Taipan John Gokongwei Shares His Life Lessons

Big John on values, the importance of money, and the best thing he's done with wealth.

Money is not that important. I don’t spend money that much. But in business it’s a measure of your success. I don’t have a yacht or a private plane or all that. I live a simple life.

Best thing I've done with money? Give it to the schools. I was 30 years old, I gave my first donation to the Sacred Heart School in Cebu. Made me feel good!

I've seen a lot of people destroy themselves and their families with money.

I always tell my children to trace back where they came from, good things and bad things, and they learned. My children are quite—I think they’re quite good.

Know your family history and where you came from.

My children have taught me that I’m getting old.

Other people would have left this country already. I love Cebu, I love home. I said “We’ll stay.” It proved rewarding.

We always have lunch on Sundays and they talk about sex and all that, and they say, “Oh Daddy, you’re two generations behind!”

Times change, you change with the times, you know. Although you’ll still be against it, what do you do? What can you do?

Love is something you don’t need sex for. Sex is something that is human. Love, you can have love without sex. Definitely.

The most difficult decision I did in my life was during the kidnapping of my daughter Robina. I was directly in negotiations with the kidnappers for nine days. I lost 12 pounds. I only ate banana during that time. That’s risk. That’s more risk than all the risks I’ve done in business. In business you can only lose money, but risking the life of your own daughter, your oldest daughter at that, that’s nine days of horror.


She was kidnapped on the way from UP with her cousin and the driver was mobbed. He came to me after two hours and said Robina had been kidnapped. I asked for help from the government and the government sent, I think, then Captain Panfilo Lacson or Lieutenant Panfilo Lacson. He did a good job, and that’s why Robina is so thankful to him, all these years.

Other people would have left this country already. I love Cebu, I love home. I said “We’ll stay.” It proved rewarding.

I’ve lived in this country all my life, so why move to another one? I started as a peddler in a bicycle in the wet market, you don’t just leave things like that and say goodbye!

I don’t participate in Facebook or Twitter. I’m too busy! I read all the newspapers and about 20 magazines. I read books.

Everybody complains about everything, so my two cents worth isn’t much.

Negotiation is subject to the other fellow you’re negotiating with. If he’s not going to be as fair as possible, you react. It depends who you’re negotiating with.

Negotiations that last more than a month, wala na. It’s not going to be very successful. I think the first one or two weeks is the most critical. Like the PLDT thing it took us one to two months, finished. We were discussing and both parties were dealing in good faith and we were able to finish it.


If it’s not done in good faith, we stop the dealing. Stop the negotiations and walk out. Why should I be afraid of walking out? If you’re not successful here, you’ll look somewhere else.

I try to do things differently. If I have an objective, I go after it. You just have to zero in with all your resources. I think it’s the only way. In war, or in love, same thing. Zero in.

When you’re young, love is more difficult, but when you’re older, business is more difficult. When you’re 20, when you fall in love you’re dead. The girl doesn’t talk to you, “Oh my God, she doesn’t like me any more?” But in business, if you’re 50, 60, you walk away.

If I have an objective, I go after it. You just have to zero in with all your resources. I think it’s the only way.

Have I ever got my heart broken? My wife, we broke off one year but we got together again.

We’ve been married 52 years, we’ve never had a quarrel. Small things, arguments but never a quarrel.

In the house she has the power, in business I have the power. So if we take a vacation, we go visit museums, the theater, we have the same tastes. She likes to read books, but she likes to read about immortality, God, and I read something else. I don’t like to read about death and all that.

We’re all mortal. The earth has a beginning and an end. You just have to realize that the end is going to come. Like a river going to the sea. I am near the sea. I am near the end. At my age, I think I have another five or 10 years. How long can I live?


If you’re in business and you stop growing, you’re dead. You have to grow and do different things in different ways than other people. Otherwise if you stop and do the same things as other people, you’re going to die. You’re going to shrink year after year.

I have done my job. It’s my son’s job now for the next 50 years. He has to worry about that. I’ve been telling him that his biggest job is to carry on.

*This story originally appeared on

* Minor edits have been made by the editors.

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