From struggling student to Forbes rich list

By Roel Landingin
Published: December 28 2009 01:20 Last updated: December 28 2009 01:20

Lucio Tan is always in a hurry. He bought a helicopter in 1968 to be able to move quickly when visiting his factories – making him one of the first Filipino businessmen to own one.

At the office, he attends up to seven meetings simultaneously – associates see him as a blur moving from one room to another.

It’s a trait that has served Mr Tan very well, catapulting him from struggling working student in the late 1950s to being the country’s second-richest man just five decades later. Today, with a net worth of $1.7bn, according to Forbes magazine, he is wealthier than any of the scions of the elite Spanish families whose companies are now more than a hundred years old, or most of the ethnic Chinese merchants who began to build their businesses right after the second world war.

Mr Tan, 75, owns the Philippines’ biggest cigarette company, its largest airline and flag carrier, the fifth and 11th biggest banks, one of south-east Asia’s biggest hog farms, the country’s only other brewery, and about a hundred other businesses. He also owns prime properties in several cities in China and Hong Kong.

It is a remarkable rise for somebody who became a Philippine citizen only in 1960 and formed what was to be his flagship company, Fortune Tobacco Corporation, only in 1965. Born in the southern Chinese province of Fujian in 1934, Mr Tan was four years old when his parents came to the Philippines in search of better fortune.

But in a country where business fortunes can be made or lost on government connections, the rapid growth of Mr Tan’s corporate empire is also widely seen as a result of his close association with the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

In explaining Mr Tan’s phenomenal rise, “the bigger force is political connection but he knows how to strategise which businesses to get into”, says Dr Ellen Palanca, an economist specialising on ethnic Chinese businesses in the Philippines.

Mr Tan also came to the country at a time when its economic base was shifting from agriculture towards industry and services, and the traditional and landed Spanish mestizo elite were under pressure from Mr Marcos. “He was also lucky that the traditional oligarchs were the enemies of Marcos,” adds Dr Palanca.

Soon after the dictator was overthrown in 1986, the new government of president Corazon Aquino filed a civil case to expropriate Mr Tan’s key assets on the ground they were “ill-gotten”, and partly owned by Mr Marcos.

The government alleged that special concessions granted by Mr Marcos allowed Mr Tan to become the biggest cigarette maker in the 1970s, enter the brewery business in 1982 which had until then been a monopoly, and rapidly grow a troubled bank acquired in 1977 into the country’s third-biggest lender. Mr Tan has rejected those allegations.

Against the odds, not only has Mr Tan successfully warded off the government’s attempts to seize control of his companies – all the cases are still tied up in court – he has managed to grow his businesses. He even acquired new ones, including state companies being privatised such as Philippine Airlines and Philippine National Bank.

For reasons still unclear to outsiders, a serious rift erupted earlier this year with Mariano, one of Mr Tan’s seven siblings who are all working in the family business.

In July, Mariano, through his counsel, told government lawyers that he was ready to testify and provide valuable information to bolster the government’s two-decade-old cases against the elder Mr Tan and the Marcoses. The quarrel comes at a critical period for Mr Tan, who is preparing for his sons to eventually succeed him. The country is also in the early stages of a presidential election that could bring in a less friendly administration. Mr Tan declined to comment.


Anonymous said...

"PCGG gives Lucio Tan brod last chance," reported PDI last 12.12.09. Watch out, it could be a corrupt government's trickery.

Anonymous said...

Lucio Tan's lawyer Roberto Abad is appointed new SC juctice? It's a no surprise. We are the most corrupt nation in Asia, are we not? Dung!

Anonymous said...

Vivienne Tan, d doter of Lucio Tan, runs 4 Congress? She thinks Filipinos dont knw her father as d economic Limahong dubbed d man who pays?

Anonymous said...

But then, Generillo was fired from the PCGG. At the instigation, no less, of Tan’s lawyer, Mendoza. On the recommendation, subsequently, of Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera. Which the PCGG promptly accepted and implemented.

Subsequently, the very same Devanadera who recommended that Generillo be fired also recommended to the PCGG that it not grant immunity to Tanenglian, and not use him as a government witness.

In other words, the government, through Devanadera and the PCGG, shot its case against Tan in the foot—twice. Worse, the PCGG is making it appear as if Generillo and Tanenglian are the bad guys. In that, it is in complete accord with Tan, who wants both out of the case. Which leads one to wonder which side the PCGG and the solicitor general are on in the first place.

Now the reader knows what I mean when I say that if things continue the way they are going, we stand to lose from P220 billion to P330 billion.

If we don’t want that to happen, folks, we have our New Year’s Resolution for 2010: to exert pressure on the PCGG to use both Generillo and Tanenglian. Generillo because he not only has done his homework, but is not open to transactional justice. Tanenglian, because they have everything to gain and nothing to lose if they use him—assuming of course that the PCGG officials have the country’s financial interests, and not their own, at heart.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

For Mr Tan himself, however, while his money and power are likely to keep him out of jail, his tarnished image is also likely to keep him out of the histories of business heroes.

Anonymous said...

Tan has gotten to a science the ability to go around the laws but it is that kind of behaviour that has kept the Philippines from joining the tigers of Asia," says Solita Monsod, economics professor at the University of the Philippines, who has pressed government officials to prosecute Mr Tan.

Anonymous said...

Lucio Tan is well-known to give speeches proclaiming unfounded stories about how he evolved from rags to riches. Many people who know him since his teens have different versions of stories about his success story. Many claim that he was a bootlegger, who made his fortune from all kinds of illicit activities, primarily through political bribery, extortion, and tax evasion.

Anonymous said...

He relies on his employees to make decisions and many claim that his success has more to do with luck rather than his business acumen. Philippine Airlines is the national airline of the Philippines. ...

Anonymous said...

There’ve been some notable—-and welcome—-exceptions. Equitable Bank’s Clarissa Ocampo revealed President Joseph Estrada signed as “Jose Velarde” a multi-million “guarantee,” for crony William Gatchalian. People Power 2 backed Ocampo.

The Philippines needs “an explicit policy that will govern whistle blowing,” the AIM study asserts. The President, First Gentleman and cronies are scot-free in the ZTE scam. When whistleblowers end up as the accused, it’s time to ask if today’s policy is to canonize crooks as accusers.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Diliman and the Marcos think tank, a leading pro-Noynoy Aquino columnist, who passionately believes that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the Marcoses deserve a special cell in hell, still lives in a rent-controlled National Housing Authority condo he had wangled when he was still crafting Marcosian speeches and doing special reports for the now-defunct Presidential Center for Advanced Studies.

To be fair, the ink-stained colleagues are in good company

Anonymous said...

The young Tan, who must now cut back on his active social life, will still get day-to-day help from Wilson Young, an ex-SGV auditor who retains the title of chief operating officer, as well as president and chief executive of the parent company, listed Tanduay Holdings.
According to the grapevine, the appointment of Tan Jr. was one of the few benefits of the nasty feud between the taipan and younger brother Mariano Tanenglian, who had been forced to relinquish his long-time title as treasurer of the Lucio Tan Group.
If the pro-Tan grapevine is to be believed, Tanenglian had asked that the junior Tan, whom he is apparently fond of, be given the chance to shine, in exchange for Tanenglian keeping his peace.
Tan Jr., for a time, was kept out of the inner loop of his father’s sprawling empire, as Tanenglian and he were increasingly being sidelined, according to the Tan chatter, by Domingo Chua, the taipan’s brother-in-law and chairman of Allied Bank.

Anonymous said...

So true so true. So where are the lies?

Ian said...

If the second Aquino government is really in fighting corruption, then it should run first after the big fishes like former F.M. front man Mr. Lucio Tan.