June 5, 2013
by CITO BELTRAN
Judging from readers response, I sense that people are more interested to read and learn real life lessons and applicable knowledge. For this reason, Id like to share with you excerpts from a talk I had with Mr. Samuel Po on his life, his business and why, contrary to local business practices, he chose to bring in a foreign Þrm to do a business process analysis on his entire operations and then hired them to do serious corrections.
You wont hear much about Sam Po and his company because as a rule, he keeps a low profile to give himself the operational and personal mobility to conduct business without worrying about security risks. But if you’ve ever bought a diaper, chances are you’ve bought one of his brands beginning in 1990 to the present where he now has a $170 million single brand company under the name EQ Diapers currently sold in the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and soon in Singapore.
It’s interesting to know that the son of a bazaar store owner in Iloilo dreamed of one day owning a brand that would be a household name and actually did it. That was lesson# 1: Have a dream in order to have a goal.
As success stories go, Sam Po is typical of the second generation Filipino-Chinese entrepreneur who left home to study in Manila, and through sheer determination and imagination managed to survive round after round of trial and testing. In 1974, he came to take up Electronics Communications Engineering at UST , but after one semester moved to Feati University because they charged P400 per semester compared to UST’s P1,000 plus tuition.
Having to commute from Caloocan and back and a monthly allowance of P100, Po realized he did not have enough to live on and that he did not have any contacts or network in Manila. He solved two problems by joining the Philippine Kong Han Athletic Club where he learned martial arts good enough to qualify as weekly champion in a martial arts TV show on Channel 7 called ‘Karate Arnis Filipino’ hosted by Roland Dantes. Aside from the prices and gift packs it also brought invitations to events and celebrations where there was always a lot of food as well as contacts. Lesson# 2: Joining the right clubs can open doors of opportunities as well as the pantry.
After graduating college, Sam Po was being called to go home to help in the family business, instead he chose to stay in Caloocan with only one goal; to put up his own business. Without any idea and capital, he stayed in Caloocan. Lesson#3: Visions without determination are simply dreams.
At that time, he was living with his uncle who had received help and capital from SamÕs father many years earlier. The uncle returned the favor by giving Sam Po 20 post-dated checks totaling P50,000. Lesson# 4: the goodwill and acts of kindness you give to others, may and often is returned to your children decades later.
Sam invested around P20,000 on a Toyota Tamaraw giving us Lesson#5: a vehicle gives you mobility; a utility vehicle gives you business opportunities and a place to sleep in.
From there, Sam did part time work as purchaser for family and contacts in Iloilo, engaged in trading of agricultural products and made deals on commission basis which is lesson#6: Where you are is always an opportunity. What you are will be shown by how you take advantage of where you are.
When a neighbor offered Sam a chance to sell T-Shirts, he politely declined stating that it was a limited seasonal opportunity. The neighbor then offered to help build up an electrical supplies business that the neighbor had been disinherited from. Lesson#7: Don’t grab the first thing that comes by. Think long term. What was not meant for you may be meant for others. Let others bring them to life and they will always be grateful to you.
For more than ten years Sam worked hard at the business and did well enough until credit and collection practices in the country deteriorated. From the normal 60 to 90 day collections, abusive retailers and contractors began delaying payments to 120-180 days. To pacify bank managers and collectors Sam began to turn to a business contact who owned the Impierno Disco club who according to Sam was such a nice guy, he never even charged interest or asked anything in return.
But after a while, it was Sam who began to feel guilty and felt sorry for the guy because the disco club was so mismanaged. As a favor, Sam offered to help organize things but ended up practically managing the place for so many years that his friends saw him as someone in stuck in quick sand. The social stigma also resulted in his future in-laws rejecting any notion of him marrying their daughter or becoming part of the family. Lesson# 8: A debt of gratitude is far more expensive than 6% interest. A few years in ‘hell’ is not worth 0% interest & Lesson#9: The company you keep, right or wrong, often projects your character within.
As a form of rehab and detoxing himself from years spent in a girlee bar, Sam subjected himself to self-imposed house arrest for a year with the help of Nintendo and Super Mario. After surviving the ordeal he declared himself to marry the love of his life! Lesson# 10: the one person you need to prove yourself to, is yourself.
While struggling with the cash flow issues of his business, Sam soon found himself struggling with another major problem, where to buy decent diapers for his newborn son. The year was 1989 and one day he found himself driving from Caloocan to Alabang just to buy a few boxes of diapers. Then the thought struck him: why not sell diapers in the Philippines. Lesson# 11: Meet the need and you may have a business.