John Gokongwei Biography

(Filipino Businessman, Investor, Founder and Chairman of ‘JG Summit Holdings, Inc’)

Birthday: August 11, 1926 (Leo)

Born In: Xiamen, China

John Gokongwei was a Filipino billionaire businessman and philanthropist, best known as the founder and former chairman of JG Summit. He built a massive empire consisting of businesses in sectors such as food, beverage, clothing, aviation, telecommunications, banking, energy, petrochemicals, and livestock farming. Though he belonged to an affluent trading family, he lost all his wealth after his father’s death. Thus, in his teens, he began trading on the streets of Cebu. He launched his first company, Amasia Trading, in 1946. Initially, he dealt in second-hand goods imported from the U.S., but after his family joined in, he started dealing in beverages and cigarettes, too. Eventually, his company launched several businesses, including Universal Corn Products (now Universal Robina Corporation), Consolidated Food Corporation (later CFC Corporation), JG Summit Holdings, Cebu Pacific Air, Digital Telecommunications Philippines, and Robinsons Retail. He also donated to various educational institutes and was the third-richest man in his country at the time of his death. John died in 2019. His businesses are now managed by his six children and his brother, James.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: John Robinson Lim Gokongwei Jr.

Died At Age: 93


Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Yu (m. 1958)

father: John Gokongwei, Sr. (Go Kong Wei)

mother: Juanita Márquez Lim

siblings: Henry Go, James L. Go, Johnson Go, Lily Ngochua

children: Faith Gokongwei, Hope Gokongwei, Lance Gokongwei, Lisa Gokongwei, Marcia Gokongwei, Robina Gokongwei

Born Country: China

Philanthropists Investors

Died on: November 9, 2019

place of death: Manila, Philippines

Founder/Co-Founder: JG Summit Holdings, Cebu Pacific, Universal Robina, Robinsons Malls

More Facts

education: De La Salle University, Ateneo De Manila University

Early Life & Education

John Robinson Lim Gokongwei Jr. was born on August 11, 1926, in Xiamen, Gulangyu Subdistrict, Republic of China, to John Gokongwei, Sr. (Go Kong Wei) and Juanita Márquez Lim.

He grew up with his four siblings, James, Henry, Johnson, and Lily Ngochua. John’s father belonged to an affluent family from Cebu (in the Philippines), and his ancestors lived in China's Southern Fujian province. John’s great-grandfather, who was a trader from China, was one of the Philippines's most influential Chinese Filipinos. Andrew Gotianun Sr. was a distant relative of John.

However, following his father’s death, John and his family lost all their wealth. Thus, at 13, John began peddling items from his bicycle, on the streets of Cebu. From ages 17 to 19, he used a wooden boat to carry his goods to Dalahican, Lucena, and then carried them to Manila by truck.

John initially studied at the University of San Carlos in Cebu for primary school and high school. He graduated valedictorian. Much later, in 1977, he obtained an MBA degree from the De La Salle University in Manila. Ten years later, he completed Harvard Business School’s 14-week advanced management program.

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Following World War II, in 1946, John Gokongwei launched his first company, Amasia Trading. John was only 20 back then. The company imported flour, fruits, onions, used clothes, old newspapers, and magazines from the U.S.

In the early 1950s, John started importing cigarettes and whiskey, too. His siblings then joined his business. By 1957, John realized that trading would not earn him much profits. He and his family thus focused on manufacturing.

He took a loan of 500 thousand pesos from Albino Sycip, who was the chairman of China Bank back then, and Dee K. Chiong. John then launched a corn milling plant, named Universal Corn Products, and started producing corn starch and glucose. The company was later renamed Universal Robina Corporation. It is now the biggest player in the ready-to-drink tea and cup noodles business and the second-largest in the coffee sector in the Philippines.

In 1961, John Gokongwei launched another company, Consolidated Food Corporation (later renamed CFC Corporation). It introduced Blend 45, its own brand of instant coffee. The company merged with Universal Robina Corporation.

John made JG Summit Holdings a publicly-listed holding company in November 1990. In March 1996, his low-cost airline company, Cebu Pacific Air was launched. In 2010, the airline went through a huge re-fleeting operation.

In 2003, John launched his telecom company, Digital Telecommunications Philippines, which invested almost $800 million to establish its mobile carrier, Sun Cellular, the third-largest mobile operator in the country back then. The PLDT group later bought the company for $1.7 billion.

The following year, JG Summit launched the green tea brand C2, thus revolutionizing the beverages market of the country, which was controlled by cola companies back then.

John Gokongwei also tried to acquire the Singapore-based property company United Industrial Corporation Ltd. (UIC) for $1 billion, where he had over 30% of stakes.

In 2013, John’s company purchased San Miguel Corporation’s stakes in MERALCO, the Philippines’s biggest power distributor, for almost $1.8 billion. In July the following year, Griffin's Foods was acquired by Universal Robina for $609 million, from Pacific Equity Partners, a New Zealand-based food enterprise.

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John’s group also included Robinsons Land Corporation and Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. On August 11, 2016, which was also John’s 90th birthday, he declared his retirement from all the functions of JG Summit. John’s family is now in charge of more than $20 billion of the total market capitalization for all the companies owned by them.

John initially served the basic-needs market, with his branded snacks, sugar, noodles, beverages, poultry, hotels, condos, and clothing. However, his companies later dominated other sectors, such as travel, petrochemicals, energy, and banking, too.

Other Accomplishments & Recognitions

John Gokongwei’s biography, John L. Gokongwei Jr.: The Path of Entrepreneurship, written by Dr. Marites A. Khanser, was released on August 29, 2007, at the Ateneo de Manila University. It offered a detailed account of John’s life and struggles. The book also included the “Nine Rules” of achieving success in business that John had followed.

John donated 200 million pesos to an undergraduate management school in 2002. He also made generous donations to institutes such as the University of San Carlos, the De La Salle University, the Sacred Heart School, the Xavier School, and the Immaculate Conception Academy.

In February 2008, Forbes Asia magazine placed him on their list of the “Heroes of Philanthropy.” The list included three other Filipinos, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, Oscar López, and Ramón del Rosario Jr.

Personal Life & Legacy

John Gokongwei was married to Elizabeth Yu from 1958 until his death in 2019. The couple had six children: their son, Lance, and their five daughters, Lisa, Robina, Faith, Hope, and Marcia.

John and Elizabeth had first met when John was still a small-time importer of second-hand goods and owned a tiny store in Cebu. Elizabeth's father owned a hardware store back then. John was about 23 or 24 and Elizabeth was 17 when they fell in love. John then pursued her for marriage for 4 years.

Elizabeth had actively supported her husband in all his endeavors. She had also been a founding member of the Robinsons Department Store and had served on the board of trustees of the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF).

John died on November 9, 2019, at the Manila Doctors Hospital, Manila, Philippines. He was 93 years old at the time of his death. His funeral was held on November 15. The following day (November 16), Elizabeth died, at the age of 85. At the time of his death, John was the third-richest man in the Philippines, according to Forbes.

All the Gokongwei children work actively for their family business group. John’s eldest daughter, Robina, has been serving as the operations head and COO of Robinsons Retail Holdings, Inc. (which owns the Robinsons Malls) since 2002. The company is the second-largest multi-format retailer in the Philippines.

Lance is the president and CEO of JG Summit. James, John’s brother, is the COO and chairman of the company. Lisa is in charge of Summit Media.

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