How John Gokongwei Jr. Became a Billionaire

On this day, August 11 in the year 1926, the founder of Philippine-based J. G. Summit Group of Companies was born in Amoy, China. His name was John Gokongwei, a tycoon who defied the odds to build a business empire.

John Gokongwei Jr.
John Gokongwei Jr. (Credit: gulfnews.com)

John Gokongwei was the son of a businessman who owned several movie theaters in the island province of Cebu. His grandfather was a wealthy immigrant from China who became the patriarch of a clan that now controls some of the largest companies in the Philippines. When John was 13 years old, his father died suddenly due to typhoid fever. Then another tragedy struck. The banks seized the heavily-indebted family business.

John Gokongwei was only 15 years old when World War II broke out and much of Cebu City was destroyed. To make ends meet, he rode on his bicycle and went around the neighborhood peddling household items. After the war, he started a small trading company, bringing farm goods from Cebu to Manila and manufactured items from Manila back to Cebu. Later, he engaged in importing textiles, cigarettes, and liquor.

Mr. Gokongwei married the daughter of a very rich Chinese merchant. Using his family connection, he secured a loan and set up a starch factory. Later, he expanded into instant coffee production. Soon, John was building his business empire. With audacity and keen business sense, he invested in several unrelated businesses including hotel and property, retail, publishing, banking, telecommunication, air transportation, petrochemicals, and electricity. He even challenged long-entrenched business magnates by trying to buy their publicly-listed companies.

In 1993, the group’s holding company J. G. Summit, went public and it is now one of the companies with the biggest market value in the Philippines. It has also expanded its footprints to include most of the countries in Southeast Asia as well as Australia, New Zealand, and China.

On November 9, 2019, John Gokongwei passed away at the age of 93. A week after his death, his wife Elizabeth Yu followed him to the grave.

According to forbes.com, the net worth of John Gokongwei at the time of death was $5.3 billion. His five children are now in charge of the conglomerate with his only son Lance as president and CEO of the holding company.

References
http://business.inquirer.net/204062/john-gokongwei-comes-home
https://www.forbes.com/sites/kerenblankfeld/2016/08/24/how-john-gokongwei-built-one-of-the-philippines-biggest-conglomerates/#65c4aa7746e5

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