This is part of a series of profiles on a new generation of leaders, thinkers, creators, innovators, and trailblazers across many fields in the country. The list is drawn under the theme “What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next” in celebration of Manila Bulletin’s 121st anniversary as an exponent of Philippine progress.
Pauline Suaco-Juan: A case of reinvention
When former fashion editrix Pauline Suaco-Juan was appointed executive editor of the Center for International Trade, Expositions, and Missions (CITEM), it wasn’t at all like she moved to a new planet. To her, it’s the same thing, just a different medium. And then the pandemic happened. “It’s surreal how life before the pandemic was only about a year ago but is already an entire chapter of world history unto itself,” she muses. Yet Pauline and CITEM adapted just as quickly as she moved from one industry to the next as though just changing shoes.
In October last year, she launched the first step into the digital future of CITEM, Fame+, Manila FAME’s new digital trade community platform that connects Filipino artisans to a wider global audience, a milestone in the 35-year history of the international trade show.
But Manila FAME is only one thing on Pauline’s plate. “As this issue goes to press, we are in the midst of building the new digital homes of IFEX NXTFOOD Asia/FoodPhilippines, CREATE Philippines, and a new signature show we are hoping to produce this year, the Sustainability Solutions Expo (SSX),” she announces. “These sites are slated to go live before mid-year. Participating in physical trade shows here and abroad will depend on travel and social distancing restrictions, so we want to make sure that, at the very least, our stakeholders are searchable online.”
The journey is no different from the Great Human Migration, an exploration of possibilities. “Before this, our daily digital lives were about entertainment (and shopping!) and community,” Pauline explains. “At work, we never truly got to see—let alone push—how much more we could utilize it as a means to, say, conduct meetings (Zoom), acquire new buyers (LinkedIn), or discover new talent across the country (Instagram). I suppose it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention—or in CITEM’s case, reinvention.”
Yet even as they move forward, Pauline and her team remain hopeful that some semblance of normalcy will return. “That is why even with our aggressive digital migration, we have included a hybrid trade show option in all our plans this year. When all these restrictions are lifted, we would like to provide a more immersive experience for the trade community through activities that merge technology and tradition,” she says. (AA Patawaran)
Eric Thomas Dee: ‘ We will stick to our core’
The German word lebensmittel means food and drink, but literally translates to the center of life. I don’t know if there is a Filipino counterpart, but if there were, the Dee family is the walking definition. They have been in the F&B industry for over 30 years, nurturing Foodee Global Concepts and its roster of home-grown and international brands, each shining brightly—with or without a Michelin star.
Eric Thomas Dee is the company’s COO. The second-generation restaurateur started as a dishwasher working for his dad, learning the ropes, which have now become second nature to him. “If I weren’t a restaurateur, I’d probably be a comedian YouTuber,” he tells me. But the pandemic, both a health and economic crisis, is no laughing matter. Eric and team seriously pulled off a miraculous pivot and went from surviving to thriving. The strategy was to concentrate on delivery, #DeeLiciouslySafe measures, promos, and digital initiatives among others.
For a better normal, he details the next steps: “We will stick to our core, which is food. We will draw from our strengths in operations and brand management, and use those strengths. We are in the cloud kitchen space through Kraver’s Canteen, which we feel could be something that has been accelerated due to the pandemic. People are adapting much quicker, and I must say our digitalization has also been accelerated. People are now paying for convenience, paying for safety—as long as it offers value to the consumers. As for Foodee, we are committed to keeping to our core of affordable luxury brands, and pledge to make our venues safe for our staff and our customers.”
All that is a glimpse of Eric’s reprioritization of life. While food and drink remain the what of his livelihood, the who is the why and the main ingredient of success. “I’m proud of my loyal team for being with us through thick and thin. I’m proud of my Famidee, now stronger because of this pandemic. And I’m proud of my wife and kids for being my strength.” (Monica Araneta Tiosejo)
The Kienle sisters Stephanie and Jessica: Telling the story of the Filipino through living spaces
Stephanie Kienle Gonzalez is not only in the business of making spaces beautiful. As managing director of Philux, she is also in the business of making them Filipino, along with her sister Jessica Kienle Maxwell, who is also at the helm of the business as VP and head of design and merchandising.
Philux turned 40 last year. Having decided to return to Manila after their studies abroad, the sisters are now the second-generation leaders of one of the leading furniture manufacturers and retailers in the Philippines, which their parents, Swiss expatriate Max Kienle and his Filipino wife Zelda Aragon, humbly started with only two carpenters in the backyard of Zelda’s ancestral home. Originally for export, the business soon tapped the great potential the Kienle family saw in the local market. Now, with Stephanie and Jessica guiding it into the 21st century, Philux is truly Filipino, local yet global, universal yet also very personal, painstakingly produced by Filipino hands using time-tested techniques as well as modern technology.
We are emerging from 2020, which has taught Stephanie to cherish the present, to be more in the moment, which also reflects the philosophy of Philux, in which things of beauty take time and inspire mindfulness. “While I do sometimes worry about the uncertainty of tomorrow, my intention is to approach 2021 with resilience, grit, grace, and hope,” she says. “I look forward to more creative ways to develop human connections in a socially distant world. I look forward to hearing success stories which channel exciting new ideas and motivate others to do the same. I look forward to continuing to create fine furniture designs and promoting Filipino craftsmanship.”
Also, the lessons of 2020 have prompted the Kienle sisters to expand the business. “I’ve realized that teamwork is essential in this new reality,” says Stephanie. “Consistent communication is key in our industry to problem solve, encourage one another, and spark innovation. We are constantly thinking of how to better serve our clients by adapting more digital and contact free ways to assist them. Our virtual showroom tours are an example of that. We have recently soft-launched Philux spaces, our interior design service, which starts simply with online design consultations. Our ecommerce platform is also gaining steam.” (AA Patawaran)
The Tung Brothers: Ligo love
Mikko, Mark, and Macky Tung are continuing Ligo’s legacy of love (Ligo Love is the company’s slogan) with big, bold gestures. Under their leadership as VP for production, VP for sales and marketing, and VP for advertising and promotion respectively, the canned sardines brand has gone from pantry staple to political statement to pop culture reference in 2020 alone.
The third generation Tungs have big shoes to fill—the shoes of their father (Gregory Jr.) and grandfather (Gregory Sr.), who started the 65-year-old company. “I don’t believe the third generation squanders a family fortune founded by the first and improved by the second,” says Mikko in a previous interview with The Manila Bulletin. And he may be right. Already, they’ve expanded capacity, upgraded the plant, rebranded, updated the flavors, and widened the reach of exports, growing into arguably the biggest of the little fish in a sea of competition.
Part of their success is conjunction: high and low, traditional and modern, commercial and limited-edition, serious and fun, etc. while remaining a cheap and delicious source of vital nutrients. An everyday thing can also be a rich experience that stokes the senses and makes shoppers smile. The current campaigns and products play to the consumers’ hearts as well as to their stomachs.
Even as the family tries to elevate the brand, Mark says it’s important to give back. This is done through regular feeding programs in public schools and impoverished areas. “Ligo is always part of the relief goods distributed during natural calamities,” he adds. Macky is aware of the responsibility of being a heritage brand. “That is something we value,” he says, sharing that he receives messages of gratitude from overseas Filipinos because the products are a taste of home. “Messages like those are what pushes us to do better.” (Monica Araneta Tiosejo)
Arianne Kader-Cu: What business ideas do you have in this ‘Stay at home’ world?
Without K-drama, would the quarantine have been less bearable? Many would answer yes and they should be thankful for someone like Arianne Kader-Cu, country head at Viu Philippines. The Hong Kong-based over-the-top (OTT) video streaming provider dedicated to fresh Korean content, now available in 16 markets across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, has been launched only a couple of years back in the Philippines but already it has millions of users and over 200 million video views.
“Viu is a prime business in this ‘stay at home’ world,” says Arianne, Ari to friends, whose decision to return to Manila, her mother’s home country, 10 years ago was originally prompted by her search for career opportunities, only to be heightened by what she saw then as an exciting start-up scene and her desire to be part of a new generation of leaders whose underlying motivation is to help the Philippines grow.
Ari considers herself fortunate to have found a group who helped her fulfill her purpose, and that in the last decade, she became an early member of two start-ups that have grown dramatically—first Zalora and now Viu. These two unique services, in hindsight, might have been tailormade for the ongoing pandemic.
But even for someone who keeps her eye on the future, Ari did not expect anything as disruptive as the pandemic. “We are still very much in a situation where many people’s lives have been displaced, the loss of either their jobs, a loved one, or their routine. We will feel this depression across many industries and it will take more time to recover,” she says. “In times of economic uncertainty, it is important that people invest in themselves. Take time to study, get a degree, build new opportunities. What’s new will be the skills we are taught. What’s next will be defined by how people use them building new businesses.”
This is on top of Ari’s personal agenda. “Today, I’m focusing on my leadership and building a stronger team,” she intimates. “I am driven to develop my current team into a smarter, closer, force. I also see opportunities to find people from different industries and give them opportunities to grow with us. I am currently dedicating over 50 percent of my team meeting new candidates to join our family.” (AA Patawaran)
Marvin Tiu Lim: A can of malasakit
In today’s global health crisis, canned sardines go beyond just sustenance. It’s a symbol for people that they aren’t forgotten and that help is here. That’s what Marvin Tiu Lim, chief growth and development officer of Mega Global Inc., the home of Mega Sardines, wants to bring to every Filipino’s home—a can of malasakit.
“Malasakit is one of our main core values,” he says. “I always tell everyone in the company that malasakit is done in many ways. The company should show malasakit to its employees and vice versa. The employees, employers, and the company should also show malasakit to our fellow countrymen.”
His role as chief growth and development officer upholds the organization’s aims for the future, not just for its operations, but for its people as well. “Right now, it’s all about being nimble. We are teaching our people to be entrepreneurs themselves,” says Marvin. “We need to make sure there are no boundaries that will stop anyone from growing and developing themselves.”
To him, it is worth investing in the company’s people as they are the bearers of what’s next for them. Lim and his fellow leaders are making sure that their employees are safe and secure in the community quarantine. In return, their people have stepped up, spreading their malasakit initiative.
“We converted our restaurant into a Mega Malasakit Kitchen, which served over 800 meals a day for the frontliners. We did this throughout the whole year. We didn’t have second thoughts about it because that was the right thing to do—to help,” Marvin says. “Since our employees felt safe and secure, they themselves were helping others as well. We start from within, then we go outward.”In a world of so rapidly changing, Marvin has no doubt that what’s next for Mega Global Inc. is to remain true to its mission of serving more malasakit and nutrient-packed canned goods to Filipinos with the help of his people. “I realize that success and big wins don’t come overnight,” he says. “It is not only based on luck. It is based on the hard work that you put into improving your whole team and the whole company to get ready for that success.” (John Roland Legaspi)
Vito Puyat: Steward of the world
Like his mother Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, Vito Puyat is in tourism, but his job is only a medium for the passion he has developed since he was young visiting zoos, aviaries, and wildlife sanctuaries. After a few years in England, where he graduated with first honors at Newcastle University in 2018, he is now a full-fledged conservationist, the environment associate in El Nido, Palawan.
Like many others, the pandemic has given Vito a lot of time to think about his priorities. “It has allowed me to reflect upon how I want to develop,” he says, but the past few months have not been a long, idle pause for him. “I couldn’t be happier that our team was able to complete our Coral Reef Assessment. It was difficult with changes like reduced maximum boat capacities and budget constraints, but the fact that we were still able to conduct a study that passed the quality standards of the scientific community teaches us a few things. First, that experts can still provide quality supervision even when they aren’t physically present. Second, that citizen scientists can still be empowered to support science within the community. Third, that unity and cooperation are a driving force in innovation and adaptation.”
He is also ecstatic over having initiated an Animal Welfare Program in Lio Tourism Estate. “It hurt me to see an increase in the number of abandoned dogs, which motivated me to formally push for animal welfare awareness in El Nido,” he says. I’ve been working with my close friends, as a representative of both Ten Knots and as a member of the non-profit organization, El NiDogs, to educate people on animal welfare, increase availability of vaccinations to the local community, and help set the foundation for spaying/neutering events in the future. It was a monumental year since we were able to officially establish official Pet Management guidelines, a Pet Database, mount two vaccination events, and create multiple IEC materials for the community.”
Vito foresees “a slow return to a way of life familiar to us but it will be distinctly novel from how we used to live,” he says. “What I’m most excited for is the growth that people will show not only post-pandemic but also as we approach the end of this catastrophe. I’m excited to see how we will continue to innovate, discover hidden strength, and change lives for the better.” (AA Patawaran)
Rina Janine Go: ‘Every day should be a day of learning.’
She spent four years on a pre-med course, but Rina Janine Go never got to pursue her post-graduate studies. Her family summoned her back to Cebu to help with the expansion of the family business, Prince Retail Group of Companies. Her father Robert Lim Go, who founded the company in 1990, rebranded the Prince Warehouse Club in 2014 to Prince Hypermart, a one-stop shop with products sold at affordable price points. It now has 60 branches with three stores of Go Mart Express.
“I had no previous professional work experience and the past 10 years have been a mix of trial and error, learning from literally everyone you meet, reading and learning on your own from books and online material, and pure hustle!” Rina recalls.
As with any expansion plans, work has kept this Cebuana very busy. As chief supply chain and marketing officer, she would travel constantly to visit the stores nationwide, at least until the lockdown was put in place.
“The first few months were messy and nothing short of crazy for everyone,” Rina reveals.“What kept us going was that everyone involved had a mindset to change everything we already knew. We made difficult decisions, tried new processes, and worked with new realities that didn’t come with guidelines and rules.”
But they agreed on a common goal—serving their customers.“We’re taking a more realistic approach to planning, with faster and shorter feedback loops to keep us grounded but still able to stay optimistic that things will get better,” says Rina.
So far, so good. Rina credits this to having constant communication, choosing focused and grounded goals, and the whole family working closely together. “We are five siblings, and we all take equal roles in the company’s growth, successes, and failures.
We are guided by our parents who have taught us everything and give us the freedom to make our own decisions and to fail, only as long as we can get back on our feet and get better than before.”
Charles Paw: A passion for gadgets and good eats
I asked Charles Paw what he wished people knew about him. “That my first passion is gadgets,” says the entrepreneur. Tech isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to food, but it has drastically changed production and overall food security. While there are no special computers or robotics involved in Paw’s restaurants, the man behind Beyond the Box and Digital Walker introduced tech’s spirit of innovation to the local food scene.
The now-defunct Ramen Bar at Eastwood, for example, was a pioneering restaurant specializing in one dish. Such a concept was ahead of its time, and it took years for the market to catch up. Today, almost a decade later, not only is it a trend but the standard. Further concepts have materialized through Tasteless and Lowbrow, the two restaurant groups where Paw is a founding partner.
There is no better time for innovation, and indeed, evolution, than amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The F&B industry has undergone a massive transformation, seeing more change in the last 10 months than in the last 10 years! It’s either do or die.
“Now we’re trying to push forward, but adjusting to what the market needs through more delivery-focused menu items, and expanding the concepts that are working and doing well during the pandemic,” Paw shares. “What’s new is we’re trying out frozen and DIY kits at home, and also partnering and collaborating with the new chefs.”
Swift-decision making was essential for adaptation under pressure. It was all uncharted territory, but the compass will always be the customer.
Paw admits that he misses some aspects of the old normal. “I miss seeing people in our restaurants and enjoying our food. I also miss eating out, trying new restaurants, and traveling.” Speaking of new restaurants, somehow, his group is opening a branch of Hanamaruken Ramen at Estancia Mall. Unheard of but not impossible has always been Paw’s brand of business. (Monica Araneta Tiosejo)
Melissa Yeung Yap: ‘Navigate with kindness.’
As the youngest of the brood and the only daughter, Melissa Yeung Yap didn’t think she would be where she is right now. “I was encouraged to work in the company, but not really for a specific role,” she says.
As CEO at Greenstone Pharmaceutical HK Inc., makers of Katinko ointment and healthcare products, she has the whole company to take care of and, although it was a role meant for her, the first three months was a crash course. She had to learn fast.
As if the family business weren’t enough, Melissa had another calling. She put up a group of social enterprises, starting off with a non-profit group under Got Heart Foundation, which includes The Got Heart Shop, Got HeART Gallery, and The Bunny Project (manufacturing of PPEs livelihood project). There’s also Earth Kitchen. “It’s a for-profit because overhead is high.
The goal is job creation and we needed investors to build a proper kitchen, a professional chef, among many others,” explains Melissa. And then there’s Got Heart Lab, Inc., also a for-profit social enterprise since capital expenditure is heavy with investments on factories and machines. “It’s a PWD-friendly workplace that prioritizes buying raw materials from indigenous communities,” adds Melissa.
On top of it all, she’s also a mom and a painter who has mounted quite a number of art exhibits. All of these are a lot to take on, bring in the pandemic and it’s a whole different ball game. When the lockdown started, all Melissa could think of was the safety of the employees. The company
was closed for the first two weeks but eventually opened to fulfill a demand with strict protocols in place. They set up disinfection booths and regularly tested everyone. The new wing of the factory was also used as lodging for the employees, providing everything they needed during their stay. “It was so expensive operationally, but I’d rather spend on prevention than on cure.
Thankfully, it worked well for us. Our goal was to keep our company afloat and save as many jobs as we could and even try to expand to provide more job opportunities.”
Melissa lives by these words: “Be constant in looking out for opportunities to share with those who lost so much in this pandemic, to navigate with kindness, and to find ways to be joyful.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Raf Dionisio: A new way to travel
When people reemerge from their cocoon, the world will be completely different, because we will be completely different. Everything will be given new depth, and viewed with fresh eyes—and when we explore anew, it will be with mindfulness, purpose, and compassion.
Enter Make a Difference (MAD) Travel, which may set the course for how people will be redefining #travelgoals.
Headed by Raf Dionisio, MAD takes participants on different trips around the country, with focus on farmers, forests, indigenous peoples, and sustainability. Simply put, it is a social tourism platform that provides alternative meaningful experiences and supports marginalized communities in the Philippines.
“I was inspired by the work at the GK Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan. where I volunteered for over a year,” recounts Raf. “There I saw community members strive hard for work opportunities. People were devoting time and effort to building our country. I wanted to do the same.”
Before Covid hit, MAD had done work in places like Zambales, Dumaguete, Caloocan, Bohol, and Bulacan. Bringing guests to these places has allowed the company to help plant trees and the community to earn income as tour guides, chefs, and performers, and by selling their own products.
When the pandemic began, Raf started MAD Courses, an online education program teaching social entrepreneurship, and MAD Market, an online marketplace that supports farmers, small businesses, and social enterprises. He is currently working with Aeta and Dumagat tribes in Luzon, engaging them as businesses partners and helping them grow over 3,000 hectares of agro forest and building sustainable businesses for their families. The team has planted over 5,000 seedlings and now has 6,000 trees. It’s pushing to grow another 88,000 fruit and forest trees for the Aetas in Zambales.
Even with no travel happening, Raf has found a way to support the communities. “Currently we are still promoting some products, still selling trees, where the Aetas will plant the tree for you, as well as treks,” he says. “It’s a mixed bag but the small streams of income to the villages mean a lot to them, and send the signal that we have not forgotten them.”
In 2021, the brand plans to be aggressive in growing more forest and livelihood, as it launches a new brand for pushing community products like bamboo, renewable wood, honey, coffee, and nuts while caring for the environment. (Krizette Chu)
Avin Ong: One liter of happiness
As a young entrepreneur, Avin Ong has braved every obstacle on the journey to become among the prime movers of the country’s dining industry. It takes great effort, even years of experience, to turn a simple food venture into an empire in less than a decade. But with hard work and perseverance, he defied the corporate belief of being too young for success. His company, the Fredley Group of Companies, is the establishment behind Filipinos’ beloved food and beverage brands Mitasu Yakiniku, Nabe Japanese Izakaya and Hotpot, Hosaku, Liang Crispy Rolls, and Macao Imperial Tea.
“We started as a humble restaurant in Quezon City six years ago,” says Ong, founder and chief executive officer of the Fredley Group of Companies. “Now we are considered and recognized as one of the shakers and most competitive players in the food and beverage industry.”
Just like the biblical David, he is facing a Goliath in the current pandemic. Much like other food businesses, his restaurants were forced to close their doors due to health and safety concerns. But with all the challenges, he is determined to end the past year on a strong note. Apart from extending help to frontliners, he and his team are dedicating their time thinking of ways to serve the joy Filipinos desperately need.
“We decided to launch [Macao Imperial Tea’s] One Liter of Happiness campaign to give people that sense of normalcy,” he says. “When dining in was restricted, we launched the Nabe On-The-Go and Mitasu Grill-To-Go to give our patrons the same experience they get from our restaurant at their place.”
There’s no denying that food and drinks have been a source of comfort for many, especially during this health crisis. Ong, together with his team and the brands under the belt of Fredley Group of Companies, is dedicated to bringing new flavors for Filipinos to enjoy, whether at home or out in the new world.
“There’s really no way of going back to how things were. For me, what’s important as a business leader is to recognize the challenges,” Ong says. “This 2021, we are absolutely committed to becoming better. We want to continue to be innovative, and we want to make sure that we are prepared for the customers, as well as for our employees, as we navigate through this new normal.” (John Roland Legaspi)
Dr. Edsel Salvaña: ‘The goal is to build a better normal.’
Very few people in the country has been accorded the same amount of trust in these dark, confusing times as Dr. Edsel Salvaña, the director for Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the UP-NIH. Simply put, he’s the man made for these times.
The infectious diseases doctor specializes in new and hard-to-treat viruses and bacteria, with an impressive research background in molecular biology. A Balik Scientist who came home from the US in 2008, Doc Edsel is also a TED senior fellow with a knack for laying out complex scientific terms in layman’s language, making him the most followed, most widely read doctor who’s deep into Covid research and response. His viral posts, as well as his column in this paper, are proof of his ability to speak to the common man.
As part of the DOH’s Technical Advisory Group, Doc Edsel is part of the inner circle of scientists the government listens to. He is instrumental in formulating and vetting the government’s policies for isolation, quarantine, testing, and prioritization of scarce resources, as well as craft genomic surveillance response. “In a way, my skill set is almost tailor-made for this pandemic,” he says.
A calming but authoritative presence in in an era of fake news and fearmongering, Doc Edsel says that the goal is to work toward a “better normal.” “We all need to understand that this can happen again at any time,” he says. “We need to equip ourselves with the right tools for early detection and mitigation of the next big pandemic. We need to train more infectious diseases doctors, public health experts, medical workers, molecular biologists, and epidemiologists who can formulate and execute an evidence-based response. Finally, we need our own Center for Diseases Control.”
As a scientist at the forefront of what is this generation’s biggest fight, Doc Edsel admits that despite everything, he considers himself blessed. “My engagement with the DOH and the IATF has enabled me to affect policy at the highest levels, and it has been a great honor to serve my country in its time of greatest need,” he says. “Many people wait their entire lives for the opportunity to help their nation and make a tremendous impact. I consider myself blessed for being there for my countrymen when my skills were most impactful.” (Krizette Chu)
Kelly Go and Mark Ocampo: Putting PH on the world chocolate map
Inspired by the vision to bring premium local chocolates up a notch when only a few thought it was possible, best friends Kelly Go and Mark Ocampo, founders of Auro Chocolate, stepped up to the plate to seize the golden opportunity, and started a chocolate revolution that put the Philippines on the artisanal chocolate map of the world.
Launched in 2015, Auro’s mission is to unlock the potential of the country as a producer of fine cacao beans and to create more innovative chocolates that highlight Filipino craftsmanship.
“We were really inspired by the potential of the Philippines to produce quality chocolate. That was not really common at that time yet five years ago,” Go said.
The name “Auro” is a play between the chemical symbol for gold “Au” and the word “Oro,” the Spanish word for gold. The founders believe that this was a fitting name for the company as cacao was a “hidden treasure” of the Philippines at that time.
Hunting for this hidden treasure brought them to the cacao-growing communities across Davao del Norte, Davao City, and Davao del Sur in Davao Region, which now supply the company all the premium beans that are brought to their modern facility in Calamba, Laguna for processing into fine chocolates.
Looking at how the country was falling behind the rest of the world in terms of innovative chocolate products, they felt the urge not only to hunt for it but also to refine and market it for people to realize its intrinsic value.
Go, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, took pride in Auro for being one of the most diversified craft chocolates in the Philippines in terms of products and markets, even envisioning it to become a household name in the next five to 10 years.
More than a business venture, Go said Auro Chocolate was also founded on an advocacy to uplift the livelihood of Mindanawon farmers, helping five cacao cooperatives, and around 50 individual farmers in the region.
From just two products, the artisan products expanded to over 70 under its brand, available at various specialty stores, hotels, restaurants, and cafes nationwide, and also through e-commerce platforms. The company also opened a branch in Tokyo, Japan in 2019, bringing the unique Filipino flavors to the world stage.
The company won numerous international recognitions, including those at the International Chocolate Asia Pacific-2020, Great Taste Awards 2020, International Cocoa Awards 2019, International Chocolate Awards World 2019, Academy of Chocolate 2019, International Chocolate Awards-Asia Pacific 2019, Academy of Chocolate 2018, and Great Taste 2018. (Antonio L. Colina IV)
Jordy Navarra: The future looks to the past
Jordy Navarra’s Toyo Eatery is the first restaurant in the Philippines to land on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants. The Makati establishment ranked 43rd in 2019, only a year after it was chosen as the Miele One to Watch awardee. Tagalog for soy sauce, Toyo was inspired by the song “Bahay Kubo” to be an ode to the Philippines’ bounty.
“We wanted Toyo to reflect who we are, where we come from, [and] what we eat, and I feel like for it to be a reflection of all of that and where you are, you need to work specifically with what’s around you,” he tells Agriculture Magazine, a title under The Manila Bulletin.
Navarra trained at Heston Blumenthal’s three Michelin-starred The Fat Duck in the UK. He also worked at two Michelin-starred modern Cantonese restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. He came home and elevated Filipino food with new techniques, but soon learned that it’s his roots, his edible heritage, and the quality of the ingredients that will make his food, our food, and flag fly.
“In the beginning, we tend to focus on technique…then you realize that it doesn’t matter how good or how technical you are with food if you don’t understand where it comes from and how it’s grown. At the end of the day, it’ll always go back to what it tastes like and what the level of ingredients that you work with is,” he says.
For him, the future of food isn’t a straight line upward or forward, but one that comes full circle. (Monica Araneta Tiosejo)
Alex Madrigal Eduque: ‘With privileges come responsibilities.’
Two hundred fifty hours on a thesis report is quite a lot, and Alex Madrigal Eduque didn’t want to spend that much time to go to waste. When she was tasked to address a specific issue in a developing country back in her urban studies at Columbia University, she thought: Why not help her own country?
When the Kindergarten Education Act of 2012 was enacted, Alex found a lack of early childhood education programs in the country. “There was a lack of knowledge on the importance of this to the overall growth of a child,” she laments. This started it all.
In 2013, she founded MovEd Foundation. “We started with 35 students in one site in Barangay Tanza, Navotas. We have now expanded to 21 sites, and have served a total of 2,972 students in the past seven years,” she says.
But this achievement didn’t go without its fair share of road blocks, especially now that face-to-face learning is not encouraged. “At present, we are operating at a limited capacity via modular learning. Our students stay at home, and their parents go to our centers once a week to pick up their workbooks (and submit work from the past week), as well as to receive training from our teachers on how to employ lessons at home. It is quite challenging to operate this way, but it was the best way we could find so that we could sustain our programs’ reach.”
Her late grand aunt Consuelo “Chito” Madrigal had always been one of those she looks up to. “It was her everyday presence in my life that shaped my outlook at a very young age,” says Alex. “I guess you could say that her philanthropic endeavors molded my perspective. She inculcated in all of us that ‘with privileges come responsibilities.’”
Yet, even responsibility to Alex is a privilege. “To be in a position where I can still be in the field of work I am and to help out is much more that I can ask for,” she says. “Every day is a reminder that our blessings are meant to be shared.”
Searching no further, her mother Susana A.S. Madrigal has also been a source of inspiration for Alex. “She is one of the kindest, most generous hearts I will ever know, and shows me every day what and how to love wholeheartedly,” she beams. (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Olive O. Puentespina: A journey to cheese heaven
“How do you preserve the milk?”
Malagos Food Inc. founder Olive O. Puentespina, a graduate of University of the Philippines-Los Baños (UPLB) with a degree in Agriculture major in Animal Science, asked herself in hopes to address the problem on milk spoilage in her family’s milk bottling business in early 2000.
Puentespina’s inquisitive mind had two solutions, and these were to either engage in soap-making or produce cheese. The mother of three had tried producing soaps, but felt more aligned with the latter, and so her artisan cheesemaking journey began.
She is married to veterinarian Roberto Jr. or “Dr. Bo,” of Davao’s Puentespina clan, who started the chocolate revolution that has installed the Philippines on the artisan chocolate map of the world for the clan’s award-winning Malagos Chocolates.
She had a background in dairying as a farm system, owing to her stint at the Dairy Training and Research Institute at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna (UPLB),
Having little knowledge on cheesemaking, she had her old friend from UPLB come over to Davao City from Manila for one weekend to teach her how to make feta in 2005. A month later she was able to taste her first-ever homemade cheese.
Puentespina said the feta tasted not as good as how she would like it.
Saying that it must pass her scrutiny if she wanted to get the people to like the cheese, Puentespina soon found herself in the thick of things doing research, and having her hands full in the development stage.
“It takes a long process… because my principle is, ‘you cannot sell something you don’t like’,” she said. “So, for me, if I need to sell the cheese under the Philippine conditions, it needs to be palatable to Filipino palate.”
She studied more techniques and tweaked some of them—experimenting with goat’s and cow’s milk, and a mixture of this two—to perfect the style and taste of handcrafted and meticulously made Malagos Farmhouse cheeses that would win over not just the palates but also hearts of many Filipinos.
She has now expanded to 27 European-style cheeses to this day, ranging from mild to intense-tasting cheeses.
Her wide array of cheeses include, among others, goat’s milk cheeses such as the fresh goat cheese, feta tricolore, blue goat cheese, chevre, Turkish feta, La Regina, Feta, Capriccio, Borracho, Sophia; cow’s milk cheeses such as Kesong Puti, Cow’s Milk Ricotta, La Maria, Blush, Peppato, Queso Rustico, La Rosita, Ingrid’s Rosemary; and sublime line, the blended cow and goat’s milk, which comes in Farmhouse pesto, pineapple, and mango. (Antonio L. Colina IV)
Tibong Jardeleza: Champion of Ilonggo cuisine
“I went into a ‘journey’ with gusto, despite not knowing whether people would listen or care about my advocacy,” says Chef Tibong Jardeleza, pertaining to his efforts in spreading awareness on the culture and traditions of Iloilo through the lens of food. “It’s all about love, passion, and the adventure of sharing the Ilonggo cuisine to the rest of the country and the world.”
The chef, famous in Western Visayas as an Ilonggo heritage cuisine advocate, has been organizing food events, competitions, and tours for more than two decades now. He is an instigator of grand events, such as Sabores de Visayas, an annual showcase of the rich culinary heritage of the region, Tabu-An Ilonggo Heritage Cooking Competition, a battle of taste that promotes native cooking among the young, as well as the Ilonggo Night Market and Street Food Hawkers Festival, which features street food that has long been a vibrant part of Ilonggo culture.
Chef Tibong used to run Rafael’s La Cocina Del Sur, a culinary gem that was an ode to Spanish colonial cuisine adapted to modern Filipino tastes. His restaurant had been featured in several local and international television programs, magazines, and blogs such as Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho, and Amazing Race Asia. Like everybody else, Chef Tibong was caught off guard when the health crisis emerged. “It took a while for the situation to sink in. But when I realized that the challenges of the pandemic were real, and it was unlike anything we had ever seen before, I had to steel my resolve and stay true to my advocacy,” he explains. “To continue my plans, I had to reinvent the events that I have been doing every year. I had to showcase the Western Visayan food culture in the digital space.”
Chef Tibong gives thanks to the Department of Tourism (DOT) VI through lawyer Helen Catalbas, his friends from the culinary world, and the media, especially The Manila Bulletin, for their unconditional support.
In a culturally diverse country, the traditions fueling the stoves that cook our different dishes define the heritage of the Philippines. Hence, we need more people like Chef Tibong to champion the provinces and to ultimately educate us on who we are and what we have as Filipinos. (Jules Vivas)
Liza Yao: ‘Go far, go together!’
Having worked for a prestigious bank before joining the family business, Liza Yao knew she had to go through the ropes. She worked across different departments, such as operations, finance, merchandising, and sales under her family’s company, Richprime Global Inc. The company is the official distributor of Mattel (Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher
Price, etc.), Spinmaster, Vtech, Warner Bros., Chicco, and other global children’s products that range in categories from toys and footwear, baby products, and even cosmetics.
Working her way up, Liza has rightfully earned the role of managing director, maneuvering through the challenges that many companies have been facing in this crisis. “The key lesson I’ve learned is flexibility and agility in responding to the unpredictability around us,” she says. “While the retail landscape has been severely affected, we managed extraordinary growth in our e-commerce and logistics business.
The resilience and dedication of our team have allowed us to employ solutions that allowed us to operate a few weeks after lockdown was implemented. Consumers leaned toward established brands they trusted, which also helped us.”
Planning was also critical. She stressed the importance of working closely with business partners and consumers to make sure the products are accessible. “The pandemic has certainly brought difficulties but it has also offered opportunities in e-commerce, technology, and innovation in marketing and reaching out to our consumer,” she adds.
Liza also acknowledges her parents as her role models. “They have always instilled in us the value of hard work, patience, and spending wisely. I have always looked up to Mrs. Tessie Sy-Coson for her work ethic, empathy, and leadership, and I have been fortunate to meet and receive guidance from many wise people over the years. As I grow in my role, I realize the importance of building relationships and developing your team. As the saying goes, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go
What kept Liza pushing is the importance of play in child development. “Play is essential in the development of our children,” she says. “We will continue to bring innovation in the products and services we offer as we bring joy into the lives of Filipino families.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Maye Yao Co Say: ‘Each challenge is an opportunity to grow.’
Maye Yao Co Say was four when she started working in her grandfather’s textile shop and eight when she started working in her parents’ company. She spent her childhood training to take on the role of COO at Richwell Phils. Group of Companies, which carries a lot of children’s brands such as Crayola, National Geographic, and Disney, infant brands like Pigeon, Safety 1st, Maxi-Cosi, Ergobaby, and Tiny Love. They also carry fashion brands Ogalala and Elle.
As a child, Maye helped out in the family business, sweeping the warehouse floors, weighing spools of yarn, packing, and eventually doing sales calls. “I really enjoyed being with our employees. That’s why one of the things I initiated when I formally entered the company was to set up our HR department,” she says.
She officially started as a brand assistant. “I knew that if I wanted to lead a company to success, understanding the microprocesses and establishing a ‘heartful’ culture are key,” she says.“I had a vision where I wanted to take our company and I wanted to ensure I understood it enough to make it happen.”
Years of working in the company has prepared her to lead it through this pandemic. “We ramped up our online sales operations due to the mall closures. We recognized the needs of parents, especially on hygiene and their children’s learning. We also wanted to alleviate their anxieties.
Through our social media sites, we were at the forefront of hand holding parents in these uncertain times, especially those who are about to give birth,” says Maye. The company would also host virtual talks with experts, even one-on-one customized learning-through-play classes.
Maye believes that it’s important to set the mindset that each challenge is an
opportunity to grow. This way, every employee has been set to work with a positive and productive outlook.
She is grateful that she was raised not to be picky with tasks. “When a task is open, do it. Every task is bound to teach you a lesson,” she explains. “Slowly, I realized that the reward of work was the work itself. It deepens two core principles—humility and meaning. Loving hard work goes hand in hand with being humble enough to know that tomorrow is another ‘learning’ day. Holding positions doesn’t mean you are the best, it just means you are given a better opportunity to make a difference.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Carolyn Chuayung Tanchen: Keeping Filipinos safe and virus-free
The year 2015 changed Carolyn Chuaying Tanchen’s life when their company discovered and launched UVCare that harnesses the UV-C germicidal technology, providing an effective and eco-friendly way to sanitize and sterilize. Back then, UV Care wasn’t a household brand and its products weren’t top of mind, but Carolyn’s team put a lot of faith into this next chapter. “It’s backed by experts and proven effective by independent testing centers.”
Now the managing director of Intech Group Innovations Corp., Carolyn reminisces about how much they’ve invested. “We personally did house-to-house demos, joined and manned our own booths at events, and met with any potential clients to present our products,” she says. In less than five years, the company was able to bring in more brands, including 59s sterilizers, Stayfresh Canada purifiers, and Eluxgo cleaning appliances.
The team was ready to roll out their 2020 strategic plans when Taal volcano erupted in January. “Our entire team diverted our efforts into sending our UV Care Air Purifiers to all customers who needed the devices,” says Carolyn.
But right after the eruption came another catastrophe, the long battle against Covid-19. Not only did they have to serve major establishments, such as hospitals, with their sterilizing products, they also had to drastically shift to a work-from-home setting. It was all a balancing act because their products were badly needed, especially by frontliners.
Carolyn, together with her husband and sister, personally inspected, packed, and delivered the sterilizers and air purifiers for donation. “I can’t even remember if we took breaks. All I remember was the sense of urgency to get these units out and into the service of our frontliners.”
They are also grateful for their staff who volunteered to temporarily live away from their families and live in a house provided by the company, so that they could continue servicing those in need.
After months of shuffling and servicing frontliners, they were given a new challenge to take on when malls were finally allowed to open, many of which signed up to avail of UV Care’s most trusted products. Together, they were able to somehow alleviate the tension and worries of both tenants and shoppers. “We are also glad that these establishments see the value of having our products in protecting against and helping prevent the spread of the virus.” (Jane Kingsu-Cheng)
Jaton Zulueta: The best education to those who have less
Believing that those who have less in life should have the best in education, Jaton Zulueta founded a free after-school program to help address education inequity in the country.
Zulueta, an awardee of The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines in 2018 and chosen as Obama Foundation’s Leaders for Asia Pacific for 2019, founded AHA! Learning Center to give poor students a chance to improve their studies and their lives.
“We believe those who have the least in life deserve the best in education and it’s been amazing partnering with different groups,” Zulueta, who also serves as AHA!’s executive director, explained.
AHA! stands for “Angels Here Abound.” Founded in 2009, the Center “creates ecosystems of opportunity and support for low performing but high potential” students in public schools.
The center has been serving public schools and communities with its programs—targeting children from Grades 1 to 10. It has helped more than 3,000 students over the years.
AHA! used to have two physical centers in Makati and Tondo, Manila. “We had to close our centers, which was heartbreaking, but the current mediums have also helped us reach so many more people,” he shared.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, AHA! focused on supporting students with distance learning. “One of the major adjustments was coming from doing physical classes and face-to-face lessons to doing text-based learning and trying to figure out creative ways we can do our programs without using the internet,” he explains.
AHA! provides text-based lessons to some 16,000 students on Facebook Messenger; trains more than 70,000 parents and teachers as learning facilitators at home; and creates over 100 hours of educational content through its daily radio show.
Zulueta believes that not having “enough people” to work on various initiatives is a “huge problem” in the education sector, among other challenges. This, he adds, “has put learning in the country to be a full-blown crisis.”
He then urges young leaders to “share our time and talent so that the next generation of Filipinos will be ready to compete globally.” Zulueta also asks AHA’s students to be the change that they want to see. “Whatever we give, we ask you to give back. We need you to lead yourself and others.” (Merlina Hernando-Malipot)
Ann and Billie Dumaliang: Answering the challenge of Masungi Georeserve
More than just being siblings, Ann and Billie Dumaliang have been partners in conserving hectares of degraded land in Rizal province, a place that they have grown close to since their childhood.
Ann, 29, and Billie, 28, initiated the Masungi Georeserve brand with the intention of sustainably financing the conservation work and bringing people to understand why the area is worth conserving.
The Masungi Georeserve is a conservation area and a rustic rock garden tucked in the rainforests of Baras, Rizal.
“We dreaded the idea of waking up one day when we are older and seeing the majestic limestone formations we grew up with destroyed without us even trying,” Ann, a National Geographic Young Explorer and World Economic Forum Global Shaper, said.
Ann noted that former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez was the one who challenged them to do more for conservation in 2017.
“This is how we are now restoring some 2,700 more hectares of degraded land around Masungi,” she pointed out.
Masungi Georeserve was honored as a global model for conservation innovation at the Pathfinder Awards by the UN Development Programme and International Union for Conservation of Nature in 2018, and received recognition for its sustainable tourism practices at the World Tourism Organization Awards in 2019.
Both Ann and Billie are the managing trustees of the Masungi Georeserve Foundation—Ann as the project manager, and Billie as the advocacy officer.
“While it was only recently that Masungi Georeserve has been visible, the efforts to restore the area have actually been ongoing for decades,” Ann said.
The Dumaliang sisters look up to their father, Ben, an “engineer by practice and a conservationist at heart.”
“He’s shown through his work that development can support and coexist with conservation,” Ann said.
But efforts to conserve and restore the area certainly were not without challenges.
Ann said the organization has dealt with these “by facing the challenges bravely on the ground and building stronger communities around the cause.”
“We are grateful to have such a committed, resilient and hardworking team, as well as advocates across industries who have helped us push, grow, and learn,” she explained.
Ten years from now, they are hoping that they would have already restored the entire Masungi Geopark Project.
“By then, the idea of world-class parks and protected area management will not have happened just in Masungi but would also be pursued across the country may this be done by public or private groups,” Ann said. (Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz)
Milka and Mandy Romero: In their parents’ footsteps
Most children of privilege grapple with the stereotype—sometimes justified—that they can afford—and will gleefully—take it easy, but not when you’re the daughter of Sheila and Mikee Romero, one of the country’s most successful couples.
Take, for example, their young, beautiful, and stylish daughters Milka and Mandy, who chose careers that are the exact same paths their parents took.
Milka Romero, at 26, is already a successful restaurant entrepreneur, just like her mother Sheila, who is now vice chairman at Air Asia Philippines, but who earned her stripes in the F&B and hospitality industry before that, having run several enterprises like Azzurro Bistro and Wine Bar since the ’90s.
Hers is not a case of being handed a business—when she was just 19, a Marketing undergrad at the Ateneo, Milka juggled her time helping in her family’s business (Roku Sushi + Ramen, a Japanese restaurant), and being co-captain of the football team.
In college, Milka would have football practice in the morning, classes all day, and then end her day working at her family’s restaurant Roku (which was situated across her mom’s Oracle Hotel in Quezon City).
Fast forward seven years later, Milka is well on her way to becoming just as much a powerhouse as her mom, now running Roku Sushi + Ramen, Sushi Nori (which she considers as her own), and Narra Thai and Asian.
Currently in the Philippines as she takes online classes at Georgetown University, younger sister Mandy, who’s taking up Health Care Management and Policy with a minor in Justice and Peace Studies, seems to be taking after her dad, party list representative and deputy house speaker.
Already well entrenched in public service, Mandy is the head of Alliance Division of Save the Schools Network that’s advocating for indigenous people’s rights and education. Mandy is particularly proud of their support to Lumad Bakwit schools, and the creation of Pung To Lumad, which sells handicrafts made by Lumad artists. Just like her father, Mandy focuses on public service, volunteering time and effort to do her share to make the world a better place.
While the two girls seem to move in completely different worlds, they are tied by their shared passion, work ethic, and desire to serve, whether customers or communities. (Krizette Chu)
Miguel Tan: The young tycoon
Miguel Tan was only eight years old when he was first exposed by his father Antonio Tan to the field of business. At the age of 14, Miguel was already investing in stocks. Four years later, the 18-year-old senior student at Xavier School also became the chief executive officer of Fasclad Inc., successfully growing the start-up glass installation firm into a curtain wall façade conglomerate. Now 23, the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P) management degree holder is a member of several private corporations and investments, serving as the chairman and CEO of MVT Group of Companies, as well as a director and partner for Anytime Fitness Philippines and Studio 300 Bowling.
With Miguel’s ability to quickly adapt to the ever-changing landscape of business, he is able to lead all of the companies under him through the ongoing health crisis. “Gone are the days being a ‘big business’ is enough to be successful. In the Covid-world, size is not an advantage. We [Fasclad Inc.] have to be flexible and operate as efficiently as possible,” explains Miguel. The young entrepreneur takes pride in the fact that none of his employees has been laid off during the extended lockdown, saying, “as a building façade contractor and service provider we value our employees because they are our prime asset. We understand how the circumstances are in these days. The uncertainty and unpredictability can take a mental toll on anyone.”
Be that as it may, he admits that several tough decisions were made for his ventures to survive such as the consolidation and regrouping of businesses. “It was definitely not easy to manage the family business in an environment of uncertainty. The unspoken pressure to survive and adapt is for my shoulders to bear. I could still remember the sleepless nights, thinking how this pandemic could be a huge setback on the company’s long-term goals,” Miguel intimates, “I am just thankful and blessed to have a loving and supportive family whom I can always lean on for wisdom and advice.”
Apart from his open-mindedness, it is his optimism that had enabled him to go this far. “There will always be hope and opportunities in every crisis, and that is something we all must look forward to.” (Jules Vivas)