Stories, Taoke (Business)

From Rags To Riches: “Chinoy” Crazy Rich Asians

You’ve probably heard their names for their many achievements. But, have you ever heard how they first started? From rags to riches here are the stories of 5 wildly successful Chinoy entrepreneurs or as we would like to call it the “Crazy Rich Asians: Chinoy Edition.”

1) Henry Sy

Born in Fujian, he moved with his family to the Philippines at age 12. While his family returned to China, he stayed behind learning the ropes of the retail in his family’s convenience store. After saving enough money, he went out on his own and started his first business with a footwear shop called ShoeMart.

Over the decades he developed ShoeMart into SM Investments, one of the largest conglomerates in the Philippines, including 77 SM malls in the Philippines and China, 62 department stores, 56 supermarkets, and over 200 grocery stores. For eleven straight years until his death, Henry Sy, “father of Philippine retail,” was named by Forbes as the richest person in the Philippines.


2) Lucio Tan

Lucio Tan was born in Fujian, China then migrated to Cebu. He was said to have gone to school barefoot and first worked as a stevedore who tied cargo with ropes made from abaca. Forbes states that while in college, Tan “worked as a janitor at a tobacco factory” where he “mopped floors to pay for school.”

With all the wealth he has generated, it is hard to believe a former janitor turned into the captain of a $1.7 billion industry. Today, Lucio Tan is recognized as the founder and chairman of Asia Brewery. Now a subsidiary of LT Group, the brewery was the only one then to compete with the market leader San Miguel.


3) Andrew Tan 

Originally an immigrant from China, Tan was born in the Fujian province. He spent his childhood at an apartment in Hong Kong which was shared by other families. Later, he moved to Manila where he studied accounting at the University of the East.

Holding a principal interest in real estate and liquor Tan’s built his fortune developing large apartment complexes around Metro Manila.

Today, he is rated fourth on the list of the “Philippines 40 richest” with an estimated net worth of $2 billion. Andrew Tan chairs Alliance Global, a holding company with interests in food and beverage, gaming, and real estate.


4) John Gokongwei Jr.

Nobody can deny how John Gokongwei rose from rags to riches. Born in China, his father was a scion of a wealthy Cebu-based family with ancestral ties to China’s southern Fujian province. Although the family fortune was lost after the death of his father. Gokongwei initially supported his family by peddling items along the streets of Cebu from his bicycle. Selling soaps around the area to make meets end.

After graduating from school as valedictorian, he worked his way into building his own businesses. Today, the cornstarch plant he started in 1957 has grown into Universal Robina Corporation, one of the country’s largest food and beverage companies. From Universal Robina, his empire expanded into retail (Robinson’s Department Store), malls (Robinson’s Malls), airlines (Cebu Pacific), and more. He also founded JG Summit which has interests in telecom, banking, food, power, and property.


5) Tony Tan Caktiong

Tony Tan Caktiong is the founder of one of the world’s fastest-growing Asian restaurant chains known today as Jollibee. Caktiong initially started his business as an ice cream shop then was convinced by his partners to expand into a burger joint. Today, Jollibee has now become a food chain empire locally and internationally. Caktiong operations have become so big, it is reported that in the first 9 months of 2010 the company posted a PHP 50.8 billion sales for that period.


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