Category Archives: Business Is A Team Sport

Justin Uy: the Mango King of the World

A few weeks ago, my dad Bunny and I were given a tour. We rode in a Toyota Rav4 as the driver, just like in any tour, circled the winding roadways. We stepped off the vehicle every few minutes, strolled inside the buildings, observed the operations. The entire tour lasted one and a half hours.

Our driver? Our guide? The one person who accompanied us the entire way and personally explained every detail of the vast kingdom?

Justin Uy.

For 90 minutes, the founder/owner of Profood International Corp. showed my dad and I building after building inside the 16-hectare conglomerate’s operations.

We climbed the upper deck to view thousands of skilled workers peeling the skin off the mangoes. We stepped inside the exclusive laboratory where chemicals and secret testing was on-going. We donned hard-hats to watch an assembly-line of Del Monte bottles being rolled off.

Best of all, the three of us watched a movie. No, we weren’t watching Wolverine inside his J Centre Mall — the “J,” of course, stands for Justin and his siblings, all of whom start with J.

We were inside the multi-million peso ampitheater of Profood to view a documentary of his business and of mangoes. “It’s my first time inside this theater,” said Justin, referring to Theater 2, which was newly-added. Lucky us. We got to watch the premiere showing of Justin’s movie seated beside the director himself, Mr. Uy.

As we left our Tour of Profood, my dad and I were in awe of the sights we witnessed. We were like 9-year-olds who just came from Disneyland.

But that’s not the full story. Because exactly 15 years ago, we visited Justin in the same Mandaue property. At that time, we just started operating Thirsty Juices and Shakes and considered a possible mango-supply arrangement.

Then, 15 years ago, Justin did exactly the same thing. He toured us. Personally. But then, the 16-hectare property he now commands was only a few hectares large. And then, it was a golf cart that Justin drove.

Fifteen years. How time travels fast. Justin, day after hour after month, has worked extremely hard to build, build, build. He is now the leading exporter of dried mangoes — not just nationwide, but possibly of this whole planet. (The best part, speaking of tourism, is that his “Cebu” and “Philippine” brands promote our names worldwide.)

Like the BMW Z4 that he drives, he steps on the gas pedal at full speed. But what’s amazing about Justin is not just how hard he works and how intelligent he is (he knows every single mechanism inside the Profood plant; often designing the equipment and systems himself — a true pioneer).

As successful an entreprenuer as Justin Uy is, he is so friendly and approachable. One time when my wife Jasmin brought a group of Rotarian spouses and they couldn’t enter the Profood Museum because they were too early for the 8 A.M. opening, I called Justin and he quickly dispatched a message to the guard.

As hard-charging and aggressive a businessman as Justin is, he is easy-going and relaxed as a person. Laugher and joke times? Ha-ha. You should hear his back-and-forth exchanges with his best friend Johnny Siao. He’s witty and funny and knows how to relax.

Speaking of relaxing, three years ago when I was president of the Rotary Club of Cebu West, our group of Rotarians flew to Singapore for the traditional visit with our “sister club,” the RC Singapore West. Justin joined us. For four days, we ate together and joined the functions. He played golf. Justin loves golf, often playing with buddies like Romy DyPico, Mark Yang, Danny Lua, John Young, and Hans Co, among others.

Finally, on this topic of relaxation, we once visited the Imperial Palace Waterpark Resort and Spa. We rode the elevator all the way to the top floor and walked inside the Presidential Suite that housed a grand piano, a jacuzzi beside the window glass (overlooking the sea) and amenities that are fit for a king.

Well, yes, that king of mangoes is Justin. He also happens to own Imperial Palace!

Jack Mendez, The Centurion

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How many Cebu-based businesses can say that they’re 48 years old? Centurion Security Agency, Inc. will turn 50 in 2015. Very few establishments can proudly announce that they’re nearing their Golden Anniversary. Here’s the amazing story (first published in the sports section) of my wife Jasmin’s dad…

He is my coach. My mentor. My Sunday-lunch drinking buddy. He is funny. Wise. Has street-smarts. He’s rich, was poor, is God-loving and forever generous. He’s a family man, a Rotarian, a disciplinarian.

Jacinto Mariano “Jack” Villarosa Mendez was born on August 17, 1931.

The life story of Jack Mendez is amazing. He wasn’t supposed to succeed. Born poor, he was raised poor. In high school during World War II, he endured kilometers of walking on dirt roads to attend school in Ubay, Bohol. In college at the USC, he could barely afford to buy textbooks. When he stepped inside the library, he wore borrowed pants and, to support his studies, he mopped floors in exchange for free lodging.

Manny Pacquiao? Jack Mendez was the same: he lifted wood at the pier as kargador. And, on his final year at the USC law school, his father, a firewood dealer, decided that his brothers and sisters would stop school to allow him to graduate.

After passing the bar exams, he did what no other brand-new lawyer has possibly ever done: he became a security guard. While assigned at a shellcraft company in Manila where snakes crawled the premises at night, he squatted on table tops.

Yet, he endured. He persevered. He did not let his sorry state bruise his fate.

Jack’s first job was with the SSS. Despite a stable job and lofty position as division head of the Claims and Benefits branch, he dreamed beyond the Social Security System. He longed to become an entrepreneur and daydreamed of establishing his own security business.

March 4, 1965. That was the moment. He named the business “Centurion.” As he envisioned, the start-up prospered. And the reason is simple: The owner was a former security guard. Who better to train and manage blue guards than a former security man himself? He understood the guard’s suffering of sleepless nights and the loneliness of working everyday, seven days from Thursdays to Wednesdays, including Christmas and Holy Week.

In those mid-1960s, guards were perceived to be “notorious” and “shady.” He aimed to change that stereotype into one where people would respect security personnel who were courteous, qualified and well-trained. He did that.

From one solitary guard when he started nearly half a century ago, the firm reached a peak of 1,500-strong men and women, back when Centurion also operated a second agency, Mensa (or Mendez Security Agency).

The company motto? It remains as enduring today as it was in 1965: “The Best Pay from the Best of Companies through the Best Service.”

True enough, Centurion became the best: Ten times it was adjudged the “Best Security Agency for Region 7” and, three times, the “Most Outstanding Private Security Agency of the Philippines.”

The story of Jack is motivating. Difficulties? Challenges? Adversity? Are these not present in our daily lives? His example proclaims one of the most powerful teachings in this whole universe: You. Can. Do. It.

For here’s the formula of life employed by the 81-year-old Jack Mendez: “Hardships are not meant to make us bitter.… but better.”

One other lesson he imparts? Laugh. Very often. (He’s one of the funniest men I know.) For life is a constant struggle. But if you laugh at your own foibles and chuckle when problems arise, you’ll often succeed.

Finally, a devout Catholic who now does a lot of “apostolic” work (being with his “apos” or grandkids), he believes that we should both work hard and entrust everything to the Lord. He’d often say, “God helps those who help themselves.”

And so, to the original Centurion, to my inspiration, to my father-in-law: Sir, I salute you.

Bo’s Coffee: Proudly brewed by Steve Benitez

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Steve Delantar Benitez and I are members of the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP). We call each other “Bro.” Well, it might as well be “Brew.” Because when we talk of a business that’s brewing, nobody is more celebrated.

Bo’s Coffee started in 1996. Today, with 56 branches and 4 to 6 more opening before yearend, it is the nation’s No. 1 homegrown coffee chain.

“Being a national brand is challenging,” Steve admitted, as he helps manage outlets in Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Bohol, Tacloban, Davao, Iloilo, Pagadian, Bacolod and Cebu. “What might work in one place may not work in another region. The key is to adapt and localize yet being consistent in delivering our brand experience.”

Ahh, experience. I love coffee. You do, too. And the magnetic pull of Bo’s is often attributed not just to their Caffee Cappuccino or White Chocolate Mocha — but to the “experience.” The ambience, it’s called, or “the look.”

This 2013 — the 17th year of Bo’s — Steve is embarking on another new look, “our 5th generation store design,” he says. “We are adapting to the lifestyle of the current generation of the coffee market, young and vibrant.”

Steve, 46, is excited about the reinvention; he’ll expand their breakfast, bakery and dessert lines, plus, to differentiate the brand from American giants like Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, he’ll focus on the company’s strength: Being Pinoy.

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“Bo’s will continue to showcase the best of Philippine Coffee,” Steve said. “We have introduced the ‘Philippine Coffee Origin’ in Manila, and in Cebu as we launch our new designed store in July. The first Origins will come from Benguet, Sagada, Mt. Matutum and Mt. Kitangland.”

Here’s the strategy: If Starbucks brags about beans flown from Kenya or Guatemala, Steve is proud to showcase our own.

“What’s fascinating about these Single Origin Arabica beans is that it enables coffee lovers to get to know the featured places in a different way through its flavor profile,” wrote the blogger, MomsHug (momizhugcom.blogspot.com).

“Sagada, for example, has a sweet, nutty, and well balanced taste, with hints of chocolate and fresh tobacco. Benguet, which is near Sagada, is also well balanced, with herbal notes. Mt. Matutum, which is located in Mindanao, features a berry-like and spicy taste, and Mt. Kitanglad, which is also in Mindanao, is perfect for coffee drinkers who are looking for something light and nutty, with a hint of floral undertones.”

Another concept that Steve has introduced is the “pour over method.” In this era of push-button, here’s-your-cup-in-15-seconds machines, Steve is embarking on a back-to-basics style.

The “pour over method,” literally, means manually pouring the coffee. “It requires precision, a steady hand, the right water temperature, and the right circular pouring motion,” explained the writers behind the blogsite, The Pickiest Eater.Net. “They say it’s the best method for their Philippine Origins product line. It’s also the most basic way to brew coffee and what’s nice about it is you can brew by the cup.”

TIPS. Steve isn’t all-work. When not traveling, he spends a lot of time with his wife, Geraldine “Din-Din” Oliva, (some say “BO’s” means “Benitez-Oliva”) and their children, Hugo, Daniela and Vito.

Finally, I asked the CEO for tips. Steve gave four:

1) Pursue your passion. And be imaginative in pursuing it.

2) As your business grows, wisdom comes not in grabbing every opportunity but saying no to the wrong ones. It is easy to grow but saying no is difficult. Stay true to your core business.

3) Make your business relevant not only to your customers, but to your community as well. Be socially and environmentally responsible.

4) What got you to where you are, may not be the same factors that will get you to the next level. In the cycle of entrepreneurship, your strength at the beginning may become the obstacle to growth. When you hit this point, complement your weakness with the strength of others. Be open and humble.