IT may be hard to believe that Willy Tee Ten is not a car enthusiast because he currently has a growing empire of car dealerships that cuts through a very wide section of the Philippine car market.
Under the dealership portfolio of his Autohub Group are mainstream brands like Ford, Hyundai and Nissan. Then there are high-end brands like Mini Cooper and Lotus. And qualifying as the crown jewel of the Autohub Group is Rolls Royce.
For someone whose first job is not in the car industry, Tee Ten definitely has come a long way although there were bumps along the way.
Perhaps the secret to Tee Ten’s success, besides his courage to dream big, is he thinks like a typical car buyer, not a car enthusiast.
His not being a car enthusiast was questioned by Ford Philippines when he first applied for a dealership for the brand.
“When I was applying, Ford asked me ‘Why would we give it to you? No. 1 you’re so young. No. 2 you don’t have automotive experience, and you don’t even like cars,’” Tee Ten said.
He was actually the youngest applicant for a Ford dealership in 1998 at 35 years old. His first job was in the family’s ethanol business that was not related to cars.
Tee Ten told the officials of Ford that it was actually better that he was not a car enthusiast because motor geeks or gear heads only make up a small percentage of car buyers.
“That’s why I told the Ford guys ‘Look, I would rather think like the normal buyer.’ So I would rather think like the 90 percent,” he said.
Tee Ten explained that car enthusiasts, which make up about 10 percent of car buyers, may prefer things like manual transmission and lowered suspension that typical vehicle buyers may not want.
“But again, they [car enthusiasts]are a totally different market,” Tee Ten added.
Thus was born Ford Makati in 1999 that was the start to Tee Ten’s building an empire of car dealerships.
His Ford dealership at Pasong Tamo, Makati, was later transferred to Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig City. And his Ford dealership network grew to seven nationwide. Also, the Autohub Group has in the pipeline eight more Ford dealerships in Mindanao.
Besides its flagship dealership for Ford at BGC, the Autohub Group has Ford dealerships in Manila, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos City, Bohol and Zamboanga City.
In 2013, Tee Ten somewhat stunned the Philippine automotive scene by bagging the deal to represent Rolls Royce in the country.
“We did a pitch, we applied for it [Rolls Royce representation]. That was three years ago. It’s either very late 2012 or early 2013. But we started selling July of 2013,” he said.
“The opportunity was there, because Rolls Royce is also owned by BMW and Mini is also owned by BMW. So since we were already part of the BMW Group because of Mini, and since I think we did a pretty good job with Mini, that’s probably the reason they [Rolls Royce] awarded us the franchise,” Tee Ten added.
Buyers of Rolls Royce vehicles either purchase what is currently in the dealership or order a tailor-made car of which the owner specifies the colors and materials to be used for the interior and other trimmings. The color of the car can also be specified.
”They can get whatever is in the showroom. But if they want something [special], they can be made to order.” Tee Ten said.
“It’s a very different market altogether. So if you want something that is personalized, you have to wait [for your Rolls Royce],” he added.
Tee Ten’s latest addition to the long list of brands under the Autohub Group is Lotus, a British brand known for its track-bred sports cars.
“I cannot say it’s [Lotus] cheap but it’s more affordable than other sports cars. The racecar enthusiast, they would know what a Lotus is, the way it performs, the way it’s designed,” he said.
Tee Ten added that his first taste of a Lotus sports car was in the United Kingdom where he was able to ride in an Elise that was driven by a professional race car driver.
“I rode it with a race car driver when I was in UK, ‘Wow what is this?’ [I told myself]. It scared me that I loved it. It’s like bungee jumping, so scary but after you do it, you say ‘wow,’” he said.
The Elise is powered by a supercharged 1.8-liter engine and has a body made largely from carbon fiber giving it a light weight.
As for the other mainstream brands, Ten acquired the Nissan dealerships on Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City and Quezon Avenue, Quezon City in 2005 and will be adding two more soon.
Also, the Autohub Group opened a Hyundai dealership in BGC in 2006, and another in Greenhills, San Juan City in 2011.
Tee Ten also has two Mazda dealerships with one located in Cagayan de Oro.
When asked which brand is his favorite under the Autohub Group, he answered, “Because Ford was the first one that I had, I started with Ford so Ford will always be close to my heart. Mini is the first distributorship I handled, so Mini is also close to my heart. And Rolls Royce, when everybody talks to me they ask ‘How did you get Rolls Royce.’”
“Every brand has its own personality that you would love. So I cannot say which is my favorite,” Tee Ten added.
While the Autohub Group can boast of having a brand line-up that cuts through a wide section of the Philippine market, Tee Ten had his share of bumps or misfires.
Piaggio was once part of the Autohub Group but based on rumors, the Italian brand may go back to the group. Tee Ten also tried some Chinese vehicle brands.
Besides automotive dealerships, also under the Autohub Group are Click Auto Rental and Leasing, the distribution of V-Cool high-end tints and Autohub Car Care Services.
Undoubtedly the biggest factor in Tee Ten’s current level of success despite the bumps he encountered is his setting goals and dreams.
“You have goals every time, but your goals change all the time. So if you’re already near wherever your goals are going to be, dream for the next bigger goal,” he said.
When explaining more about dreaming, Tee Ten advised dreaming of something not easy to reach but is possible to attain.
“You always dream of something big, you make it at least, how should I say it, not easy to reach. But it’s not impossible. That’s how you dream, that’s a dream that you want,” he added.
Besides expanding his dealership network, Tee Ten said among his dreams was to employ at least 1,000 people and that he already attained it.
“It was actually one of my dreams, to give [jobs], to be able to employ a thousand people. That’s my little way to help the economy,” he added.
The way Tee Ten dreams and sets goals is obviously the driving force behind his growing vehicle dealership empire.
And he did not have to be a car enthusiast.