The natural

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Edgar ‘Injap’ Sia II
Chairman, Double Dragon Properties Corp.

 

I couldn’t help it. I just had to ask billionaire boy wonder Edgar “Injap” Sia II how he maintained his perfect flat top haircut.

A must-do weekly trip to the barber, he says.

With all that moolah – earned from the fabulous deal which handed his popular Mang Inasal chain over to Jollibee Corporation for a 70 percent share in 2012 for P3 billion, followed by the remaining stake in 2016 for P2 billion – Sia could very well saunter into a posh parlor and have himself restyled. But no, the promdi (colloquial shortcut for someone “from the province,” a bumpkin) is proud of his Ilonggo upbringing, counting Iloilo where he was born and Roxas City where he was raised as twin fulcrums in a very eventful life.

Even his distinctive nickname “Injap,” a cute pairing of his parents’ heritage of being a mix of intsik (father) and Japanese (mother), has a folksy connotation.


Proudly promdi
Relying on roots has become even more essential to Sia in his latest venture as captain of a real estate concern that is already among the top five listed property companies in the Philippine Stock Exchange in terms of market capitalization. Most of the developments of DoubleDragon Properties Corp. (DD), which he launched, along with Jollibee founder Tony Tan Caktiong, are mostly centered around tertiary (tier 3) cities. The compelling vision is to acquire 1.2 million square meters of leasable space by 2020, with 700,000 square meters of leasable space provided from the rollout of 100 community malls under DD subsidiary CityMall. More leasable space will come from 300,000 square meters of leasable space from two office projects, DD Meridian Park in the Bay Area and Jollibee Tower in Ortigas CBD; 100,000 square meters of leasable space from its hospitality arm reflecting 5,000 rooms under the brands Hotel 101 and Jinjiang Inn Phils.; and 100,000 square meters of leasable space from CentralHub, an industrial complex suitable as a warehouse, commissary, cold storage, light manufacturing plant or logistics distribution facility.

“We are focusing on tier 3 cities, which are still untapped,” the amiable Sia explains as feverish construction takes place around the cool confines of DD headquarter’s boardroom near the Mall of Asia. “For the past decade, the big (mall) players have been focused on the Tier 1 and 2 cities. The market is now saturated, and that’s where we saw an opportunity and that’s why it’s crucial for our mall projects to be in tier 3 cities. We want to provide a platform for retailers who are keen to come into those places.

“In due time, the big players will also want to expand there.”

With pioneering on the company’s mind, a CityMall has been often the first modern shopping facility to arrive in the neighborhood, which has still to experience the likes of behemoths SM or Robinsons. Each follows a cookie-cutter pattern consisting of a single floor studded with shops offering services that don’t repeat each other. “One bank, one supermarket, one bookstore, one pharmacy, one optical,” reports Sia, the frustrated architect, who with his team planned the layout to be as simple and efficient as possible. “The malls are flat because in the province, building another floor costs more than the price of the land!”

As of November 8, there were 25 CityMalls across the country, from Aparri down to the latest in Koronadal, South Cotabato, which opened on that day. In fact, Sia had just flown in from Mindanao to make it for the interview with Boardroom Watch. According to him, 26 more are in the works, and the goal is to have 100 operating CityMalls by 2020.

Sia adds that their buildings are designed to be environmentally attuned, equipped with solar panels and rainwater harvesting fixtures.

Being the country cousin in the Big Boys club was never an issue for Sia. “I’m comfortable with it (being regarded as probinsyano). It’s natural. I was shaped there in two provincial cities. They’re part of me.”

Local advantage
There are pros and cons of being the outsider, of course, he muses. He only laid eyes on Manila in 1989 during a family vacation to the big city, which also marked his first airplane ride. The Sias stayed at First Hotel in Binondo, had a meal at Jollibee SM North Edsa, after which Sia, then 12, and his younger brother Ferdinand, 10, did the obligatory pose with the Bee mascot at the entrance. Says Sia: “Little did I know that when I turned 33 I would be a partner to Jollibee.” He only visited Manila sporadically since that fateful trip and finally moved to the capital with wife Sheila and two sons Edgar 3rd and John Henry seven years ago upon the inception of DoubleDragon. Daughter Elisa Stephanie was born in Manila.

While the businessman never felt discriminated against by the older and and more established tycoons, he still experienced “not being familiar with how things are done in Manila.”

“Everyone is at ease with the place, and you’re a newbie. In Manila everything goes faster.”

Over time, Sia found his bearings and discovered that business practices were almost similar to what he was used to in Iloilo. He even learned to express himself more volubly. The Sia, we see projecting himself to us today, is that of a soft-spoken, but straightforward individual, propelled by purposeful ambition.

“Unlike 20 years ago, there was enough growth and expansion in the first and second-tier cities. Now the opportunities are outside of those. This is where the promdi advantage comes in…we’re more familiar with the terrain, the market demographics, how the locals think.

“Your understanding of the market is on a deeper level and you know what gaps that have to be filled.”

Carefully thought out
“Understanding” is a word that intensely permeates Sia’s stream of consciousness. Without it, he could not have attained the incredible success of his barbecue chicken brand, Mang Inasal (English for “Mr. Chicken”), nor of the rapid blooming of his CityMall concept.

He says: “Understanding is key. It’s the core of all your actions. From there, you move on, depending on your strategy.

“If I embark on something, I make sure I understand all the nuts and bolts of the project. I read…I ask around. I have to have all the information that I need. If I don’t have the whole picture, how can I make a decision?

“When the picture is complete, that’s when I make my decision.”

Such prudence and level-headedness is well known to Sia’s family and intimates. When he needed an initial capital of P2.4 million to fund his barbecue chicken chain, he sought help from his father, fully prepared with facts and figures, including even the layout of the outlets. All the senior Sia asked was: “What is the name of your business and how many letters does it have?”

The son beams: “My parents saw how I grew up. They know how I think. They know that I don’t embark on things that I’ve not carefully understood. When I go forward, it’s after I’ve thought over things thoroughly.”

Observation is another trait that Sia also believes is another vital ingredient to success. As a youngster of eight, he was put to work in his parents Edgar 1st and Pacita Sia’s grocery in Roxas City repacking candies and sealing each bag of 100 sweets with hot candle wax. While engaged, the boy’s mind was tossing about ways of how to hasten the tedious task. He finally suggested to his elders to invest in an electric sealer for plastic bags. They did and that “tweak,” as he decribes it, improved their small operations.

In Bali, Sia with son John Henry, wife Shella, son Edgar 3rd and daughter Elisa; With sister Mariz, mom, dad and brother Ferdinand

Promoted eventually to cashier, he pitted himself against the other, much older cashiers, to see how much faster he could process the customers. He recalls anticipating the change he would hand over to them by preparing it as the person would be reaching for his or her wallet.

His DD partner Tony Tan Caktiong, Jollibee’s founder, recalls being told that once Sia’s father went away on a trip, leaving his 14-year-old in charge of the store. The precocious future mogul noticed the construction going on around his neighborhood, and decided that a boom was upon them. He quickly stocked up on cement, surprising his father upon his return with a shop redesigned to accommodate the new inventory and their sales proceeding at a brisk clip.

More of Sia’s insights are available in his appealing book Life Principles, which sums up the man in his own words. It’s unputdownable, thanks to the bullet point listings, concise storytelling and funny anecdotes of his way to the top. Especially the episode about his joining a texting contest to win a brand new car – hilarious! And yes, he did win the grand prize.

In typical Injap style, he didn’t keep the vehicle, although he did very much want to. He sold it to fund other priorities.

Practicality. Sacrifice. Grit. The marks of success.

This dragon is ready to roar.

***

LIFE ACCORDING TO INJAP
They say you can’t argue with success, and why would you when the advice comes from someone who reached the peak early in the game, and means to stay there.

  • Look at things one notch deeper, analyze the situation and approach it from different angles.
  • Being afraid to fail shouldn’t stop you – you can get over your fear, and once you do, your life will change.
  • Your mission in business should be to create a positive impact that will uplift others.
  • Before entering a new industry, ask yourself: is it something that aligns with your natural inclinations? Are there windows of opportunity for me?
  • You don’t have to be very rich to help others. You can give away a certain amount depending on your capacity so you can remain healthy and keep helping.

Snippets derived from Life Principles by Injap Sia with Kristine Fonacier

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