Aboitiz to Zobel: The Most Powerful Families of the Philippines
There's a lot we can learn from Manila's most influential and powerful families. Town&Country presents its list of Manila's Most Prominent Families who have remained powerful until today. On this four-part list, we've narrowed down the city's most respected names and selected the very best. You may find the rest of the series linked below.
The family currently engaged in banking, power, and real estate among many other ventures traces its history in the Philippines to a Spaniard of Basque origin, Paulino Aboitiz, who arrived in the 1870s. He married the daughter of a well-to-do merchant a few years later, and started the rise of the Aboitiz clan in the southern Philippines, first in Leyte and later in Cebu. Starting with abaca trade, the family diversified following the claim of Paulino’s son Ramon (1887-1974) that “Any business where we can make money, we will go into.” Today, the family conglomerate Aboitiz Equity Ventures is chaired by Jon Ramon Aboitiz while his second cousin Erramon is the president and CEO.
ZOBEL DE AYALA
The family behind the Ayala Group of Companies (Ayala Land, BPI, Globe Telecom, Manila Water) traces its roots in the Philippines to Antonio de Ayala, who arrived in the early 1800s. The Zobel part of the name comes courtesy of Jacobo Zobel, who married Trinidad, Antonio’s daughter. The current patriarch, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, is happily retired, stepping down to devote more time to his photography hobby, most likely. His two sons, Jaime Augusto (“JAZA”) and Fernando, out of the seven children, work for the Ayala group. JAZA’s daughter Mariana, a Harvard graduate, works with Ayala Malls. His son Jaime Alfonso, also a Harvard grad, works at Globe.
Jaime Augusto, Jaime, and Fernando Zobel de Ayala
Few families have gone through the ebbs and flows of fortune like the Lopezes of Iloilo. Guiding the family through its most difficult times was Don Eugenio Lopez (1901-1975), who resurrected the family fortunes (drawn mostly from sugar) after World War II, only to lose almost everything in the dark days of martial law. Though he didn’t live to see his companies (Meralco, ABS-CBN, Manila Chronicle) returned to the family, his sons Geny (“El Capitan”), Oscar, and Manolo ushered in a new era of prosperity after the 1986 EDSA revolution. The next generation is led by Piki Lopez (First Philippine Holdings) and Gaby Lopez (ABS-CBN).
The Lopez clan during Eugenio and Pacita's Ruby Anniversary in 1968
After inheriting his father’s insurance business, Alfonso Yuchengco steadily built an empire of his own, getting involved in everything from banking and education (RCBC, Mapua Institute of Technology) to car dealerships and construction (Honda, EEI Corporation). Among his children, daughter Helen Y. Dee is most likely to assume the mantle of leadership in the Yuchengco businesses. “A.Y.”—as the ambassador is known in business circles—is a food and wine aficionado, and a member of the exclusive Chaine des Rotisseurs. T&C’s cover in November 2014, Sunshine Pengson (daughter of Bella Yuchengco), is A.Y.’s granddaughter.
The son of a banker, Jose Antonio founded his Century Properties real estate firm in 1986, just six days before the EDSA revolution. “Perhaps nine out of 10 of the most successful and wealthiest families derived and continue to derive incomes from real estate,” he reasoned in one interview. Today Antonio and his family are among the richest in the country, worth an estimated $260 million according to Forbes magazine. With all of his sons—Jigger, Marco, Robbie, and Carlo—involved in the business, the empire of the Antonios is ever expanding. The group’s exclusive developments include the Trump Tower, Knightsbridge and Gramercy Residences, Century City Mall, as well as collaborations with Philippe Starck, Missoni Home, and Versace Home.
Marco, Carlo, Jigger, and Robbie Antonio
Andrew Gotianun called it a day back in the 1980s, hoping to spend a life in easy retirement with his wife Mercedes. But not much later he was back in business, taking charge again of Filinvest Development Corporation, the company he founded in 1955, armed with new ideas on how to take it further. His second wind gave Filinvest enough momentum to push the Gotianuns up to 18th on the richest Filipinos list of Forbes magazine in 2015. He passed away in March 2016, with four of his children carrying the load in the company, Josephine (president and CEO), Jonathan (chairman), Andrew Jr. (director), and Michael (vice president). His wife Mercedes is chairman emeritus.
From living in a small one-room apartment to owning vast tracts of land here and in Spain (with more than 1,500 hectares of vineyards for his brandy business alone), Andrew Tan has come a long way in a relatively short time. He became a millionaire at 27 through his appliance business, but it was his distillery (makers of Emperador Brandy) and real estate firm (Megaworld) that elevated him to megarich status. His wife Katherine is also involved in the family businesses. The couple has four children: Kevin, Kendrick, Kester, and Kara.
Over the past two years, the consolidation of El Capitan’s companies has paid off—to the tune of $4 billion. Share prices of Lucio Tan’s companies got a boost thanks to the prospect of more efficient management (eldest son Michael is in charge), making him the fourth richest in the land. At 82, Tan is still very much hands-on, known for calling business meetings with his top brass that last deep into the night. Daughter Cherry is married to Alfred Ty, son of Metrobank’s George Ty.
The Aranetas of the LBC group have an interesting ancestor in the form of Don Gregorio Soriano Araneta, the secretary general of Emilio Aguinaldo’s Malolos Republic who also became the first Filipino solicitor general and secretary of justice and finance. Don Antonio Araneta, one of Gregorio’s 14 children, bought LBC Aircargo from its American owners in 1950, but it was his son Carlos “Linggoy” Araneta who made the firm a household name with his idea for 24-hour delivery service (Renamed LBC Express in 1988). Today Linggoy’s children Juan Carlos, Santi, Dino, and Monica hold the reins in the family company.
Don Antonio Araneta with son Linggoy in Germany, 1958
Three prominent branches of the Delgado family were at one time all part of, appropriately enough, the Delgado Brothers company. Founded by Antonio Delgado in 1946 with his brother Francisco (Don Paco) and Jose, Delbros was a pioneer in logistics, later on expanding into trading, investments, and port operations. After leaving the company, Don Paco further increased his wealth by going into shipping and real estate. Today Delbros is run by Antonio’s son Eduardo (married to Margarita Delgado of Teach for Philippines) and grandson Jose Paolo Delgado.
Known to be one of the more flamboyant of the Filipino-Chinese tycoons, Emilio Yap’s crown jewel is the Manila Hotel, which is over a century old. He passed away in 2014, but the family’s influence and power carry on, much of which still comes from the Manila Bulletin, the daily paper his family has been involved in since the 1960s. The family is also into banking (Philtrust Bank), pharmaceuticals (Euro Med Laboratories), shipping (President Lines) and education (Centro Escolar University). Emilio’s son Basilio Yap took over as chairman of both Manila Hotel and Manila Bulletin, while his grandson Emil Yap III continued to serve as vice chairman of the hotel and executive vice president of the newspaper and Enrique Yap Jr. takes the reins as the hotel's executive vice president.
The late Emilio Yap
A big family of real estate moguls, bankers, philanthropists, and artists, the different branches can trace their roots from the children of Macario Rufino: Ernesto, Vicente, Ester, and Rafael (their initials are where the old EVER Theater in downtown Manila got its name). The siblings developed a chain of cinemas, including the legendary Rizal theater and QUAD in partnership with the Ayalas. They also co-founded two banks. Charlie, the son of Vicente Rufino (yes, the street in Makati is named after him) and brother of Marixi Prieto, is among the most visible of the current generation, being one of the top developers in Taguig and Makati. The artist Marivic, the daughter of Rafael, is also a regular on the social circuit.
Ditas, Charlie, Cory, Marixi, mom Meding, Pixie, and Ma. Paz Rufino
If there’s a family who knows about luxury, it’s the Tantocos. Since 1951, when Bienvenido Tantoco and his wife Gliceria Rustia opened Rustan’s (a clever portmanteau of their names) the family has provided only the best in retail shopping for discerning Filipino consumers. Even their supermarkets have a luxury touch, often having gourmet items not found in other places. With the third generation of Tantocos there has been a growing expansion, not just in the acquisition of foreign luxury brands, but notably in restaurant and retail franchising, such as with Starbucks, Golden Spoon, and Family Mart.
Menchu T. Lopez, Nedy Tantoco, Gliceria Tantoco, Merl Tantoco-Pineda, and Bienvenido Tantoco
After emigrating from Fujian Province, China, in the 1940s, Chan Lib and See Ying established the trading company Liwayway Marketing in post-war Manila. Who knew that it would lay the foundation for a multitude of successful business ventures including snack items (Oishi), lighting and bathroom fixtures (Chan C Bros), as well as a best-selling apparel brand (Bench)? The most prominent of the couple’s children are the media-shy Carlos Chan, and Nenita Chan Lim and Ben Chan, both of Suyen Corporation, the parent company of Bench and Dimensione, among other lifestyle brands. The third generation of Chans—including Carlos’s six children and Nenita’s two—are slowly filling in the big footsteps of their parents in their respective companies.
The story of this family’s patriarch doesn’t quite follow the typical rags to riches arc. Riches to rags to riches would be more apt. Born to a well off Chinese family in Cebu, the family fortune was lost when John’s father died suddenly. He revealed how he got back on his feet with a speech at the 20th Ad Congress: "So, what can I do? I worked." Now 90, Gokongwei has surrendered duties in his companies to his children. Only son Lance picks up most of the slack at Cebu Pacific and JG Summit, while eldest child Robina is the president of Robinsons Retail Holdings, which has Robinsons Department Store, Robinsons Supermarket, Handyman, and Toys R’ Us under its wing.
John Gokongwei with son Lance
Tony Tan Caktiong’s family run company is truly bigger than ever with more Jollibee branches across the globe opening regularly. According to Forbes, it is the “fastest-growing Asian restaurant chain in the world” to date. Hey, even Anthony Bourdain gave the Aloha burger a thumbs up. Over the years, the family snapped up other fast-food restaurants including Chowking, Greenwich Pizza, and Red Ribbon, among others, all leading to a rise in Jollibee’s listed share price (and Tan’s net worth, now $3.8 billion). Part of the company since the beginning, Tan’s wife Grace leads the Jollibee Foundation, while eldest child and only son Carl Brian is the company’s business development director. His two daughters live in California.
For the eighth year running, Henry Sy is the country’s richest man, estimated to be worth $12.6 billion by Forbes Magazine. Now 92, Sy has long since transferred power in his various companies to his six children. Tessie Coson is in charge of the family’s banking interests in BDO Unibank; Elizabeth takes care of SM Hotels & Conventions Corporation. The eldest son, Henry Jr., chairs SM Prime, while Hans moved to a director role recently. Harley is in charge of the retail units Supervalue and Super Shopping Market (SM Hypermart), while Harley, the youngest, oversees the department stores division and SM Investments.
When a young George S.K. Ty ran out of money in his early 20s (he was setting up a flourmill at the time), he asked for a loan from a bank. Furious about getting denied, he vowed to put up a bank of his own. At 29 he did just that, opening Metrobank in 1962. It is still the greatest source of the Ty family’s wealth, but they have diversified by going into real estate, insurance, and power generation. Ty might be ranked higher on the list of richest Filipinos, if not for his philanthropic nature—he once donated $100 million to build a Catholic church in China and funded the building of a technical school in Laguna. Sons Arthur and Alfred now run the bulk of the family enterprises.
What began with a small corner store owned by Jose Yao Campos in 1945 is now the country’s largest drug-manufacturing company. And though the founder died in 2006, Unilab is still a family run business, now helmed by his daughter Joy Campos Hess and her son, Clinton Hess. Jose’s eldest son, Butch, runs another family founded company, Nutri-Asia, and serves as vice chairman of Del Monte Philippines, while also serving as chairman of Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation. Jeffrey D.Y. Campos oversees the family’s vast real estate holdings through Greenfields Development, whose projects include a multi-hectare property in Mandaluyong and the joint venture with another prominent family in Santa Rosa, Ayala Greenfield Estates.
Cornflakes in the morning, then paksiw na bangus or torta for lunch—simple fare for a not-so-simple man, David Consunji of DMCI. The construction titan is the ninth richest Filipino according to Forbes magazine, but his old habits and virtues—honesty and living simply among them—die hard. While the architects behind famous buildings are better known, it was Consunji’s company that erected them: the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Philippine International Convention Center, Westin Philippine Plaza, and the Ayala Triangle, just to name a few. Sid, the eldest son, handles the construction firm now, with siblings Jing, Victor, Jorge, Lucy, Cristina, and Dinky also involved.
You don’t get to have a university sports facility named after you for no reason. Luis “Moro” Lorenzo certainly earned that right, after being a hoops star for Ateneo in the late 1940s and later as a visionary businessman. In the early 1980s he purchased and turned around a failing banana exporting company; now Lapanday Holdings is one of the largest independent producers and exporters of pineapples and bananas in the country. He passed away in 1997. From his eight children, eldest daughter Rica L. Davila is now the firm’s CEO and chair, while her younger brother Tomas is the vice chair. Outside the company, Martin found success operating numerous restaurant chains, while youngest Isa is an esteemed gallerist and artist.
Behind the continuing success of this multi-generational business family are perhaps the most prominent set of twins in Philippine society, Ronnie and Joecon Concepcion. The 84-year-old brothers born just 10 minutes apart are the sons of industrialist Jose Concepcion Sr., the founder of Concepcion Industries and co-founder of RFM Flour Mills along with Salvador and Victoria Araneta, the inlaws of Joecon. Ronnie’s side of the family includes former &C cover subject Ton Concepcion as well as current Concepcion Industries president, Jojo Concepcion. John of Selecta and Joey of Go Negosyo fame are the sons of Joecon. The twins’ sister is Mely Concepcion Hechanova, whose daughter, Renna, is vice chair of Condura.
The Concepcion couples, from left: Joe and Marivic Concepcion, Paeng and Mely Hechanova, Jose and Hermina Concepcion, Ronnie and Menchu Concepcion, Rene and Susan Concepcion
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This story was originally published in the December 2013-January 2014 issue of Town&Country.