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Q & A With Modern Tao Ke Dioceldo Sy On Working With The Family Business In The Face Of Challenges

Makeup and cosmetics have always been in Dioceldo Sy’s world. He helped out his grandfather’s pomade business as a youngster until it closed shop in a tragic fire in 1980. After a few years of selling whatever he could to survive, he decided to return to his comfort zone, to call up his family’s old contacts, and to start Ever Bilena Cosmetics.

“I started in 1983, the year where Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, so it was a difficult year,” he shared about Ever Bilena’s beginnings during the Create. Modern Tao Ke. | Mindanao Edition webinar. The fear surrounding Aquino’s death resulted in several business people leaving the country, but Sy held his ground and stayed. Confident in his mission to keep cosmetics affordable and below minimum wage, Sy’s venture paid off, and Ever Bilena grew into one of the most prominent local beauty brands today. “I was fortunate enough to be here at the right time and at the right moment,” he shares.

With his brother Siliman Sy as COO and his daughter Denice Sy-Munez as Chief Sales & Marketing Officer by his side, Sy faces his biggest business challenge yet with the COVID-19 pandemic. Read on how Sy and his Ever Bilena team coped with the pandemic’s effects, innovated with the times, and handled family matters and disagreements in this Q&A from the Create. Modern Tao Ke. | Mindanao Edition session.

Q: This is not the first time your business suffered due to a major crisis. How do you make sure it copes now in the time of pandemic when essential businesses are being highlighted more?

A: This pandemic has no precedent. I tell my friends and my people that this is like World War II, just without the bombings and killings, but the effect is almost the same, that almost all the businesses are shut down not only here but globally, so the effect is not only here in the Philippines but all over the world. It’s a different scenario from the old crises before like the Asian [Financial] Crisis and the Housing Crisis in the States. This time it’s a pandemic which nobody has ever experienced. You’ve got to throw away all the old plans, programs, or policies that are normal in our operations.  

When we started in mid-May, we had to start from scratch. Everything had to start from zero. I had to go out myself personally. Even Denice had to go out and check the market, ground zero, to see what’s happening, what’s the situation out there, and then we have to adjust and adapt to the current situation. Day to day, as we go on, we again have to adjust based on what the government is doing, like the protocols of IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force), so it’s kinda tough that every day, there’s something new coming out. Before I didn’t join them in their meetings, but now every day I have to join in the meetings to guide the whole team on how to go about this situation. 

I believe all our other friends here are doing the same, that our old policies can no longer be effective, but [now] we have to adapt to the New Normal that way.

Q: How hard is it to innovate your business at this time, given its nature?

A: It’s really hard because online platforms are totally new to us. Would you believe that in those two weeks, I argued with Denice every day? I cannot decide on what to do, and she was pushing for something, and it took her a lot of effort to convince me to adjust to this online selling platform until I’m convinced that it would work. For two weeks, I think she was fed (or pent?) up with me and also my other top company officers to convince us that this was something that could work, or cannot work. 

 After two weeks, we came out with the right formula, and it did work very well. In fact, the month of June was the best month for direct selling and reselling platforms. For the first time, it had overtaken the retail market, because, for the past 10-15 years, it was always the fastest one to the modern retail market. At least we have a new option on this newest distribution channel, and I’m happy that Denice was here working with us, working for me. I’m happy that their baby projects like Hello Glow worked out pretty well. I can say that Hello Glow salvaged a lot of our sales. 

Q: You’re very passionate about your job and your business. What would you advise your Tao Kes who are also striving to survive in this pandemic and future challenges in their family businesses?

A: I believe that you have to have to be healthy not only physically but also mentally and spiritually. I’m a Christian, so I put everything in our God, and I trust him. Actually, I thought, when I hit 60, I will work less and start my retirement, but it made me [busier]. Suddenly when I got 60, more opportunities [came] knocking on my door, so that’s why we expanded with Ayala in Arca South, [where] we are starting to build our office buildings, and also a lot of projects in Guam. 

When the pandemic hit us, everything stopped. Suddenly, I had so much time. I was able to check on Denice’s projects with Hello Glow, and I found out I needed to help them and to guide them to do what is right, because they didn’t know what to do when the pandemic hit. There was [less] revenue. We had to make a lot of innovations on how to get revenue. This was the experience I had [in] the past few months, and we’re actually expanding during this pandemic. 

Early this afternoon, I just approved a project on our Arca South building that would start the first earthquake-proof building there. Our buildings will have cushions under them so that it would be earthquake-proof like buildings in Japan which are frequently hit by earthquakes but are all standing very firm. That’s what we want to introduce to our market that this technology will be applied in all our future buildings.

Dioceldo Sy (left), with daughter Denice (center), and brother Siliman (right). Taken from Manila Bulletin

Q: How do you handle and resolve conflicts in the family when it comes to business?

A: There’s nothing personal, so even if Denice is my daughter, she has to prove to me and to my management team what she’s proposing. Of course, when we’re in the conference room or ballroom, there’s all the brainstorming, arguments, and disagreements. After [everything] has been discussed, we have to agree on one common direction. Once we arrive at that decision on one common goal, you forget all the arguments already. It’s like a basketball game. You practice and defend yourself, but once you see that the set play is okay, everybody follows the set play. That should be the case for most of the companies. Arguments should stay in the conference room. It should not go out. When the decision is made, everybody must support that decision.

That sums up our Q & A with Dioceldo Sy! May his words be solid advice for all the Tao Kes reading from Mindanao and all over the country.

The Create. Modern Tao Ke. | Mindanao Edition is the third webinar under the Saludo SMEs Campaign presented by Globe myBusiness in cooperation with CHiNOY TV. Through the Saludo SMEs campaign, and the resulting webinars, Globe myBusiness equipped the Chinese-Filipino community with the right knowledge and business solutions to rebuild their businesses, especially at this time where many Tao Kes are in the middle of reopening their doors in the new normal. 

Watch the full webinar in CHiNOY TV’s Facebook page here! You may also check out our two profiles featuring Dioceldo Sy and Ever Bilena in CHiNOY TV’s website.

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