The Man From Fujian
Lucio C. Tan is a household name in the
Philippines. Perhaps only a few have not heard of the well-known
Chinese-Filipino industrialist and businessman. He became even
more prominent in the 90s when various international publications,
particularly in the United States and Asia Pacific, took notice
of his corporate exploits. People see him as a financial wizard,
one steeped in Chinese philosophy and culture, who can turn around
and work wonders on even seemingly hopeless business ventures.
They are awed by his entrepreneurial acumen and skills, and praise
him for his outstanding contributions to his adopted countrys
Building a Cigarette and Liquor Enterprise
through Hard Work
A genius never shows off, goes a Chinese saying. So it is with
He does not readily strike others as the tycoon that he really
is. Simple in attire and sprite in movements, he appears like
your ordinary, friendly Chinese merchant. But thats only
a first impression. Seeing the long queue of prominent businessmen
wanting to see him in his office and hearing him speak, one senses
that Mr. Tan wields extraordinary power and influence. He has
the bearings and aura of a true leader.
The success of Mr. Tans enterprise is
deeply rooted on liquor and tobacco. He owns Fortune Tobacco,
the countrys biggest cigarette-manufacturing company; Asia
Brewery, the second largest producer of beer and bottled water;
and Tanduay Distillers, one of the oldest (it was founded in 1854)
and biggest rhum producers in the world.
A helicopter ride provides a birds eyeview
of the sprawling Fortune Tobacco and Asia Brewery complexes, which,
from the air, looks like picturesque garden estates. Every day,
their factories churn out dozens of cigarette brands and eight
brands of beer that find their way to domestic and world markets.
In the 30 years since the founding of Fortune
Tobacco Corporation, we encountered great difficulties raising
funds and experimenting with our formulas, thus recalled Mr. Tan
in 1996 during the companys 30th anniversary. Our products,
which were not selling too well at first, now sell briskly, thus
laying a solid foundation for our business. All the things that
happened in this period are still fresh in my memory. This achievement
is the result of the support and encouragement from my parents,
relatives and friends, and from the unity and hard work of my
Back in 1965, when Mr. Tan was just setting
up Fortune Tobacco, the domestic market for cigarettes was dominated
by old established companies. With his meager funds, he wondered
how he could position his products against the more than a hundred
local and foreign brands competing in a cut-throat market. Through
market research he learned about the sale of high-, medium-, and
low-grade cigarettes in the country. He discovered that a large
consumer base existed for medium-grade cigarettes. He therefore
decided to invest in the production of such cigarettes, but resolved
to make the quality better than that of the competition. Ever
Cool, the first brand produced by his company, made it to the
market after some twists and turns. It proved that his decision
With Fortune flourishing in the early 70s,
Mr. Tan went full blast creating a diverse conglomerate. In 1970,
he brought in from Taiwan advanced livestock-raising technology
to set up Foremost Farms, one of the biggest hog farms in Asia.
his advocacy of scientific pig farming, the Central Luzon State
University conferred on him 30 years later an honorary doctorate
degree in applied agriculture. He was cited, in particular, for
his outstanding contributions to the countrys agriculture
and livestock raising.
In 1977, he acquired the defunct General Banking
Corporation (GenBank) and renamed it Allied Banking Corporation.
Through innovation and restructuring, it now consistently ranks
among the top 10 banks in the Philippines in terms of assets and
deposit base. Allied Bank boasts of a network of over 250 branches,
including those in London, Xiamen, Singapore, Guam and Bahrain.
The core institutions of the Tan conglomerate are housed in the
banks main office building in Makati City.
A year later (1978), Mr. Tan acquired Riverside
Steel Inc., a Philippine subsidiary of Kawasaki Steel Corp., one
of the biggest steel firms in Japan. Renamed Grandspan Development
Corporation, it engaged in large-scale building and construction
projects both in the Philippines and abroad. Grandspan expanded
its core business to include steel fabrication which won it world
recognition. The company was chosen partner by leading international
construction companies for its quality designs and workmanship
and for the durability of its steel structures.
Mr. Tan established Asia Brewery in 1982. At
that time, San Miguel - a beer first brewed by an ethnic Spanish
family had been a fixture in the Philippine market for over 90
years. With his finely honed business sense, Mr. Tan found a breach
in the fiercely contested beer market: The market looks like a
bucket filled with rocks: It appears to be full, but actually
there exists a lot of space between the rocks. The space could
be filled with sand then water could be poured into the sand.
He hired experts to study the market, gather
information about name-brand beers in other countries and develop
new-flavor brews. Asia Brewerys first brand Beer Hausen
- sold like hot cakes immediately after its launching. At the
same time, Mr. Tan also imported world-famous beers into the country
In 1985, he purchased the 500-room, five-star
Century Park Hotel, now a favorite venue frequented by ranking
Philippine government officials as well as local and foreign businessmen.
Mr. Tans goal of providing world-class
products and services got another boost when he established MacroAsia
Corporation on November 26, 1995. A publicly listed company, MacroAsia
provides catering, ground handling and engineering and maintenance
services not only to its sister companies but also to over 20
international carriers landing in the Philippines. The firm is
widely known in commercial aviation circles for its strict adherence
to international standards, commitment to quality, efficiency,
and customer care. The company has also become a seedbed of talent
for Filipino engineers, chefs and ground staff
Despite the hardships, Mr. Tan used his talent,
insight and business acumen to create a diversified business enterprise.
At the same time, he laid the foundation for what is known today
as the Lucio Tan Group of Companies.
-Excerpts from the picture
album Lucio C. Tan, published by Xinhua Puhli.shing House