired to grow at a tycoon-ish level, rather, his business strategy has been to have a gradual, but sustained and calculated growth through the years. And in the process, he said, “I will never trade off my values as a person for any opportunity that will make me a big businessman in an instant. Then in exchange for that, I will be asked to compromise what is morally right to do in life and in business.”
The ‘BNWS’ exemplar
Looking back to where he came from, Tiri indicated that it was the “BNWS” moral code that he had held on to – and that he unravels such as: “B” for believe; “N” for never quit; “W” for work hard; and “S” for sharing. The standards he set for himself and the business also metamorphosed at every growth and expansion turn of Lifeline Diagnostics.
Believing, he said, refers to his self-determination to have a business. “You really have to believe in yourself and gain confidence that if you have a dream or a goal, you can achieve it. In addition, you must believe in people who are there for you and lending their support for you to achieve that dream, and most importantly believe in God because that will keep your values intact amid the temptations that will come along the way.”
In setting up and subsequently growing a business, drawbacks and extreme challenges will also enter the picture either to break or make someone come out stronger from heavy blows and misfortunes.
Tiri said challenges are certainly unavoidable, but his mantra is to “never quit”. He asserted that “the easiest thing to do when there are a lot of challenges is to quit, but don’t give up because if you do, that’s already the end.”
Beyond question, he asserted, “there are things that you will need to quit on or abandon, like toxic situations or individuals. But for one thing, never quit on achieving your end goal.”
“Work hard” is undoubtedly the proven formula that could propel any endeavor to success – be it a business, a project or any form of social undertaking.
“Obviously, you need to work hard to achieve your goal – and I mean working really hard, that always comes with the territory. Because even if you believe and you are not quitting, but if you are not working hard to achieve your dreams, nothing will really happen,” he expounded.
And when the venture increases in size and started reaping profits, it is a virtuous ‘social contract’ to share blessings, he noted, primarily to the employees who are working steadfastly to achieve the company’s revenue targets; and then give back to the communities and constituencies that similarly helped hone not just the business but the individuals behind it.
Tiri shared that part of the entrenched culture of Lifeline Diagnostics is to compensate executives and employees who have excelled in their work and in achieving targets. And since he looks up to his late father Laurente “Oren” Tiri as his role model and guiding figure when it comes to all the values he has been strictly adhering to up to these days, Tiri said the highest award that the company gives to employees is named after his father – the “Oren Award” which is the company’s version of a nobility rank or the best performer.
Plus, all of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities that he and his siblings have been pursuing in their home province of Ilocos Sur, these are named after their “tatay” – whom they all looked up to as the very foundation of their strength and courage to achieve successes in life.
“Sharing to me is giving back and paying it forward – it’s about giving back to the people who believe in you, to your family and to the community – and I am also encouraging our employees to give back,” he said.
The mystical ‘77’
At Lifeline, the number “77” has a very meaningful impact not just to the owner but also to all of the company’s employees.
Indubitably, if their revenue target is achieved at the end of each year, that means ₱77,000 in additional cash gift to all employees and executives on top of their legally mandated 13th month pay, commissions and other benefits – and that is given equally starting from the highest rank to the lowest in the organization’s totem pole.
Tiri asserted that the number “77” has a providential touch on him, and that started when his car agent offered him a plate number of “77” appended to his name; and the restaurant business he eventually ventured into is also on a street numbering “77” – which is now known as the “Limbaga 77” café restaurant in Quezon City.
That number, he said, stuck with him as his favorite throughout the years. But to his employees, he shared fondly that he is being teased about changing that favorite number to “99”, so their cash gifts at Christmas time could also be increased to ₱99,000.
“What we do is, if we meet our target, everybody gets ₱77,000 from the janitors to all the employees and the executives – that’s on top of everything so all of us could happily celebrate Christmas,” he noted.
And for employees who have excelled during the year, they could bring home even heftier cash, with the salesman of the year cornering as much as ₱300,000.
“I believe in the importance of our employees, so as much as I can and as long as we can afford it, it has been the culture of the company to give back,” he stressed.
and moving forward
Homogenity or the lack of diversity in activities or undertaking also kicks in even on a successful business person’s life – and that is a tipping point which Tiri admitted to have struck him at one point.
When he was on his 15th year of operating Lifeline Diagnostics, he admitted that boredom hit him – and there was a drive in himself to try new other things. Then an opportunity knocked for him to delve into film production, and that laid the foundation on the birth of his other company – the T-Rex Entertainment Productions, which to date has already produced several films and that led to a partnership with ABS-CBN Films for expanded film production ventures.
“My world for the past 15 years was just at Lifeline – I just devoted all of my time and resources in this business. So one day, I realized that I want to explore. And then one time, there’s this person who asked me if I want to produce a movie. The first movie I produced was with Director Elwood Perez. I knew nothing about film production, but when they talked to me, they were very forthright that they just need monetary support from me for the production of a movie that they already conceptualized, so I just agreed to fund it,” he narrated.
The production timeframe lasted for almost a year, he said, and that’s the only time that the people who asked him to produce the movie also went back to him – and handed him the DVD version of the finished film.
What he realized from that venture, he confessed, was the lack of return on investment (ROI); “so I said to myself, I’ll stop at that one film production.”
But what came next was an unthinkable scenario to him – the critically acclaimed Director Peque Gallaga asked him a heartfelt favor if he can bankroll the production of the films he eagerly wants to produce before he passes from his world.
“That very moment, I thought of my late father and I said to myself: how can I refuse the request of a dying man? So I agreed to do the next batch of film projects with Director Peque,” he said. And then from there, he just reckoned to continue with T-Rex Production as an added layer to his businesses.
Onward, Tiri still sees rooms for growth for his businesses – in his diagnostics company, the restaurant and the movie production outfit plus the new other ventures that he has been trying his hands on to.
At Lifeline, in particular, he is open to broadening the base of the company’s ownership because of the array of factors affecting and impacting on both local and global businesses: such as the ASEAN economic integration; the trends of globalization and digitalization; as well as the wider encroachment of the Chinese firms in various economic blocs of the world.