It has long been believed that how a person turns out in adulthood has a lot to do with how one is raised as a child. For William Llamas Jr., founder and business development manager of Willion Health, his exposure to the medical field and charitable endeavors early in life have inspired him to build a company geared at helping others.
Llamas recalled to The Sunday Times Magazine how amazed he was to see his uncle—a doctor—at work as a small boy.
“I really wanted to be a doctor when I was younger and my idol while growing up was my uncle who headed the Philippine Medical Association for the longest time. He is now administrator of the Chinese General Hospital,” he related.
“Back then, I thought of him as Superman. I would see him with kids and patients at the hospital and would tell myself that he’s so good because he treated them and made them better.”
However, fate prepared a different course for Llamas whom his father encouraged to pursue business. “My dad advised me to go into the business side of medicine, which he had started. I remember him saying, ‘If you can be in the health business, you can still help other people get better. That day, I was convinced.”
A dutiful son, Llamas took up Business Administration at De La Salle University, and immediately helped the family grow their business in pharmaceuticals. He also took up Marketing abroad at New York University to further hone his skills.
After a decade of working with his dad, Llamas decided of heading venturing out on his own in the same field, but with a different concept.
“Just like anybody else, it also became my dream to have my own baby—a company where I can do what I really wanted to do from the very start,” Llamas stated.
Founded on charity
For Llamas, his goal for Willion Health—the nutraceutical division of the family’s 30-year-old family business
Meyers Pharmaceuticals—when it started seven years ago was clear: To help Filipinos lead healthier lives.
“When we started Willion Health, it really was an advocacy, a non-profit company. We didn’t have a product to offer at that time but we worked with many government agencies around the country and were fortunate to serve our countrymen, especially in depressed areas,” Llamas shared.
Among the first projects he and his team mounted was the Oplan Iwas Breast Cancer where they distributed self-breast cancer examination kits to women, especially in the provinces and secluded barrios, to detect breast cancer in its early stages.
Thereafter, they launched Oplan CPR 24/7, a campaign to empower and educate Filipinos to be rescuers. For this, they conducted cardiopulmonary resuscitation seminars and produced informational materials translated from English to Filipino, and other vernaculars including Ilocano, Ilonggo and Bisaya, among others.
Llamas has been hands-on in all these endeavors despite many other endeavors, including serving as consultant for the family business and as one of the “brothers” in Wilbros, a successful events production company.
He would do everything from the legwork to the paperwork for all of Willion’s projects, flying back and forth to different parts of the country, or basically, wherever he sees an opportunity to help.
For the young philanthropist, his hard work outweighs the rewards he gets from his “job.”
“When you meet people, common folk and mag-papasalamt sila sa iyo, that in itself is so rewarding already,” Llamas noted.
These simple gestures in fact inspired Llamas to take his advocacy another step further.
“My exposure allowed me to recognized what Filipinos lack when it comes to taking care of their health—first is information and second is access to medicine, especially in the far-flung areas. The situation inspired me to think of products to bring to them and the Filipino public in general.”
Thus, was born Willion Health’s new goal to provide innovative health products that address specific health concerns of Filipinos.
Llamas quickly zoomed in on one of the top concerns of Filipinos—heart health.
“We thought why not start with the heart? It’s the center of our body and one of the major concerns of Filipinos,” he explained.
Referring to information gathered by his team, Llamas noted how 50 million people die of cardiovascular diseases each year around the world, with one in three adults suffering from high blood pressure. In the Philippines, the number is still overwhelming at 200,000 deaths per year since 1990.
On a personal note, Llamas shared how his grandfather James died of a heart attack on his first birthday.
“I was the first and only apo he saw,” he added. “He is also an inspiration in my work in the sense that I hope to help more Filipinos lead healthier lives so their families will not lose loved ones prematurely.”
Eventually, Llamas found what he was looking for in Cardiobes, a three-in-one heart supplement rich in Omega-3 (from salmon oil), lycopene (from tomatoes) and CoQ10 (energy booster) as an effective supplement from Norway to promote heart health.
“Based on my exposure in the health industry, I learned that fish oil is one of the best products that’s good for the heart. It’s safe and well known. Fish oil has been popular among Filipinos too for so many years already so it’s just a matter of bringing the best one to offer in the local market,” he noted.
With this product, Llamas hopes to strike two birds with one stone. The first is to provide a supplement for Filipinos to help them achieve healthier hearts.
“It’s really important that we take care of the heart. A lot of us know it’s important to do so but we tend to put it aside. Unfortunately, heart attacks strike when you least expect it.”
Secondly, Llamas wants to reach out, once more, to a different segment of indigent Filipinos: senior citizens who are the most at risk for heart attacks. Already, his team at Willion Health is organizing projects for the elderly sector to add to the company’s social responsibility programs.
Only in his early 40s, William Llamas is bent on helping as many people as he can through his business.
“Like they say, ‘Why wait until you get old to give back?’ I hold on to that principle, adding to it, give back while you can and when you can. I believe it’s better to start giving back when you’re young so that you can help as many people as you can,” he ended.