Published online by the Manila Bulletin,
By BERNIE CAHILES-MAGKILAT | January 3, 2020
The business community yesterday painted a brighter domestic economy that will sustain a 7.0 percent growth over the next decade.
Ms. Alegria Bing Limjoco, newly-elected chairperson of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) said at the Pandesal Forum in Kamuning that a higher GDP growth this year would be made possible with the on-time release of the ₱4.1 trillion 2020 national budget.
“The ₱4.1 trillion national budget will be signed on Monday and plus the ₱400 billion left from the 2019 budget. That means more blessings in 2020,” said Limjoco, the first lady president elected as PCCI chairperson.
Limjoco explained that with the early passage of the national Budget, there will be no more delays in the implementation of government projects. It could be recalled that the enactment of the 2019 budget was delayed due squabbles in both the Senate and Lower House on the issue of pork barrel insertions.
Government expenditure accounts for the biggest boost in the local economy.
Foreign remittances from overseas Filipino workers also contribute big portion that helped fuel domestic consumption.
Limjoco said that if the 2019 GDP will settle at 6.3 percent, growth rate this year could hit close to 7 percent or a more optimistic 7.5 percent.
Aside from the economic boost from the huge budget to be spent for the “Build Build Build” projects, Limjoco cited the booming tourism sector.
“The Philippines is the rising star in Asia and this is a decade of growth in Asia,” said Limjoco noting that otther developed economies like EU are not growing.
“We are growing 7 percent this year and the next decade. We are in the center of growth,” she said.
Last year as president of PCCI, Limjoco said she received more than 50 courtesy calls from various foreign business groups exploring opportunities in the country.
“Sometimes, I received three courtesy calls a day. These groups want to invest here particularly in agriculture,” she said.
Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc., said the economy is well poised to hit 7-7.5 GDP this year.
Aside from the budgetary boost, he cited the influx of Chinese tourists. Last year, there were more than 2 million Chinese tourists or a fourth of the record-high 8 million tourist arrivals in the country in 2019.
In addition, FFCCCII Vice-President Cecilo K. Pedro cited the continued economic growth.
He, however, pushed for the passage of the CITIRA bill to remove the cloud of doubt in the minds of investors.
Limjoco also echoed for the passage of the bill to ensure investors will choose the Philippines over other Asean countries.
‘It is time for business and it is time to think about being an entrepreneur because we cannot just be standing idly by. We have to partake of this growth in whatever way.’
By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
At her age and stature, Alegria S. Limjoco more popularly known as “Bing,” could have just go about her leisurely pleasures, but she cannot. The call for her to pursue what she does best – helping startups – was too compelling for her to ignore.
Limjoco is the new president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s largest business organization, earning her the distinction as one of only two women presidents to have run the country’s voice of business.
“My doctor told me ‘you don’t need this stress’,” says Limjoco when she consulted his physician and even his family, who resisted the idea of her leading the highest post at the PCCI.
Throwing all cautions to the air, Limjoco hit the ground running. Over the past few weeks, she requested fellow board members for inputs and guidance to develop a work plan that will build on the accomplishments of the previous leaderships. She revived the old practice of conducting a strategic planning.
“The goal was to create a plan that would outline our mission and vision for PCCI’s continued growth and sustainability and for smooth implementation of projects,” says Limjoco, who used to serve as PCCI Director.
To avoid unnecessary stress, Limjoco said she would also defer to the Board for position on certain issues of national interest.
All she wanted is continuity of the PCCI leadership. She noticed that one reason good projects do not get implemented in any organization or even in government when new leadership takes over is the lack of continuity. Every administration would like to start new and unwilling to pick on what had been started even if the past programs are really good.
Limjoco is not just concerned about continuity of project implementation, but also succession at PCCI. She would like to ensure sustainability of the organization. Thus, she vowed to cultivate and nurture new and young leaders to succeed PCCI’s leadership.
In this case, she cited her predecessor George Barcelon for the creating and leading the committee on Youth, Services and ICT. She cited the need to nurture the youth, who have great ideas on the new ways of doing business in the digital age.
“We really prepared for the next generation, who will be the next presidents. When you see qualities in them, develop them to become future leaders,” says Limjoco. She saw a number of potential leaders at PCCI.
“We can always be there as advisers, we just have to guide them and they listen to the advisers,” adds Limjoco, noting the need to listen to the wisdom of the senior leaders.
“I cannot disregard them, I like continuity,” stresses Limjoco.
For her reign, the lady leader would like to continue what her predecessor had started. Barcelon came up with GIANT Steps program with emphasis on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). That should be an opportunity for Limjoco to follow through.
Building on what Barcelon has started, Limjoco said her term would be marked by an overarching goal towards prosperity. It will take off from GIANT Steps to Prosperity. The term PROSPERITY should stand for these big words: Promoting Sustainable Entrepreneurial Resilience Industrialization and Tech-Ready Economy.
To leap into prosperity, Limjoco will highlight the development and promotion of MSMEs that Barcelon started, but still need to be pursued further as she believes that entrepreneurship is key toward inclusive growth especially for those in the countryside.
There are issues, particularly funding, for MSMEs that need to be further ironed out as she noted that government financing may not be enough and can be difficult at times.
She is looking at how the Internet can help the MSMEs break into the digital world for their small business ventures. Limjoco noted that PLDT VOYAGER alone as much as 5,000 online businesses already.
Of course, she will continue to pursue the promotion of franchising, an industry that looks up to her as their foremost mentor. Limjoco serves as chair of the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA) and at one time as CEO of Francorp Philippines, the country’s foremost developer and consultancy firm for franchising concepts.
As the mother of Philippine franchising, Limjoco was the first Filipino and first Asian to earn the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE), a mini-MBA on Franchise Management at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, USA, and at the Asian Institute of Management, both accredited by the Institute of Certified Franchise Executives (ICFE) of the US-based International Franchise Association (IFA).
Over the years, Limjoco has represented the PFA in various international franchise events including the World Franchise Council (WFC) and Asia Pacific Franchise Confederation (APFC) Meetings, as well as various international franchise shows in the US, Europe, and Asia.
But as she becomes president of PCCI, Limjoco is conscious that she cannot just be the mouthpiece of franchising, but for all other business models.
Limjoco, however, is more than willing to share what she has learned from franchising as a stepping stone for the small enterprises although she would like to emphasize that the foundation for a good business is to know about financing and how to handle it properly.
“Whatever business model you are going to use, you have to see the big picture because some when they see money coming in, they would lose focus,” she adds. Thus, she also emphasized on closely working with the MSMEs through constant follow ups.
Limjoco, who started from the Philippine Retailing Association, and on to the PFA has been mobilizing these associations to develop new entrepreneurs and discover new concepts that are now successful in the market.
She also cited a more proactive government through the Department of Trade and Industry in helping businesses, like the reduced steps in the filing of business applications and permitting from 15 steps to 3 in certain areas.
With all these goals, Limjoco seeks to strengthen the potentials of PCCI’s local chambers as catalyst for entrepreneurship in the countryside. She intends to highlight the role of the local chambers to have more active role in the PCCI’s overall network since they are the face of the organization in the provinces.
“I really would like the regional chambers to work and perform so I asked them to submit work program after planning because we have to be more proactive. If you come to me with a problem, please also come up with a solution,” adds Limjoco, who loves delegating her work to the Board members.
PCCI has 130 chapters all over the country and 119 industry association members. It has also some 2,000 direct members that together could reach a total of 35,000 members.
“This is what we want to intensify so why not work together because like the ‘walis tingting’ we can achieve more if we are together,” says Limjoco.
Already, PCCI will hold its Area Business Conference North Luzon in San Fernando, Pampanga. The choice of San Fernando is a strong pitch for the Northern Luzon businessmen to claim that their time as an economic power has finally come. They have the investors, investors and access to the northern part of Luzon.
“Most of the regions are positive,” says Limjoco. Businessmen have proposed for the creation of one stop shop center where MSMEs can file their application without having to shuttle from one government office to another.
“We should not make doing business difficult and costly for our micro and small businesses,” she adds.
Aside from its local network, PCCI can also harness its 55 business councils where they have counterpart from different countries to help discover the Philippines as a new investment destination. The PCCI Business Council committee is headed by chairman emeritus Francis Chua.
PCCI will also strengthen partnership with their 119 industry association members to help in the government’s K-12 education system.
Already, they have started with the easier track which is in the retailing sector through the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA). PRA members have been cooperating to provide the required minimum on the-job-training of 80 hours for the Grade 12 students.
“We tie-up with schools for retailing, which is simple and definitely the minimum of 80 hours exposure would be just enough, but those already in the technical vocational courses like furniture making, 80 hours of internship will not suffice,” she adds.
Thus, she would push for immersion program for new entrepreneurs. She remembered that when she was sent to the US by her father for apprenticeship at Barnes and Noble, the famous bookstore brand in the US, it was an eye opener for her. Her father saw how hard she worked over there because there was no one to run to, she has to fend for herself.
“There are things that one cannot learn from school, but the realities in life are best seen when you work with other employees, how do you see yourself there,” she adds.
PCCI will also tie up with the Department of Agriculture and Department of Science and Technology to help in the product development and packaging of products.
PCCI would ensure startups will be provided with the needed support to improve their capabilities. There will be free seminars to new entrants in business.
She vowed of equal chance for startups noting that mostly those from Metro Manila have the upper hand to be featured, but there are also successful startups in the provinces that are worthy of recognition.
“These provincial startups have not been recognized, we want to discover them so they will further bloom,” she adds.
Among the chambers, she cited the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Edward Du for their efforts to provide internet service to schools in the 4th and 5th municipalities.
In the franchising sector, Limjoco said they have been conducting free seminars to encourage those planning to enter into business to go for franchising, the fastest way to set up a business and a proven successful business model.
“We cannot do this overnight, this is not shotgun, but we can start planting the seeds now,” he adds. She particularly cited Oryspa, which has gained prominence overseas because of its authentic natural oils extracted from rice. There is also the Generics Pharmacy that bloomed to a thousand outlets. These are just a few examples of startups that made it to become big industry players.
Having been in the business and actively involved in the PCCI, PRA and the franchising sector, Limjoco was sort of groomed to someday head the country’s largest business organization. Although she did not actively campaign for the post, Limjoco was just riding with the flow.
“Honestly, no,” says Limjoco when asked if she expects to get the PCCI top post. But she noted: “They said and really saw I was able to help the micro grow and all that, and being the one who can really help PCCI to go to the bottom of the pyramid.”
Limjoco now stands as the second of only two women presidents of this mostly men-dominated organization, the first being Noemi Saludo.
“Whether I become president or not because there is also resistance from my family, I offer everything to the Lord,” she says. The only thing she was certain though was that if she gets the position, “I must really perform well.”
More importantly, she will work to ensure the sustainability of the organization. She cited how the PRA and PFA became sustainable as an organization. Similarly, she said, PFA became a force in the franchising sector not just locally but in the international scene. Before, the local industry had to beg for presence from the government as it strives for relevance during their early years.
“Now, it has ripened, we grow it and pray for it,” adds Limjoco.
Most of all, Limjoco feels the need to help PCCI because it has a mandate and a nationwide network that no other organization can claim.
“Other organizations can claim regional presence, maybe small here and there, but we are all over with grassroots presence, so there is a need to guide this network because this is potent in bringing change in the countryside. I feel I can be that someone,” she adds.
There are also some PCCI local chambers whose management needed some strengthening and to become more relevant in their own areas.
“We have to move forward, we have to work together,” she adds.
Considering this is already the peak of her career, Limjoco sees it as her time to give back.
“Really, it is for me to share whatever I’ve learned that’s all, to God be the glory because if you have it then share it with others,” she adds. The Sibal family though has long been involved in charitable works with the Phoenix Foundation, which her mother founded for relief efforts for schools and churches.
Limjoco comes from an affluent family, who owned the famous Alemars Bookstore. Although Alemars had long been gone, the family’s book publishing business Central Books is still growing. It publishes law books primarily on demand. His late father was doctor of laws.
The middle child, fifth in a brood of 9, Limjoco was never spared from the discipline of his lawyer father, who taught them the regimen and rigidity of business at an early age.
“While my classmates can sleep long hours on Saturdays, we have to wake up early to help run the store. So, I am always an early riser,” says Limjoco.
“We are trained and disciplined, not rich. Our parents worked so hard,” says Limjoco, who grew up missing their parents because they were always busy running the business. Learning from this experience, they decided to shift into the publishing of law books. They have also established Phoenix Publishing.
At this stage, Limjoco can no longer ask for more, but feels she has so much to give. In fact, her most important lesson in life is “It is really better to give than to receive, better to share.”
That is why she finds fulfillment in helping the micro and small businesses grow under her eyes. “It is something money cannot buy,” she says.
She does not look forward to retirement. For as long as she can help others grow, maybe not within PCCI or wherever, she would like to go on.
Her nurturing nature has earned her the accolade as the mother of franchising in the Philippines.
“To those that I helped grow, I was like a mother to them because wherever they are, I coach them. I am like the cheerleader, telling them you have to do this. Give them the confidence they know they have, but are afraid to show it, so somebody needs to push them,” she adds.
Acknowledged for her vast contributions in franchising and other businesses, Limjoco has been conferred numerous recognitions, including Go Negosyo’s Filipina Starpreneur in the Enterprise Enabler Category from the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) and one of the “10 Most Influential Filipinas” by the Female Network. She has also been recognized as a Pillar of Philippine Franchising and as the Woman Icon of Franchising by the Franchise Excellence Awards (FEA). Recently, she received the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award in Redmond, Washington, USA and the Teresa’s Achievement Award in Business and Technology by her alma mater, Saint Theresa’s College of Quezon City.
Despite a seemingly noisy political scene, Limjoco was optimistic describing the local economy of growing from “good to great.”
“With the Golden Age of Infrastructure, then comes the Golden Age of Entrepreneurs,” she adds stressing that small startups will not only think of looking for a job but of creating jobs for others.
“I am gung-ho this time because the big push in infrastructure is helping a lot in creating more economic activities that is why we are running out of workers,” she adds.
Aside from domestic growth, Limjoco also sees the ASEAN region with 650 million strong consumer population as a big opportunity for Filipino businesses. “Whenever I go abroad, people start to consider you as ASEAN not Pinoy anymore because we are now one in ASEAN,” she adds.
With the economic recession in the US and Europe, she said, Asia is now the force to reckon with and at the center of Asia is ASEAN where the Philippines is the fastest growing member country.
“Since 2015, the Philippines was already in the sweet spot. You add the right economic fundamentals in place and we have an economy that is growing from good to great. We are the rising star in Asia and we are yet to maximize our potential,” she adds.
“It is time for business and it is time to think about being an entrepreneur because we cannot just be standing idly by. We have to partake of this growth in whatever way,” she adds.
Aside from her dad, she looks up to her Kumadre Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM Group for her iron fist in spearheading the transformation of the family’s business empire. On the side, Coson also leads the Asean Business Advisory Council, making Limjoco wonder how she was able to balance her life.
Limjoco has been brought up to be a good Catholic, reared by nuns in an all-girls school.
“I start the day with a prayer or mass so what I do is start the day with the Lord,” says Limjoco, who pursued this habit after finishing college at Saint Theresa’s College where students hear mass every single day of school.
Wonder what she prayed for? She prays that whatever problems that come her way that day, there is nothing she fears because she will be guided properly.
Like a mother to her children, Ma. Alegria Sibal Limjoco – the new president of the largest business organization in the Philippines – aspires to nurture micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) through her advocacies and prepare them as they take on bigger challenges in the global stage.
Limjoco, known in the business circle as Bing, is not new to this task, having guided a lot of the successful franchise businesses in the country today, rightfully earning her the title ‘mother of Philippine franchising.’
A mind to lead, a heart to serve
“My motto is: a mind to lead, a heart to serve to uplift the MSME. I think it’s about time to help the MSME,” said the new president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).
Limjoco, who is the second female to lead the PCCI, said the country’s growing economy provides a brighter prospect for the development of Filipino MSME.
“We are now more on inviting investors here, but inclusive economy is very important, because right now, we are all with the ‘big boys’. But when I come in, I want to help the small ones,” she said.
Limjoco is one of the founders of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA), which was established in 1992, and the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA) – the country’s premier franchise organization, founded in 1995.
And the days of founding and developing these associations, particularly PFA, proved to be one of the most memorable experiences that molded Limjoco as a business leader.
Recalling the early days of the PFA, Limjoco said no one – not even the government – understood what their organization and business were all about.
“In 1995 nobody knew what franchising was. When we invited the Department of Trade and Industry, they sent somebody from the LTFRB,” she said.
“I told them we’re different. Can you imagine how we started, if you have seen our shows that time, I really have to plead for them to come,” she said.
With this experience, Limjoco notes that a lending and uplifting hand – especially from the big businesses – could pave the way forward to growth and development for Philippine MSME.
“I want to be the cheerleader – this is the time I can make my members grow, because you know, with the Duterte administration’s Build Build Build program, there’s no way but to grow, grow, grow,” she said. “We have platforms for our members to grow and I would like our members to pull the others so we can have a wider middle class. How do we have a wider middle class? By pulling the smaller ones.”
The PCCI chief said if they were able to develop the MSME in the franchise sector, then it is possible to do the same in other business segments of the country.
“I think to help the MSME is the biggest difference we can make. Actually, I really help many of these ones – they are micro if not small – and some of them are now international,” Limjoco shared. “Imagine, Potato Corner started in the garage selling french fries. They did not expect they will be able to get that much,” Limjoco said.
Limjoco has expressed deep concern in the plans of the government to liberalize the retail industry, particularly cutting down the required paid-up capital for foreign businessmen in the country from the current $2.5 million to a mere $250,000.
“I want to help the small ones. Of course, I want to voice out on how we can help them,” she says. “But let’s not cut it too much. It’s quite high and would affect a lot of MSMEs, even sari-sari stores. Would you want the likes of them to suffer?” she added.
Hard work, honesty and integrity
Limjoco knows the global market, as aside from regularly attending expositions and business missions, she was sent by her father, the late Ernesto Y. Sibal and her mother Alegria Rodriguez, to the United States in her early 20s.
She juggled between her job at an American bookstore and her part-time job in a department store while finishing her degree in interior design at the New York School of Interior Design in the 1970s.
“I was really quite busy in New York, studying from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., then working after class and selling Avon products. I worked part-time for Barnes and Noble Bookstore, and worked for Gimbel’s Department Store, too, parttime. Though my father would send me allowances, I wanted to learn as much while I was in New York,” she said. She came back to Manila when she was 23, and immediately worked in their family business, Phoenix Publishing House.
“Then I wanted to have a family. I also wanted to grow our family business. And I wanted to make a difference in life,” she said, saying she did these one step at a time, starting with the establishment of her own family and getting married to husband Angel.
The young businesswoman back then started working her way to the top. “I always looked up to my parents who created many businesses,” she said. “In my family, I always put the Lord in the center.”
Bing says the secret to her success today revolves around three basic virtues. “I always believe in hard work, honesty and integrity. These were inculcated in me by my parents,” she said. “Looking at the big picture, I always believe in simple life, and in sharing our blessings.”
“I became a business minded woman when I studied in New York. Studying overseas makes you more active, competitive and business-minded because you have to prove what you are despite the discrimination. That way, I become engaged in business and served my father in the publishing industry,” Limjoco shared.
Today, she is also the chief executive of Francorp Philippines, the company that helped a number of successful franchises in the Philippines. Brands such as Jollibee, Max’s Restaurant, Goldilocks, Potato Corner, Reyes Haircutters, Pancake House and Bench, Penshoppe, among many others, owe their success to her and business partner Philippine Franchise Association and Philippine Retailers Association chairman emeritus and Francorp chairman Samie Lim. Ready to lead
As the shepherd of Philippine business today, she is fully ready to lead the PCCI and overcome challenges that surround the Philippine economy.
Limjoco said she would focus her term as PCCI president on helping out the small players in the business community and continue the work done by her predecessors most especially PCCI president George T. Barcelon. She’s grateful for the support given her by PCCI officials and board of directors: chairman George Barcelon, honorary chairman and treasurer, and Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., Employers Confederation of the Philippines president Donald Dee and chairman Edgardo Lacson, Jess Varela, William Co, Angelito Colona, Eric Cruz, Alberto Fenix, Jose Leviste Jr., Samie Lim, Ben Leong, Simbulan Renato, and Francis Chua.
“For me, I always look at the big picture. Our economy is good and it is on its way to be great. I have never seen the economy as robust as now, wherein we have been growing about 6 percent or 7 percent since 2015,” she said.
“I know we are in the sweet spot and there will be growth for the next 10 years. The business climate now is definitely very conducive for businesses compared before when we were just starting,” she said.