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  • Writer's pictureAndi Dela Torre Griffiths

6 Lessons from Businessman John Gokongwei

Last November 9, 2020, marks the first death anniversary of John Gokongwei Jr., a Filipino business tycoon and philanthropist who founded JG Summit, one of the largest conglomerates in the country. Not only did he create wealth for himself and his family, but he has also provided jobs for Filipinos as well.

Things We Can Learn from John Gokongwei

Here are a few life lessons we can all learn from John Gokongwei Jr.’s journey, taken from the book "Big John: The Life Story of John Gokongwei" (written by Yvette Fernandez and illustated by Abi Goy).

1. Anything can change anytime (John went from Riches to Rags, then Rags to Riches)

John spent his early years living comfortably. He used to live in a large house that "was surrounded by a pretty garden which even had a fountain". His dad also owned movie theaters in Cebu, in which he could bring his friends and watch movies for free. Things were going well...until his dad died and they learned that he owed a lot of people money. Since they didn’t have enough financial resources to pay off his debt, their large house and movie theaters were taken away from them. Things changed. It made John mad and sad. Fortunately, his wonderful mother Elizabeth reminded him that staying that way won't help them buy food or clothes; what matters most is that they have each other.

As the saying goes, anything can change anytime, either for the better or for worse; we never know, there are many things beyond our control. The good thing, though, is that we can choose how to respond to unfavorable situations. If things turn sour, embrace normal human emotions such as sadness or anger, but after that, bounce back and keep moving. We have to remember that whatever happens, life goes on.

2. Work while everyone else is sleeping (or busy with other things)

When John was fifteen years old, he'd go to the market everyday to sell goods like candles and soap. While others were sleeping or busy with other things, he was finding ways to make money and help his family. It didn't matter if it was scorching hot or raining, he did his best to earn as much as he can while improving his skills.

In today's world, it's so easy to get distracted by a lot of things, most especially with vices or social media. If your work involves the use of it, then that's fine; it's a digital world, after all. Unfortunately, it seems that most of us are just scrolling instead of living (or doing something for a living). Anyway, Little John may have had to work because of the circumstances at that time, but he could have also just relied on his mom, yet he didn’t. He was eager to put in the work and do what it takes to succeed.

Lessons to learn from John Gokongwei | JG Summit | A Lifestyle Blog by Andi | Philippines

3. Don't be afraid to explore opportunities

As the book mentions, after hearing that there are more buyers with much more money in Manila, John decided to pack his things, get on a small boat that was only about two cars long, then go to Manila. He saw a business opportunity and explored it right away. Did you know that John also braved the waters literally? As he and his boatmates were sailing, the boat they were in hit a rock, and they had to hold on to tires until the rescue men came.

It may be challenging to get out of our comfort zones, because well, it’s easier to stay there, but sometimes, breaking out from it is the only way to stretch to our full potential. By not being afraid to explore opportunities, we give ourselves room to grow and see the world in a different light.

4. Read as much as you can

When John was sailing to Manila, he took advantage of the long journey by reading a lot of books. He flipped pages happily while others found the long trip boring. He took great interest in learning and expanding his mind.

Reading is one of the easiest ways to learn about almost anything. It educates us, takes us to places, and equips us with the knowledge that we need to improve the way we live our lives. If you listen to top tips by other successful men and women, you’ll notice that they always mention reading. It’s not only a fun way to exercise your brain, but it’s inexpensive, too!

5. It's always a good idea to share your smile, and your blessings

At the time when John couldn’t afford to lower the prices of his products, he shared a genuine smile with his customers instead. Then, once he achieved the success he’s always deserved, he gave away billions of pesos for a good cause: to help more children go to school and be a successful entrepreneur like him (this was during his 80th birthday). John knew that by giving, we help make the world a better place.

Real joy lies not in getting everything that we want out of life, but in sharing, giving back, and seeing others happy. Every time we make an effort to give joy to others (even in simple ways), we not only bring happiness, but we inspire the receiver to do the same thing to someone else as well.

6. Family is everything

John Gokongwei Jr. is more than an accomplished businessman and philanthropist; he is also a husband and a father who valued his wife and children. In the last part of his book, John expressed that he's a happy man not only because of his riches, but also because of the family that he has built, something that money can never buy. John always made time for his family despite his busy schedule, and because of this, he and his wife Elizabeth raised children who valued the importance of family just as much.

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