Written by: Stef Juan
“Looking good is no longer a luxury.” For 37 years now, Ever Bilena has stayed true to its tagline even with all the growth and changes the company has undergone. It continues to make generations of Filipinos beautiful with its high-quality, yet affordable, makeup, and the beauty giant is showing no signs of slowing down.
In fact, the “Father of Philippine Cosmetics” and Ever Bilena’s Chairman and CEO, Dioceldo Sy is looking forward to the next 30 and 40 years of the company that he had started from the ground up. While he could recount the past in detail, and with a lot of fondness, he willingly embraces the changes that continue to come, especially in the past several years. With tried and true wisdom that he has earned through the years, Sy is now letting the next generation take the lead.
Wisdom of the ages
“I’m two-third Chinese by blood and I’m a natural-born Filipino,” Sy says of his heritage. “I was raised here, although my background is Chinese. These two cultures blended together made for the best fit of what I am here in the Filipino community and my work as a good Filipino citizen.”
Both of Sy’s grandfathers came to the Philippines when they fled China during the first civil war between the Communists and the Kuomintang party of Chiang Kai-shek. They were practically refugees when they arrived on the Philippine shores. “They came in with nothing, although they spent a lot of money to leave China at that time,” Sy narrates. “So I can safely say both of them started from scratch.”
When Sy talks about the beginnings of his company, he credits his angkong Pedro Sy-ke for his background in cosmetics. “I call him the pioneer of Philippine cosmetics because he was the one who started it all,” he shares.
From his angkong, Sy learned the importance of being conservative, frugal, and being a hard worker. His grandfather often took Sy with him to the factory and explained the ins and outs of his operations. He also went with his angkong to Divisoria where he sold his products.
There are two important values that Sy learned from his angkong that have helped him in growing as an entrepreneur and a businessman. The first one is “Protect your credibility and honesty.” He can lose money, but he should never lose his credibility. The second one is “You have to be generous to have more blessings. It’s always better to give than to receive. The people that you gave to or helped, they will surely come back and return the favor.”
True enough, “A lot of times I find out that the people I help without asking anything, I will meet them later in life. And they are the ones helping me out,” he continues. “This is what I share with my kids and my friends who are willing to learn and listen to my wisdom.”
A colorful history
When Sy began his business at 18 years old, he was working at his paternal grandfather’s company in 1976 as a sales agent and he was able to travel to Visayas and Mindanao. He met with many business owners and wholesalers in his travels. These contacts and his experience during these years became the foundation of Ever Bilena.
His angkong was very good with people and could get along with all walks of life. “I learned a lot from all those times that I should be like him,” he says. “So he became my model and followed what he did. That was one of the early steps that I learned to become what I am today.”
When his grandfather’s company closed in 1980 to 1981, Sy formally launched his in 1983, starting with nail polish. Sy confesses that it was a difficult time, because he had to start from square one. But, he shares, he got his break from Chinese wholesalers who loved to help young entrepreneurs and Sy knew them already from working in his grandfather’s business.
Sy also took his cue from his grandfather, who was a “brand builder.” “I remember angkong told me, once you build your brand well, distribute well. And when the product is selling, you’re like printing money,” Sy says. “So that’s what I did.” He built a brand and made the price of his products accessible to the mass market.
He got the name “Ever Bilena” from a Taiwanese partner. It means, “Forever Beautiful Lady.”
Sy started Ever Bilena with only four people: himself, his sister, a driver, and a delivery boy. And the rest was history.
Early on in his business, Sy met the Taipans of the retail industry — Mr. Henry Sy of SM and Mr. John Gokongwei of Robinsons. Mr. Sy signed the very first order for Sy’s products to be sold in SM himself, giving Sy a very good break. Mr. Sy, whom Dioceldo called “Tatang” mentored and encouraged him and became one of his most steadfast friends and clients. Sy has a similar relationship with John Gokongwei, who also became his ninong at his wedding. From them, Sy learned priceless wisdom and the proof that there’s no substitute for hard work and good timing.
The new world
Sy has steered Ever Bilena across many highs and lows throughout the years. His company has weathered through the pandemic crisis despite the initial closures and lockdowns. Because cosmetics aren’t considered “essential goods,” the industry took a big hit. And yet, even in the middle of the crisis, Ever Bilena launched its skincare line, authored and spearheaded by his daughter, Denise Sy-Munez, Ever Bilena’s Chief Sales & Marketing Officer. The brand is doing well, and in just a few years, it has become one of the top local skin care brands.
Sy talks about his daughter with pride. He recalls how he got Denise started from the very bottom of the company and watched her grow into the business. Now, in his retirement years, Sy is preparing to pass on the company to his daughter and stay on as an adviser. “This is the first time I’m stating that I’m passing the baton to my daughter already,” he declares. “So, thank you, ChinoyTV.”
“She’s got the passion for the business,” Sy proudly says of his daughter, “So I believe Ever Bilena will be in good hands in the next 30 to 40 years.”
This Sunday at 8pm, catch 1CH1NOY: Chinese by Blood, Filipino by Heart only on CNN Philippines via Free TV Channel 9, Sky Cable Channel 14, Cignal Channel 10. It will also simultaneously air on CNN Philippines’ webpage www.cnnphilippines.com.