Bloomberg Billionaires Index

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# John Gokongwei

Random fact: Loves lobster, red braised pork and fresh clams.

Overview

Gokongwei is the founder of JG Summit Holdings, a publicly traded conglomerate based in Manila. The company had revenue of 240.5 billion pesos ($4.8 billion) in 2016 from businesses including a bank and airline. The billionaire also has shares in Robinsons Retail, the second largest multi-format retailer in the Philippines.

As of Jan. 21, 2018:
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Industry Food & Beverage
Biggest asset N/A
Citizenship Philippines
Age 91
Wealth Self-made
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Relative Value

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Biography

Birthdate: 8/11/1926
Family: Married, 6 children
Education: 1977, MBA, de LA Salle College 1972-1973, Harvard Business School

John Gokongwei was born in China's Fujian province on Aug. 11, 1926. The oldest of six children, he grew up in Cebu's Forbes Park where his father owned a chain of cinemas. He went to school at San Carlos University, driven by a chauffeur every day, according to a speech he gave to the Philippine Advertising Congress. His father died suddenly due to complications from typhoid when he was 13. Because the family's business had been sustained on credit, banks seized their home, cars and other assets. 

Gogonkgwei started working at age 15 to provide for his five siblings who'd been sent to China by his mother. He sold soap, candles and thread on his bike while his mother would roast peanuts. He was said to have made about 20 pesos a day, enough to survive and to invest back into the business.

He expanded his activity and began trading rubber tires between Cebu and Manila on a small boat called a batel in 1943. When World War II ended, he saw the opportunity to trade goods in post-war Philippines, which relied on imports. With his brother Henry, he established Amasia Trading to import fruits, old magazines and used clothes from the U.S. His siblings eventually returned and began helping with the family's new business.

When Gogonkgwei saw an opportunity in 1957 to manufacture corn starch, he secured a loan of 500,000 pesos from Dr. Albino Sycip at China Bank to start Universal Corn Products, the precursor to JG Summit Holdings. The Manila-based company today has stakes in snack food maker Universal Robina, property developer Robinsons Land, airline Cebu Pacific as well as interests in banking, telecommunications and energy.

Younger brother James is chairman and chief executive officer of JG Summit Holdings, while his son Lance is president and chief operating officer. The billionaire lives in Manila and is married with six children and 12 grandchildren.

Milestones
  • 1926 John Gokongwei is born in Fujian province, China.
  • 1950 Imports cigarettes and whiskey from the U.S.
  • 1953 Travels to the U.S. for first time.
  • 1961 Launches brands such as Blend 45 to compete with Nestle's Nescafe.
  • 1977 Receives an MBA from De La Salle University.
  • 2002 Becomes chairman emeritus of JG Summit Holdings.
  • 2010 Cebu Air becomes Philippines' largest ever IPO.
  • 2013 Acquires 27 percent of Manila Electric Co.