Rags to Riches: Lucio Tan
“Even the accomplished suffers setbacks sometimes. The more bitter the lessons, the greater the success will be.” -Lucio Tan
When you think of the Philippines’ richest, Lucio Tan would be one of the first people to come to mind. What most of us didn’t know is that this business tycoon wasn’t always at the top of the pyramid. Now ranked as the 4th richest person in the Philippines with a net worth of $4.7 billion, way back in 1934 he was born the eldest of eight children in a family struggling for survival – a very intriguing rags to riches story.
Coming from Fujian, China the family took their chances and migrated to the Philippines. Being the eldest among his siblings,he grew up with a heavy responsibility on his shoulders to help provide for his family. At a very young age, Lucio started taking on odd jobs to earn a living. He spent his days attending school and the nights working. Despite having to work for long hours, young Lucio did not compromise his passion for learning; he studied for as long as time would allow even outside the school premises.
He meticulously juggled his studies, work, and family duties earning 120 pesos a day. He divided his income – gave half to his family and saved the other for school and personal expenses. Young Lucio worked as a janitor in a cigarette factory as one of his early jobs. He observed the others work and after a while the owner saw his potential and promoted him into a tobacco “cook”, creating and regulating the product mix. Little did he know the knowledge and skills he acquired in this trade would be the epitome of his success.
Back then he took up Chemistry in the Far Eastern University, seeing as he has always had a dream of becoming a scientist but things don’t always work out as we would want them to. Our plans may be put to a pause to give way for the greater things that life has in store for us and that is certainly what happened to Tan. His schooling was put to a halt, putting his family’s needs first as his siblings were growing up and needed more money for their education. He put his savings into a scrap business, commonly known in the Philippines as a “junk shop”. It was an extremely lucrative venture that only required a minimal capital to start, buying out recyclable items and selling them for a much higher price.
Continuing his previous practice, he supported his family with half of the income and saved the other half for a greater purpose. In 1966 using what he learned from his work in the cigarette factory he started up his own tobacco company, the Fortune Tobacco Corporation. The man who once aspired to be a scientist whose plans didn’t go as expected, was able to succeed in a field he didn’t expect to do so. The company was a hit, launching the low-cost label ‘Hope’ made them the top selling label in the country. When the time was right, he resumed studying with an even greater vigor than before. In an interview he emphasized how important learning is – whenever he was interested in a particular field, he would set out to gain at least a 10% mastery of it. His passion for learning earned him a number of doctorate degrees in various fields.
With his dedication to excellence and the desire for greatness, he didn’t stop expanding his business ventures with the success of the tobacco company. Continuing to save up the profits, it soon came the time when he was able to procure and invest in various companies including what we now know as the Allied Bank, the Philippine Airlines, Asia Brewery, Tanduay Holdings, University of the East, Philippine National Bank, and Eton Properties Philippines. According to him, acquiring and managing the Philippine Airlines was the most satisfying part of his career. He takes pride in owning the flag carrying airline, showing his Filipino pride and providing affordable flights to people for a sunnier future – his family being immigrants, he saw the value of traveling for opening up better opportunities to struggling individuals.
In 1997 when he took hold of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) it was burdened with debt and was consistently losing money from the errors of the previous management. Lucio made some major changes that turned it into the proud airlines we know of today. Despite knowing the PAL presented more trouble than profit back then, Lucio refused to give up on it stating that :the Philippine Airlines is an icon of Filipino pride, dignity and aspirations”. He overcame all the challenges that were presented to him, heading a painful but necessary restructuring program.
Lucio Tan has made a lot of companies flourish, making a great contribution to the country’s economy and engaging in countless charity works. In the heart of it all was his mentor and father, Tan Yan Kee, who taught Lucio and his siblings the value of education, perseverance and hard work. Reminiscing his father’s teachings, Lucio imparted with us what he sees as Kee’s most important advice “Great achievements are attained only through discipline, hard work, and dedication”. May we keep these words in our hearts and minds so that we too may make the best of our potentials.
As Lucio Tan has done – turn your difficulties into motivations to succeed and live a simple life even in the influence of success. Take care of your finances so that one day it will take care of you. Learn where to start on this free e-book: https://junpasion.com/blueprint-to-financial-freedom/
Here’s to your success!