IN the early 1960s, stainless steel was the least utilized form of metal in the Philippines.
But then newly married couple Ren and Felici Silayan thought otherwise. Sensing something special in the smooth and shiny alloy, they started a small venture fabricating stainless steel while building a strong foundation for their family.
With beginnings in a garage in Potrero, Malabon, this business is now recognized all over the country as Allied Metals Inc. This year marks the company’s 50th anniversary.
Paying a visit to the company’s head office in Cubao, Quezon City, The Sunday Times Magazine sat down with the Silayans who recalled the golden journey that made them pioneers of the stainless steel industry in the Philippines.
From lovers to entrepreneurs
According to Ren Silayan, who is chairman emeritus, the history of Allied Metals started the moment he married his better half, and decided to “roll the dice” for their future. He bravely quit his job as consultant for Phinma Properties and built a business from scratch with the support of his wife Felici.
“I had to collapse everything. You have to go on your own even if you have no money,” recounted Ren, who graduated from Chemical Engineering at the University of the Philippines (UP).
On the other hand, Felici graduated from Speech and Drama—also at UP—who readily quit her budding career as a teacher to help out her husband. Then and now, she never felt what she did was a sacrifice for she saw the move as an opportunity to learn something new.
“When we got married, we both decided to stop working [at our respective jobs]and become entrepreneurs,” Felici recalled. “And when you’re an entrepreneur, you don’t have anything. You really start with zero. So you also have to learn everything [to grow the business].”
Though full of optimism, the couple reached a deadlock on the question of capital.
To ask from their parents was apparently out of the question. As Ren believed, “Tama na yong binigay sa’yo ng magulang mo na edukasyon [It should be enough that your parents sent you to school].”
Ever the bullish one, Ren leased the only property they had as a couple and in return, received a five-year advanced payment from their tenant. Effectively, the amount became the seed money for Allied Metals.
Potential in stainless steel
But why of all possible ventures go into stainless steel?
“When you go on your own without money, you start thinking ‘What is a business that you can start small but with good horizons?’” Ren asked The Sunday Times Magazine in return. “The answer is that you have to have something that other businessmen never had.”
He explained, “Stainless steel was not a common metal here in the Philippines back then, and with that knowledge, I delayed competition in the early days of our business.”
Ren first encountered the now prized metal when he worked in a shipment company that carried stainless steel. Felici ventured that the reason why it was barely used in the Philippines was because many had thought stainless steel was hard to work with.
“It is the only metal that cannot be painted, thus its flaws cannot be hidden if any,” she related.
Thankfully, Ren’s college degree afforded him some understanding of the metal, and from there he discovered that the true potential of stainless steel lies in its use for professional and industrial kitchens.
“Back then, professional kitchens were either made from marble or ceramic,” he continued. “Eventually we were able to show how stainless steel is better suited for such kitchens, and more importantly, cheaper, and we were able to establish an industry.”
As added trivia, Felici shared that when Allied Metals was incorporated in 1965, they were the first stainless steel fabricator printed in the “Yellow Pages” telephone directory—proof that while there are so many other companies in the same trade today, theirs was the first in Philippine history.
The husband and wife also credited Allied Metal’s key partners for the growth of the company, who trusted them early on in their venture, with Gabino Mendoza as their very first investor, followed by Bartolome Silayan, Ramon Kabigting, Pablo Silva, Ambrosio Makalintal, and Tony Mercado.
Early days and clients
Just like every start-up company, Allied Metals has many interesting stories from its early days. One such memory is when the Silayans set up their very first headquarters at the garage of Ren’s family home in Potrero, Malabon.
As the last of five siblings to get married, Ren’s ancestral home only had her mother and sister left living in the 2,000-square meter property. They even only occupied the second flood, which meant there was so much space just waiting for use.
He recalled, “Because we couldn’t buy a property for the business, I asked my family if I could use the garage for free and in return, I would clean the yard, pay for the telephone and the electricity bills, and even be their security guard.”
Striking a deal, Ren and Felici went full blast into operations within the area of a two-car garage. They started with only a few sheets of stainless steel, small welding and bending equipments, and a staff of four people.
Allied Metal’s first international client is another memorable story. They landed InterContinental Hotel in Makati City in just their fourth or fifth year in business.
According to Ren, the hotel’s foreign representative, an Australian, went to inspect their
“headquarters” after going into contract with Allied Metals. As the executive—an expert in industrial kitchens—looked around the garage, he wondered where the large equipments were to fulfill the hotel’s requirements.
Ever driven by a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Ren assured the client that would import a press break, inert cast welding machines, and sheers for cutting, among other such apparatus in order to produce a topnotch stainless steel kitchen.
When the client noted the lone worker bending stainless steel under a tamarind tree beside the garage, Ren proudly replied, “Now that’s what you can’t buy; a person’s skill.”
He continued, “We then started discussing the plans and I was able to deliver the hotel’s requirements since I had already learned everything about the specifications of international standards. So throughout the contract, whenever he asked me to do something, I just told him, ‘If you like it, then most definitely I can do it’.”
They sealed the deal with a handshake, and as soon as the Australian gave a 50-percent down payment, the Silayans imported all the equipment they needed for their first biggest account.
Delivering every promise he made, word of mouth and the quality work of Allied Metals landed the company contract after contract, and to this very day, they remain to be the first choice of almost all international brand hotels in Manila. In fact, their most recent and ongoing projects are within the three hotels of the new City of Dreams, namely Crown, Hyatt Manila, and Nobu.
Moreover, Allied Metals also services fast food chains with fast food giant Jollibee as one of its loyal clients.
“We’ve been making all their kitchens since their first restaurant,” informed Ren.
The company has also penetrated the stainless steel needs of hospitals, financial institutions, pharmaceuticals, resorts and clubs, educational institutions, and other commercial establishments.
Passing on the torch
After running the company for five decades, Ren and Felici are now currently enjoying their retirement. They have passed on the management of their beloved company to a new breed of leaders with their fresh ideas and broader horizons.
They are Kenneth Silayan Go, who is company president, and John Echauz, chairman of the board. According to Ren, John, his son in law, leans toward the “practical side” in making decisions, while his nephew Kenneth, is an expert in the “financial side.”
“I think they make a good combination. Bilib ako sa kanila [I have confidence in them],” he noted.
Asked about the involvement of their own children in Allied Metals, Ren simply replied, “They are stock owners but they are not interested [to run it]. I never forced them to take over.”
Backing up his husband, Felici added, “Nothing good ever results from imposing something on your children. They are all different, and they had different things they wanted to do. So we allowed them to pursue their dreams.”
The couple has a son who is a web developer, and a daughter who is a nutritionist.
As Allied Metals enters a new frontier with new leaders in its 50th year, the Silayans assured their clients that nothing will change in terms of quality and leadership.
“It will remain a fully Filipino-owned company, or as I like to describe it, indigenous to the Philippines,” Ren reiterated.
“Some people want to list in the Stock Exchange. But if we do that, we will lose control. Everybody there will be watching you,” Felici added.
“There will be more pressure; it’s not easy to run a company as it is, what more if somebody will always see something wrong in what you are doing?” Ren reasoned.
True enough, without the help of foreign and outside investors in the last five decades, the Silayans were able to grow Allied Metals into a multi-million company, which is now situated on a one-hectare property in Bulacan.
“It’s not a garage anymore! It’s so much bigger,” laughed Ren. “You will be proud of this plant.”
More importantly, in the midst of all this success, Allied Metals continues to ensure the company “takes care” of its people.
“Even if our people earn regularly, their money is just enough say when their wives have a
Caesarean birth, or someone in their family needs to undergo operation. And where will they go for help but to us?” the chairman emeritus related.
Understanding their people, many of whom have worked for Allied Metals for 30 years already, is what assures the Silayans of loyal and hardworking employees.
“Oftentimes, we don’t even expect them to pay us back because you should never do that when you choose to help others,” said Felici.
For Ren and Felici Silayan, their success is not only in building Allied Metals but more importantly, in the solid relationship they formed in the last 50 years.
Jokingly, Felici said their secret both in business and in marriage is this: “At Allied Metals, he’s the boss. Whatever decision he makes, I just follow. But at home, I am the boss.”
Complementing his ever-supportive wife, Ren said, “In the beginning, she didn’t know anything about running a business. She just boosted my moral and was always behind me. But today, she is so good at managing the company, and sometimes she’s even better than me.”
Now that they have chosen to slow down and enjoy retirement, the Silayans find themselves traveling the world to enjoy the fruits of their hard work.
“For you to travel, you need time, money and energy. So I told him, while we still have both, let’s do it and travel more,” ended Felici.