Amen to Big Brother

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Joey Concepcion
Founder, Go Negosyo
President & CEO, RFM Corporation

BUSINESSMAN DEVOTES LIFE TO BUILD AN ENTERPRISING NATION

A delightful oil painting dominates the tasteful reception area of RFM Corporation’s head office in Pasig City. The 141 cm x 223 cm frame holds the Molong Galicano canvas of a chubby toddler in baker’s garb, studying a plump loaf, ostensibly the result of his earnest labors.

The art work, one discovers later upon asking about its provenance, is based on a large sepia portrait that hung for many years on a wall in the Republic Flour Mills (now RFM) premises.

“Mr. Go Negosyo”
The “little baker man” – Jose Maria Araneta Concepcion III, or Joey – has grown up to be Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council, using that same intensity and single-mindedness he trained on his bread to promote Filipino entrepreneurship and financial sustainability.


Known as “Mr. Go Negosyo,” Concepcion, the scion of the Araneta-Concepcion clans, known for their business acumen as well as their civic contributions, has gone beyond the P&L (profit and loss) mode to the deeper realm of “helping others help themselves.”

He cites the astounding figure of 99.6 percent, representing survival entrepreneurs and SMEs (small and medium enterprises), as making up the economy, with the miniscule remainder held by the big boys.

Four-year-old Joey was the mascot of Republic Flour Mills, the company founded by his lolo, Salvador Araneta

Going by the adage “If you can teach a nation to fish, you feed a nation for many lifetimes,” Concepcion infused Go Negosyo, the advocacy he established over a decade ago, with the aspect of mentoring. The father of five elaborates: “We aim to help those who are already entrepreneurs, millions of whom are survival entrepreneurs.

“We do not lend money – we know nothing about lending money, but we know others who do. Our platform to help involves mentorship, money and market. You can mentor, but if you don’t provide the money or access to financing and their products don’t get to the market, they’ll never be successful.”

For the second time in his life, Concepcion holds a semi-government position that allows him to chart the entrepreneurship roadmap. He is Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship in the Duterte administration, the same post he occupied during the Arroyo presidency. The call was first for the Trade Secretary seat, which he declined, recommending instead a colleague at Go Negosyo and RFM, Ramon Lopez, whom he thought to “really be the right person and who would do a good job.” Lopez is the current helmsman of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Concepcion sees his role as different. To serve as a government official can be rocky. Case in point was his father, industrialist Jose “Joe Con” Concepcion Jr., who initially did not want to assume the Trade and Industry portfolio, but gave in to then President Cory Aquino’s persuasions. The older Concepcion did not complete his term because as his eldest child recalls: “He was conflicted. Even if there was no real conflict, there was a perceived conflict.

The Family Concepcion at the recent Asean business summit, from left, Monica, Catherine, Magsy, Joey, Isabella, Marissa, Christian and wife Olivia

“Many people in the private sector, who are either founders or entrepreneurs, cannot get away from thinking about problems and finding solutions, which lead the way to opportunities out there. It’s in our DNA.

“I felt honored when the President asked me if I wanted to be part of the Cabinet. But I didn’t see myself sitting in an office and attending meetings the whole day. We, entrepreneurs, have to move.”

One thing Concepcion worked hard at ensuring was that Go Negosyo would always be private-sector driven despite his official associations. He says: “At the end of the day, it’s only the private sector that can help the poor, and the government helps by creating the right (business) environment. The public and private sector partnership has always been there.”

Amen to mentoring
A role that Concepcion could not – and did not – refuse was chairman of the Asean Business Advisory Council (honorary), a position his father also held some years ago. “That was like a miracle because that has never happened that a father and son [headed]this group.”

That was a supremely evocative moment when Concepcion addressed the opening and closing sessions of the recent Asean Business Investment Summit (ABIS), with his father, who is battling Alzheimer’s disease, managing to attend the three-day event last month at Solaire Resort & Casino. The high-profile founder of Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections), who often no longer recognizes his loved ones, was said to have acknowledged that “Joey” was on stage delivering his summary.

Joey and Marissa Concepcion enjoy sailing around the Philippines, practically having visited all the islands

Says the younger Concepcion: “Asean may not be as rich as the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) countries. More or less, with the exception of Singapore and Brunei, we share the same conditions such as poverty. But through mentoring, there are a lot of ideas out there that we can help each other with.

“It’s really in building relationships and developing trust that we can move forward and break down trade barriers. This is where a regional mentoring pool comes in; each one mentoring where they’re strong at and others getting mentored where they’re weak at.”

He reports the exercise, dubbed Asean Mentoring for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN), will kick off next year in the Philippines, where “about 30 to 40 Asean member mentors will visit to mentor mentors and mentor mentees, tackling digital-space trends and agri-business concerns.”

The digital economy is today’s game-changer, Concepcion believes, and he peppers his TV interviews, newspaper column, lectures and conversation with the myriad benefits of online transactions. Help for one’s enterprise or landing a mentor can be found online while exposing one’s products on a digital platform increases visibility that could lead to “people using you as a supplier, them buying your business or them partnering with you,” says Concepcion. “Pre-supposing it’s a good product, but if not, it won’t go anywhere.”

With dad, Jose Concepcion, Jr., who helped bring down a dictatorship

Father’s example
When asked to cite a memorable mentor, Concepcion did not think long, declaring his father Joe Con’s influence to be unparalleled. “I think I was more mentored by being with him in Namfrel as I went all over with him. We faced some pretty risky situations like people with guns. Namfrel was his destiny and he created a mark.

“My father subliminally mentored me by showing what he was doing in Namfrel. And that was to give courage to the Filipino people to guard the ballot and get their democracy back.

“I would not have been here today had he not let me see that. By coincidence, he led a revolution against a dictator. Today, we are fighting a revolution against poverty, and trying to help the Filipino.”

Concepcion and his wife Marissa are parents of four daughters – Monica, Catherine, Magsy and Isabella and a son, Christian. Of them, he says: “I do not expect my children to work in the family business in the same way my father did not pressure me. They want to do their own thing. (Christian Concepcion co-launched the ethical clothing brand Greater Good with his cousin Michael Concepcion.) But I spend a lot of time with them and I took them to the Asean events so they would learn and come away with some ideas.”

Home for the Concepcion couple is an expansive statement by Ed Calma (worthy of an Architectural Digest feature) where they often entertain taipans and tycoons over intimate dinners. The night before the BoardRoom Watch session, one such gathering had taken place. Weekends for Concepcion are devoted to the family and a boat they take out to sail and dive off from. “We’ve visited practically every island in the Philippines,” he beams.

Despite a hectic daily schedule – BoardRoom Watch had to conduct two interview sessions with Concepcion, one at home and the other in his Pasig office all within two hours – the businessman strives for the proverbial work-life equation. “If you just put all your time in your work and neglect your family, your health and your spiritual life, that leads to imbalance, and the result of all of that is you don’t live a happy life.”

Let Johnlu Koa, founder of the successful French Baker enterprise, describe his journey with Concepcion. “Go Negosyo could not have succeeded without the persistent efforts of Joey. Time and again, he has been proven right in what he believed in.

“When the movement started 10 years ago, he asked me to be part of a groundswell that would create a national entrepreneurship consciousness among SMEs, of which I gladly accepted. In 2006, in his first Go Negosyo book of more than 300 pages, Joey talked about ‘50 Inspiring Entrepreneurial Stories.’ I’m sure that many of these, mine included, have already been shared among students and faculty of management and entrepreneurial schools.

“I continue to be an avid mentor, supporter and believer of Joey’s Go Negosyo. It continues to inspire me with lofty ideals and goals of uplifting the Philippines by reducing poverty through inclusivity in all aspects of the economy.

“With the just concluded Asean Business Investment Summit in Manila where he showcased the best and brightest hopes, not only for the Philippines but also for the rest of the Asean region, Joey can easily be named the country’s ‘Man of the Year.’”

We’re sure many will agree, and why not?

For his efforts to banish poverty through spirited hard work and enterprise, he definitely has our vote.

  • QUALITIES OF A GOOD MENTOR
    They’re always optimistic. They are never negative, and they always show reason to hope.
  • They teach by example. Like my father (Jose Concepcion, Jr.), who subliminally mentored me by showing me the work he was doing in Namfrel (National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections). And that was to give courage to the Filipino people to guard that ballot and get back their democracy. You don’t need to get a formal education to benefit from mentoring. Just being exposed to a certain environment is sufficient to learn invaluable lessons.
  • They are enablers, helping people who help themselves.
  • They help people who have to survive.
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