Merriam-Webster dictionary defines taipan as a powerful businessman and especially formerly a foreigner living and operating in China. Though the term taipan was first used in the early 1800s, its usage became popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, especially after the publication of James Clavell’s book “Tai-pans.”
Not discounting the emerging tycoons here, the term taipan is normally associated with Fil-Chinese businessmen in the mold of Lucio “Kapitan” Tan, Sr., Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco, George Ty, Sr., Henry “Tatang” Sy, Sr., Andrew Gotianun, Sr., and John “Big John” Gokongwei. In 2008, this circle of six taipans were invited by President Fidel V. Ramos to join forces under the corporate vehicle Asia’s Emerging Dragon Corporation, to construct the third gateway at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Terminal 3.
These six taipans have diversified business interests – retail, insurance, real estate development, manufacturing. Each of them, though, has a banking arm – RCBC for Amb. Yuchengco, Metrobank group for Mr. Ty, Robinsons Bank for Mr. Big John, Philippine National Bank for Kapitan, and EastWest Bank for Mr. Gotianun.
• In the past couple of years, the business community saw the passing of an era, with the departure of five taipans, belonging to the Silent Generation, born in 1945 and before.
• First to leave was Amb. Yuchengco, in April 2017. In November the following year it was Mr.Ty. He was 86. Then in January this year, “Tatang.” 94. And this month, Mr. “Big John.” He was 93. Before them was Mr. Gotianun in March, 2016. Kapitan, the youngest of them at 85, is the lone man standing.
There’s a saying that nothing is certain in this world except death. Wrenched by the pain of losing, the inheritors of the five taipans continue. The second gen is now guiding the third gen for the eventual succession.
Although one has the edge, sometimes inheriting a surname is not that easy. People look up to you as you bear the heavy responsibility of being the inheritor.
In my conversation with Henry “Big Boy” Sy., Jr. Wednesday, he said: “Our (second gen) foundation is old-school. It’s time for the third gen to shine.” During his and his siblings’ formative years, summers were spent helping mend the store.
Mr. “Big Boy” never regretted the lessons learned from his early business training, the wisdom, and insights inculcated by his late father. “The way of doing business, the values… honesty and integrity, to be compassionate.” This is particularly so in the retail business, with suppliers on consignment basis. “My father reminded us to be compassionate, never to go beyond the 30-day period (for transaction settlement), and if the prices of basic raw materials go up, we have to make room for some adjustments.”
He agreed as well that now is “better” to prepare the third gen, integrate them, familiarize them with the business operation. “We’re old school. We’re attached to certain ways. The third gen are free from this emotional baggage.”
These millennial-inheritors are also creative and innovative. The legacy of their forebears will provide these heirs strength to step up to the challenge.
With the passing of an era, management now rest in the hands of the second and third gens. The wheels of business now churn on their side as their success ripples down to the domestic economy.
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