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.