Earlier this month, Robina Gokongwei-Pe walked down memory lane when she recreated an old print ad to celebrate Universal Robina Corporation’s (URC) 65th anniversary. It’s only fitting that we witness again another marker of time in the form of Robina’s own son.
Founded by John Robinson Lim Gokongwei Jr., the JG Summit subsidiary URC is nationally renowned for many Filipino childhood snacks (e.g. Jack ‘n Jill’s Chippy, Cream-O, Nips). The F&B company officially welcomed the Gokongwei clan’s third generation into the company fold in 2019.
Justin Gokongwei Pe, the eldest son of Perry Pe and Robina Gokongwei-Pe, officially entered the family business as a senior brand assistant before transitioning to his current role as a confectionary senior scientist. In an interview with CHiNOY TV, Justin shares his insights on family, business, and taking part in the legacy that his grandfather had started more than half a century ago.
Joining the family legacy
Several Chinoy families start businesses that they eventually pass down to their children. For some of these expected inheritors, the decision to continue the legacy or forge their own path might be a difficult one to take. But for others, that choice may be one and the same.
Although Justin Pe decided to first gain experience working elsewhere after graduating from New York University with a degree in chemistry, he reveals that he had always intended to eventually join the family business.
“I worked in two companies before joining URC, and I enjoyed my experience in those two companies,” said Justin, who had previously been employed in Unilever and Shell Philippines as an R&D intern and a business development analyst, respectively.
Justin is now currently working as a confectionery scientist in URC, where he helps to create new confectionery products as well as proactively initiate cost savings and sustainability projects for the company.
“I enjoy creating and improving products that people love. It makes me very happy to see people out there consuming URC products,” he expressed.
What also makes Justin happy is the fact that he is killing two birds with one stone. Not only does he get to support what his family had built, but he is also pursuing a childhood dream.
When asked why he decided to delve into the food science field, Justin answered, “[It’s because of] a cartoon. I found the Coyote and Road Runner series very amusing as a child and decided I wanted to be a scientist good in either physics or chemistry. Eventually, as I grew up, chemistry turned out to be my stronger side.
“After graduation in high school, I eventually got into food chemistry, as I wanted to create products that people would enjoy.”
What family means
Perhaps what several Chinoys understand is that joining a family business is not merely a practical life decision. For many, this is about the drive to continue an ambition that transcends generations — this is providing support and giving back to the people who raised you, a sentiment that Justin wholeheartedly agrees with.
“The business is not here to support the family. The family is here to support the business,” recalled Justin, quoting family advice which he says keeps him grounded and humble. “Family means people being there for one another, but in terms of the family business, family means being responsible for making sure that the business continues to grow and keep our colleagues happy and satisfied. Joining the family business means that I’m ready to support the company that has supported my family and me for years.”
Since joining URC in 2019, Justin’s time in the company has admittedly been marked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the difficulties, however, he has decided to take it as an opportunity to learn. “The [past] two years meant a lot of change and evolution. 2020 was more of a realization that I needed to get wiser, learn more, and be more proactive. 2021 was more of an application of what I learned in 2020.”
Looking forward to the future, Justin hopes to see himself growing alongside his family’s legacy. When asked how he envisions himself in 10 years, Justin answered, “I’d still love to create products and brands that people love; but at the same time, I would also like to take a more managerial role in the company.”
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