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John Gokongwei Jr.: The Roasted Peanut Vendor Who Became A Billionaire

John Gokongwei Jr.: The Roasted Peanut Vendor Who Became A Billionaire

Keeping a stable reputation and succeeding in the business world is not an easy task. Going against the current and being stuck in the middle of a competitive market and wars requires a huge amount of determination, discipline, and dedication. These habits are the key to the interminable success of the late John Gokongwei, Jr. The big John was the genius mind behind J.G. Summit Holdings, Robinsons Land, Universal Robina, Cebu Pacific.

 

Photo from the wires

Looking at these companies he established, one can say that in this life, JG made the impossible attainable. However, how did he exactly accomplish all of these from selling roasted peanuts in the beginning?

 

It began with peanuts

On August 11, 1926, it was a difficult life in Fujian Province in China when he was born, so his family flew to Cebu, the Philippines to escape that. By making use of their savings, his father established a chain of movie houses, which were considered the first air-conditioned ones in the Philippines. For a short period, he enjoyed a life of luxury and abundance but that quickly changed when their father died. The family didn't have the money to pay all the debts Gokongwei, Sr. owed to a lot of people. 

He was left in Cebu with his mother while his siblings were sent back to China, he realized that it was time to step up.

They sold fresh, hot peanuts, and garlic. He would set up a small table besides with many senior vendors, but that didn't discourage him. Every day he would earn 20 pesos from his makeshift business.

 

From Cebu to Manila

When the young Gokongwei heard the abundance of greater opportunities in Manila, he didn't hesitate to travel there through a "batel" boat. 

John utilized his time during the slow, long boat ride by reading a lot of books that increased his knowledge of the world around him. No wonder it was the investment in his education that become his lasting advocacy.

An accident in the middle of his journey in the sea taught John a valuable lesson in his life. The boat hit a huge rock and it plummeted. All the passengers were literally keeping their heads above the water to survive. The pile of car tires he planned to sell in Manila stayed afloat and the passengers clung to it. The car tires served as a lifesaver for everyone. 

Later in his life as a clever businessman, that experience kept him alert of the risks coming on his way, the possibility of losses, while being open-minded to make innovative solutions to win in the end.

 

Taste of success

Determined to begin a flourishing business in Manila, John's siblings helped him. After being forced to live again in China for cheaper living expenses, they returned to the Philippines to continue their studies. 

The Second World War ended and they found an opportunity amidst it. People were looking for things to buy, and the young Gokongwei had an idea and bought all sorts of products from the United States to sell. These products were not found anywhere else— the business was a success!

From there, a light bulb lit up in John's genius mind again: Why don't they make the products they sell?

The factory first made cornstarch, then later emerged and grew as the Universal Robina Corporation. Then, their own coffee brand named Blend 45 became an instant success.

As he was busy building his business career, he met his wife who supported him through thick and thin. In 1958, John and Elizabeth got married and had six beautiful children: Robina, Lance, Lisa, twins Faith, Hope, and Marcia.

His strong resolve towards life made him successful and become one of the richest men in the. But in the end, it was his family that made John Gokongwei live a happy and content life.

Success doesn't happen overnight and it always starts by educating ourselves through insightful books

Looking for more success story? Read more about Henry Sy and Elon Musk's inspiring narratives.