Property maverick sets the trend for branded living
Jose E.B. Antonio, the real estate titan redefining the Metro Manila skyline, could have chosen to carve out a niche in brash America. But the feisty Ermitaño – he grew up in a one-story house across Ermita Church in Ermita, Manila – refused to be “just a number.”
Instead, the founder and CEO of Century Properties Group Inc. stayed put in the Philippines and dug in, choosing to see boundless opportunity in a market that has offered both demanding challenge as well as exhilarating success.
The story of how Antonio, known as “Joey” by intimates and “Jeba” by colleagues, entered the property arena is one he has often recounted. “It was an industry I thought had a lot of potential,” he says, ensconced in the sleek library of the 56-story Trump Tower, the first media interview conducted in the company’s latest trophy building. “I did many things before I went full time into real estate. I thought it was an industry with a lot of potential.”
A voracious reader of business tomes, especially biographies of moguls and magnates, Antonio observes that “eight out of 10 made their mark in real estate.”
The commodity is so basic and so valuable, he explains. “It touches us from life to death. You’re born in a hospital – that’s real estate; you die and are buried in a cemetery – that’s real estate. The fact we’re a growing economy made it clear to me it was an industry that would be needed, and have room for people who wanted to innovate.”
Foreseeing gusty winds of change in consumer habits, especially with the onslaught of digital activity, now heightened by social media, Antonio and his Century Properties team decided to raise the bar. “Previously, people would put their disposable income in the bank, to save for that rainy day. Now, that’s being spent on travel; everyone wants to post a selfie on Facebook. It’s the nature of the beast.
“It’s this young, aspirational crowd, which we should focus on, which is our market. They’re influenced by world trends, one of which is mobility. But at some point, they’ll get married; at some point, they’ll buy a car; they’ll buy a house.”
Such reflection leads Antonio to remark on the Filipinos’ growing awareness and penchant for branded goods and services, including the space they aspire to occupy. “People like brands,” he says, pointing out that “when you buy real estate, you not only buy four walls but an address you are proud of, [where you can claim]bragging rights. And when you sell that property in the future, it increases in value because of the brand.”
Fitting in with the needs of “affluencers” (today’s speak for affluent influencers, made up of Millennials, Gen-Xers and Boomers, who are a trusted source of advice when purchasing goods and services), Century Properties struck up strategic alliances with global names such as Trump Organization, General Electric, Missoni Home, Versace Home, Paris Hilton, Daniel Libeskind, Armani Casa, Forbes and yoo inspired by Starck, injecting into an otherwise staid and traditional property landscape a large whiff of celebrity pizzaz.
Basic but beneficial
Selling prime real estate is just one of Antonio’s passions. He’s a big believer in the benefits of tourism and agriculture. “I’m bullish about both,” he says.
The company’s portfolio, which consists of the aforementioned gallery of branded residences, medical arts facilities in Ortigas and Makati City, with the addition of Centuria Medical Makati, the first one-stop, outpatient IT hub in the country in the fast-rising Century City along Kalayaan, Poblacion, Makati City, has been enhanced by another innovative concept by the group. Dubbed Batulao ArtEscapes that promises to be the “world’s first livable art park,” the project aims to create a community where people can escape the urban scrum and reside in a lush setting dotted with stimulating museum and visual hubs, among other amenities. “Batulao in Batangas is not too far from Manila,” says Antonio, “especially with Cavitex now being linked all the way to Batangas – travel time will be halved. Let’s give people their short getaways and a customer experience they’ve never experienced before.”
“Century Properties [is constantly changing]. We’re not the commodity type of provider.”
The company also boasts projects in Palawan, which will be capitalizing on the new international airport in the San Vicente area. The facility, Antonio believes, will help spike international visitor arrivals.
Despite the figure of an estimated 300 to 350,000 units produced by the industry annually, demand from the underserved still hovers close to four million units. To respond to this need, Century Properties recently launched its first home market category, PHirst Park Homes, in partnership with Mitsubishi Corporation. The new product line will cater to first-time homebuyers already planning to move out of rented apartments or their parents’ homes and searching for their dream abode.
Antonio was fortunate to start off married life with wife Hilda with a property gifted to him by his parents. His first investment in real estate was a house and lot in a Parañaque City subdivision, which he paid a monthly amortization on and took five years to complete.
“We believe that everybody should be given a chance to own his own house,” says Antonio. “A house represents your hard work paying off.”
The other industry that consumes his energy these days is agriculture, having gone into corn production “in a big way.” He observes: “We have so much land here and yet, we import rice and corn. Hello! We really should be promoting corporate farming, meaning a group that has the resources should capitalize the farms and employ people. Corporations here, however, can’t buy land because they are owned by many people, many of whom do not have the working capital to buy feed and fertilizers and set up irrigation.
“Agriculture is a basic industry because we have to feed 105 million people and growing every day. Tourism affects all types of people, including the tricyle driver, the waiter, the farmer, the translator, [everybody will earn]When tourism starts to grow, [everybody will benefit].”
Despite the Philippines’ raft of challenges, Antonio prefers to see things as the proverbial half full, instead of half empty. He established Century Properties in 1986 – a week before the Edsa uprising exploded. “I had to survive,” offering that as the reason he didn’t give up despite having to adapt to a country redefining itself. “I’ve always highlighted the fact that we’re a Filipino company,” he declares. “I’ve always been proud of my country. It’s the only one we have.
“When others were selling their properties and leaving, I believed that was the wrong move. We should start anew because here was where opportunities lay. As the saying goes: ‘When there is blood on the streets, buy!’’’
His ties to the Philippines are also rooted in strong personal bonds. “Family is here, and family to me is very important. I’m sentimental that way. No matter what glory or achievement you have, [if your family is in shambles]or there is no love, then those don’t matter.”
Joey and Hilda Antonio’s four sons Jigger, Robbie, Marco and Carlo, products of Ivy League schools, all hold important positions in Century Properties. Previously, the boys chalked up overseas working stints before returning to enter the company fold. Antonio’s brood absorbed their parent’s passion for the industry very early on, listening to him at the dinner table, telling them about his day of wheeling and dealing…of scoring projects. “I took them to open house events even as kids,” he beams. They are now responsible for different facets of operations and managing the growing portfolio.
Antonio’s father, Ramon Antonio Jr., even worked for the family firm after he retired from a bank. He was asked to assist in Century Property’s human resource department. “Better than him staying at home and doing nothing,” Antonio chuckles. Today at 91, he remains hale and hearty.
For Boardroom Watch’s portrait session, the photographer positions Antonio against the dramatic backdrop of his towers soaring rapidly in Makati’s Century City, a testimony to the hard work and meticulous planning that went into constructing them.
Antonio muses: “There have been frustrations along the way, deals that didn’t push through – that’s part of life, and I’m philosophical about them. If you are not ready for the challenges, then you’re not ready for success.”
A point of view, we’re certain, most seasoned mavericks would heartily agree with.
- THE ART OF THE SALE
Everybody is a salesman, including your professor who is selling an ideology; the Pope who is selling religion and the journalist who is selling a proposition. Everyone sells – iba iba lang ang product or service.
- You have to believe in what you’re selling. You can’t fake it. If you don’t like what you’re selling or are doing it just to earn a living, it will show.
- You have to be passionate about what you sell.
- Deals that didn’t go through are a part of life. It’s frustrating, but I’m philosophical about these things. If you are not ready for challenges, then you are not ready for success.