They say a man is driven by his passions in life— be it in work, sports, home or even hobbies. Often success comes when one is able to juggle a healthy balance between his passions and his work. This could very well be the life story of lawyer Dominador “Jimmy” Buhain, the indefatigable chairman and president of the Rex Group of Companies.
The first thing one notices as you enter into Buhain’s lavish home is that it looks more like a showroom-cum-museum bursting with his diverse and eclectic collection. Outside, a huge number of luxury and sports cars line up his driveway. As we enter the house and tried to gingerly navigate the jam-packed hallway of his abode, we were at once greeted with the warm gentle smile of the patriarch of Rex Bookstore and its many subsidiaries, who was instantly profuse with apologies posed by the difficulty in navigating through his personal collection.
“These are mostly mementos from my many travels,” he explained, and judging from the way the “souvenirs” have occupied almost all of his house’s available space including the ceilings, one could tell that he indeed liked to travel a lot.
As we finally sat down for the interview, he said that his life is mostly into books, printing, education and of course, travel. His interests he explains is borne out of his childhood impressions and the burning desire to be able to reach his goals. His family’s enterprise, Rex Bookstore is one of the oldest bookstores in the Philippines. It was established in 1950, when his parents started out by importing books from foreign publishers for local distribution. They put up shop in Azcarraga Street, Manila which is now known as Claro M. Recto Avenue. Barely a year later, they ventured into publishing law books. Buhain said that shortly after establishing their business, his biological father died. At that time, he was only 9 years old.
His mother Jovita eventually remarried to Juanito Fontelera, who also owned a bookstore called New Republic Book Store and who also happened to be their neighbor in Azcarraga. Soon after, their stores merged, which also signaled the start of the expansion into what we know now as Rex Bookstore.
Buhain said that he did not immediately work for his family’s business after school. “I first tried working in banks for two years. But I felt that although I was wearing a necktie, my job was not really challenging enough. So I decided to work for my family’s business full-time,” he added. Buhain started out as a salesman for their bookstore, he said, where he soon encountered his family’s major setback in business. In 1969, there was a huge fire which razed their bookstore to the ground. It was his first real challenge, he said, because he, along with his parents had to start again from scratch. For his part, he worked double time trying to sell their original publications and went throughout the country doing so.
Rising again from the ashes
With hard work, faith and sheer determination, they were soon able to turn their business around. By the mid-70s, they were able to get government orders for textbooks, they put up their own printing company, printed more law books and their Rex book store branches grew. Today, Rex Bookstore has 26 branches all over the country. It has published almost ten thousand books ranging from pre-elementary to post collegiate, including law titles, where 45percent is still considered active. The company had also spawned a number of subsidiaries that dealt with properties, foundations, and more recently into digital publishing, where they are currently partnered with some of the country’s best schools to develop the e-books learning concept.
Buhain remembers way back when he was still a junior marketing executive for their company, he also dealt with a lot of people from government who were always asking for numerous papers and forms that needed to be accomplished and sometimes, they were asking for things he said he wasn’t quite sure of and this became his inspiration to study law.
His hard work and invaluable contribution to the industry also earned him the admiration of his peers. He is the president emeritus of the Philippine Educational Publishers Association (PEPA), where they fought to break the then government monopoly of the publication and supply of elementary and secondary textbooks. This led to legislation of several policies, including the Republic Act 8047 or the Book Publishing Industry Development Act. He is also the honorary chair of the Asia Pacific Publishers, at the same time serving in various capacities of numerous other publishing organizations.
Amidst all his achievements, the one thing that stands out in his personality is his love for travel. “I started with my passion for travel at the age of 21, when my parents brought me to Japan and Hong Kong. I picked up a few mementos along the way and I figured I was going to bring home something from each country I visited.” He is currently a member of the Los Angeles-based Travel Century Club, which is an exclusive club where the requirement to become a member is for one to have traveled to at least 100 countries. With a chuckle, he said that he exceeded the requirement, having been to 215 countries to date.
As for his huge personal collection accumulated from his travels, he said that he has built a museum in Marikina City to house some artifacts coming all over the Philippines. He is also building a showroom in his place in Cavite and still another in Quezon City. But with the sheer size of his collection, we told him he might need to build a high-rise to be able to house all of them comfortably. The soft-spoken chairman let out a crisp laughter and said that ironically, his children are quite minimalists. “But they let me be, because they know that these small things make me happy.”