From the very beginning was the idea. Then came the struggles. The next thing you know these people have become uber millionaires and top billionaires. And yes, they’re all Filipinos.

How could you have known? It seems they never stood out in the crowd. Except, perhaps for the fire in their eyes. For the most part, these people are like the mustard seed the good ‘ole Bible so aptly described. They start so small, insignificant. Were they but a bunch of cockroaches, you would have slapped dead them with your slippers. Right away. No hesitations.But no, at the right time, like yeast to dough, they rise, they go big. Bigger than everybody. Somehow, you start thinking: What gives? What’s their secret?Or did they stop eating rice altogether? Have they found a secret formula? Super delicious Krabby Patty burgers perhaps. Like what SpongeBob cooks.

Fine ladies of the hour and brave gentlemen, please allow me. Here’s 10  of the best stories of people who started with nothing and ended up with everything. Money-wise. Devour!

Tycoon #10: Mariano Que
Mariano Que
Here’s your first catch: a story of a peddler. Mariano Que worked for a drugstore before WWII erupted in the Philippines. Seeing the demand for sulfa drugs after the war and using his little pharmaceutical knowledge Que bought sulfathiazole tablets worth a 100 pesos and made profit by peddling them as single doses to poverty-stricken sectors. He worked smart, though.

Eventually he was able to build a wooden pushcart allowing him to peddle more drugs.

Que kept at it making sure the drugs he sold were of quality and unexpired. By 1945, he had enough money to put up his first drugstore. He named it Mercury Drug with the messenger to the Roman Gods as his business symbol. Today, Mercury Drug is one of the biggest chain of drugstores in the country and Mariano Que is rich many times over.

Business: Mercury Drug – 900 stores/ 11,000 employees, PhP 42.98 billion in revenue (2003)

Tycoon #9: Socorro Ramos

Socorro Ramos

Born in 1923 in Sta. Cruz Laguna, Socorro Cancio had to do odd jobs as a young girl to augment the income of her family. For instance, she peeled paper off discarded cigarettes. She was paid 5 centavos per pack to do this. Also, her other siblings had to work in candy and bubble gum factories to help.
Her elder sister married the son of an established bookstore owner landing Socorro a job as a salesgirl in one of the book stalls. This was her first stint with bookstores and the business of books.It seems the young lady was destined to pursue a career related to books for soon enough she met Jose, the son of a bookstore-business clan. Though their love was forbidden by her parents, Ms. Cancio married Jose Ramos.

Jose transformed one of the branches of his family’s bookstore and renamed it National Book Store. Success did not come to them immediately though as their first store was totally destroyed during the war. When they decided to rebuild in Avenida, their store was caught by a storm leaving all books worthless. Still they pursued the business, putting in tighter measures. Today, NBS (National Book Store) is present in most big malls, and is the foremost purveyors of books in the country.

Business: National Book Store, 128 branches nationwide

Tycoon #8: DiosdadoBanatao


Who would have thought a child who used to walk barefoot to get elementary and high school education would become the “Bill Gates” of the Philippines? I’m talking about DiosdadoBanatao. Born to a rice farmer and a plain housewife in a barrio in Cagayan Valley, Banatao had to do just that to finish Malabbac Elementary School. Decided to pursue higher learning, Dado as he was called pursued his Electrical Engineering degree in MIT (Mapua Institute of Technology) graduating cum laude.

Faith would soon find Dado in the United States as he was offered a design engineer job for Boeing Co., after a stint with Philippine Airlines as a pilot trainee. There he completed a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and finished it in Stanford University. Joining the now-famous Homebrew Computer Club he met the likes of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
Dado’s design capabilities allowed him to develop several milestone products in the computer industry (e.g., single-chip controller, chip sets). Soon enough, he founded his own companies. One of which, Chips and Technologies Co., was bought by Intel for a whopping $430 million. Today Malabbac Elementary School is the only public school with the most advanced computer system – thanks to Dado.
Business: Monstroni, Chips and Technologies.

Tycoon #7: Corazon D. Ong

Corazon D. Ong

Now, a heartwarming story of a mother turned businesswoman. Corazon Ong was working as a dietitian for a hospital. However, she decided to give up her job to focus on her family. She put her dietitian skills to good use in preparing “baon” for her husband Jose and native snacks for her 2 kids. She experimented with a new filling for siopao for instance.

Eventually, she developed a skinless longanisa for her homemade siopao. Once the neighbors tasted it, it became such a hit. Word spread fast. And soon enough she had to borrow PhP 60,000 to fill in on all the incoming orders.Eventually, she founded CDO Foodsphere in 1995 which soon become a household name in quality food products. The business united them as her son and husband are now full time in  helping her grow the business.
Business: CDO Foodsphere, Most Outstanding Meat Processing in the Country (1999-2003) Consumer Union

Tycoon #6:Julie Gandiongco

Julie Gandiongco

How would you like to start business when you’re in your 50’s? Seems too late, right? But that did not stop Julie Gandiongco to succeed.
Julie kept herself always busy, keeping a sari-sari store and accepting sewing jobs from the neighborhood everytime her husband, Diegs, transferred location as a Pepsico employee. From Bohol to Cebu to Zamboanga to Ormoc. She went where her husband was assigned, packed up everything – her children and sewing business, to start all over again.

Diegs resigned his job to concentrate on a 30-hectare sugar plantation in Dumaguete. Again Julie went with him helping supervise farm hands. However, the price for sugar suddenly dropped worldwide. And with it, their future. Soon they lost the farm and had to move back to Cebu.

Not wanting to get back to sewing, she applied and became a canteen concessionaire for a rattan export company. That opened doors. Though based on credit as most workers pay only on payday, Julie soon realized her customers’ need for bread. Meeting a baker who want to work for her, she opened her first bakeshop, aptly named it Julie’s Bakeshop. She was 50.

Business: Julie’s Bakeshop, 500 stores nationwide

Tycoon #5: Alfredo Yao

Alfredo Yao

Now we go to a son of a side walk vendor. Alfredo Yao’s father died when he was but 12 years old. He had 5 siblings. To feed the family her mother sold just about anything a side walk vendor could sell. With a relative’s help, the young Alfredo was able to finish elementary and high school. However, even with odd jobs working in a warehouse of a packaging company, he was unable to finish his degree in MIT (Mapua Institute of Technology).
With the help of a cousin who was working for a printing press business, Alfredo Yao learned the rudiments of printing cellophane wrappers both for candies and biscuits. Boldly, he decided to venture into the printing press business. Perfecting his products, Yao made use of the potential of “doy packs”, flexible foil packs. Soon, he found use for this packs by venturing into the juice manufacturing business himself founding Zest-O in the process, leading the way for ready-to-drink juices. His juices has secured 80% of the packed juice market in the country and has been exported all over the world.
Business: Zest-O

Tycoon #4: Tony Tan Caktiong
Tony Tan Caktiong
You know, being the son of a cook for a Buddhist temple can be a good jumping board for success.

Tony was born in 1960 to a working-class family from Fujian, China. His family migrated to the Philippines after WWII. His father cooked for a Buddhist temple to feed the family and living on a tight budget was able to  open a Chinese restaurant in Davao. As a young child, Tony became a busboy in the family business – cleaning tables, serving customers and washing the dishes.With hisfather’s  perseverance, Tony earned a BS Chemical Engineering degree at UST (University of Sto. Tomas).

Following the path of his father, Tony ventured into business buying ice cream parlor franchises, the once famous Magnolia Ice Cream House. He borrowed seed money from his family’s pooled savings. Finding out his customerslonged to fill their stomachs before indulging in his cold treats, he offered burgers and chicken in his store. Soon enough, burgers outsold the ice cream products. As a result, Tony and his siblings decided to convert the now 6 ice cream parlors into burger restaurants. And named it Jollibee. Today, Tony is one of the richest in the country, and a certified billionaire with net worth of $1.25 Bn.

Business: Jollibee Foods Corporation – 2,510 stores worldwide/PhP 82.1Bn sales (2011)

Tycoon #3: John Gokongwei

John Gokongwei

John Gokongwei was born in Fujian Province, China. His family migrated and thru business became well-off in Cebu, Philippines. However, John’s father died when he was 13 and with it their affluence. To support his mother and siblings, John peddled along the streets of Cebu and wet markets in various towns, selling soaps – anything and everything that can be carried on his bicycle. In effect, he became a market vendor, the youngest of his kind.
For bigger profit, he traded in Manila at the age of 17 transporting items by sea. Riding a small, sail-powered outrigger called a batel, the young Gokongwei braved the high seas. On one such trip, he had a brush with death as the batel hit a rock and capsized. Good thing he and fellow passengers were saved by clinging on to  therubber tires that he intended to sell.

Soon Gokongwei ventured into business setting up his first company Amasia. He imported everything he can from the U.S. (e.g., textile, newspapers, magazines, used clothing, cigarettes, whisky) and sold them in the country. With his good name established, he was able to secure a PhP 500,000 loan from China Bank to start a manufacturing business, putting up a corn milling plant and naming it UniversalRobina. The rest is history. Today, John Gokongwei is one of the few billionaires in the country with estimated wealth of $4.2 Bn (2012).

Business: Universal Robina, Cebu Pacific, Robinsons

Tycoon #2: Lucio Tan

Lucio Tan

For a man that doesn’t smoke, it’s hard to believe Lucio Tan owns the biggest cigarette manufacturing company in the country, Fortune Tobacco.
Born also in Fujian Province, China on July 17, 1934 Mr. Tan had modest beginnings. As a child he had to work in Bataan Tobacco Factory to help the family.

He was able to push himself to elementary and high school. Via a work-study program he earned some units at the University of the East for Chemical Engineering. Although unable to finish college, he sawthe big opportunity and put up his own cigarette company in 1966 starting with just 2 cigarette-making machines. Eventually, he  was able to introduce such budget brands as “Hope”.

He never looked back and through his sharp business acumen was able to salvage dying businesses and grow them to dynamic structures. Examples include Philippine Airlines and Tanduay Distillers. Today 80% of the cigarette market in the Philippines is captured by his company and PAL is the leading carrier in the airline industry.

Business: PAL, Fortune Tobacco (among 300 others)

Tycoon #1: Henry Sy

Henry Sy

And now for the biggest of them all. His is the story of how one sari-sari store vendor became the “shopping mall king” of Asia.

Born on Christmas Day, 1923 in Xiamen, China, Henry Sy was introduced to retail early despite the poverty. In his early teens, the entire family moved to the Philippines and his father opened up a small variety store in Manila. Life was hard and with nowhere to sleep, the young Sy had to sleep inside the store clearing up the counters to do so.

WWII, however, destroyed that store to the sorrow of his father. Instead of giving up, Henry Sy pushed through earning income via buying and selling shoes from enterprising American G.I.s. The little success of his shoe-selling business inspired him to open up a small shoe store in Quiapo, Manila in 1958. He named it Shoe Mart.

By 1972, Henry Sy had transformed his small shoe store into his first standalone department store. Today, Mr. Sy is the richest business magnate in the Philippines, worth over $11.9 billion (2014) with a handful of his malls gracing the Top 25 biggest malls of the world.

Business: SM Prime Holdings, BDO, ChinaBank

Ok, take a deep breath everyone. Whew! That was one big list we got there. Hope that gave you something to nitpick about.

If you feel like the list came up short please drop me your 2 cents in the comments section below. Too bad I can only fit 10 on a top 10 list. Just kidding!
Also, please do your fair share of passing this little info-tainment around. I’m pretty sure if we keep at it, somebody out there will get the message.

Let me end this little information tête-à-tête of ours by quoting a great American industrialist. He said: “A poor man is not the one without a cent. A poor man is the one without a dream.”

Yes, his name is Ford, Henry Ford, founder of the company who makes those Ford cars of today. He too was a former farm hand.

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21 Responses

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    • says:

      We’re glad you like this content Alkee! We hope you’ve been inspired they way we’ve been with it although we know the chances of any of us getting anywhere near to their success would be next to impossible.

      Lotto nalang tayo!

  1. James says:

    This list is more of a Chinese success stories. Only 2 are really Filipinos. Most of these tycoons are migrants from China. Cant you make a list of 10 Most successful Filipinos who are born from Filipino parents and raised in the philippines?

    • says:

      Hi James! That’s a good point no doubt. The reason why this list included all types of Filipinos is because these are people that everyone can easily identify. We’ll look into making a list of Filipino born richest Filipinos or something along those lines.

      Maybe you can share your top 10 Filipino born for this list James?

  2. I’ve been dreaming of becoming a business tycoon since PRESCHOOL. But my interest changed when I discovered my skills in Fine Arts; later I realized that I want to make HUGE money–income–wealth and help myself, my family and the less fortunate. These people were great, no, marvellous and they inspire me a lot. Although being in the field of arts sounds difficult when it comes to moneymaking (as many people say), I think it’s not a hindrance for me to dig for the gold. So turning 20 in a few days, I will get up my lazy bum and start hustling. Someday, you’ll write my name in this article. 😉

    • says:

      We’re glad to have you inspired by this list Doods! And you’re right, there are too many ways to get to tycoon status no doubt although from how I see it, fine arts is indeed quite unusual a route but I too know too well it’s not impossible knowing a few renowned local artists whose pieces don’t go lower than 1M. And they too know how to help their fellow struggling artists as you will know when you get to that level as out of 1,000, there’s only that lucky one that will get to the top.

      All finally, you too are right that nobody ever became anything just by dreaming about it so indeed get your lazy bum out of bed and start doing something! Anything…. Somewhere is always better than nowhere…

    • Lol! Dont lose hope to become magnate in business all you want. I am 16 and you’re 20++.There is no gap to become success.I still read a lot of books and explore all I want.

  3. LASTLY, THIS IS VERY GOOD ARTICLE. Whoever wrote this, THANK YOU!!!

  4. Miaca says:

    One of the things I want to consider reading.

    I was kinda struggling also with money and especially i’m the bread winner in our family.

    Being alone and looking for a good business is very difficult. I hope someday I can be on the list well, if I put much work to it maybe I can make it!

    Thanks for this!

  5. I am so motivated when i read this blog.I dreaming about to be like them.My teacher thought me about business education I was Grade 8 at that time,She is a math teacher.Everytime she told us everyday about SUCCESS,on how to be successful in life.It seems my classmate was not interested to learn ON HOW TO BEING SUCCESS,My teacher was sad sitting in the chair.At the end of the class I asked her a question and told her I was interested to her about what she said about SUCCESS.All that started when I ask a lots of question about example ,HOW TO BE MILLIONAIRE OR BILLIONAIRE and others.

    And now I am a senior high school in the next school year I was still see at him in our school.I also ask her about what I have had read.She also tells me about magnate person in REAL STATE.She is now currently taking Real State and she was passed the test successfully. Also she have shared about her experience when she taking the examination.
    I will never surprisingly when I see her riding Ferrari or other fancy cars,wearing expensive clothes,watches or so what ever she wanted.
    I am inspired on him.
    That’s all….

  6. sheena says:

    i am inspired by this article..thank you for posting

    • says:

      Glad you got inspired from this Sheena! There are many more similar stories out there no doubt. May you be the next one!


  8. rose pelaez says:

    I’m so inspired and motivated by this article.. Many people don’t know that majority of us “want to work” for money, not to “make money work”.. I currently read Robert Kiyosaki’s book..and I’m excited about it.

    • says:

      We’re glad you got inspired by this Rose but you have to keep in mind that in most cases, we need to get the money first before we can let it work for us. lol. Kinda like the chicken and egg problem really.

      Rich Dad Poor Dad is definitely a good book to read and I love his concept of “assets” which I believe is more chinese than western (western accounting will treat a “car” even if it’s not earning an asset). Don’t buy any other book of his though as the other books are merely just a repetition of RDPD.

  9. Nice stories.. very inspiring

  10. nice stories, very inspiring

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