Fourteen years after the University of San Carlos bestowed an honorary doctorate in Business and Enterprise Development on John L. Gokongwei Jr., the Cebu-based institution has again honored JG Summit Holdings’ founder and chairman emeritus.
University officials led by USC President Fr. Dionisio Miranda, SVD, and USC Alumni Association Chairman Ronald Po presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. John at the first Grand Reunion for Alumni Champions of the University of San Carlos held on October 18, 2018, at the Summit Galleria Cebu hotel, .
What a life it's been for Mr. John, now 92 years old!
His arc has been described as a twist on the classic rags to riches tale, as Mr. John began his life born to privilege.
However, a variety of circumstances pushed his family to lose everything, forcing the then-13-year old John Gokongwei, Jr. to rely on his wits, intelligence, hard work, and perseverance to pull himself and his family out of despair, molding him into the man that he is today.
After the university presented Mr. John with the Lifetime Achievement Award, given “For a lifetime, fully lived, of invaluable contributions that addressed the needs of local, national, regional, and global communities, and for having deeply touched, empowered, and transformed the lives of others through a legacy of entrepreneurship and education,” a commissioned portrait of Mr. John was unveiled. Then, it was time for the man of the hour to speak.
Addressing school officials, fellow alumni, close friends and family members, Mr. John began his brief yet inspiring acceptance speech by showing his deep appreciation for his hometown and his alma mater.
“I flew this morning on the airline I named after the city I love, Cebu Pacific. I went to school here at the University of San Carlos for my primary and high school. I was valedictorian in grade school and I was number one in high school and because of that, I received free tuition in school. I thank the school for that,” he said with gratitude.
Displaying his still sharp memory, Mr. John then shared a recollection from his younger academic years, back when the school was still known as Colegio de San Carlos, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
I especially remember Fr. Smith, who was the disciplinarian, because one day he caught me running in front of his office, and I had to stand in the corner for one hour,” said Mr John, providing a rare glimpse of his mischievous side.
Mirroring his own life, the speech then grew serious.
“When I was 13 years old, my father died, leaving me to take care of my mother, my brother and my sister. At the time, my youngest brother James was only nine months old. I took care of them all because the family has always been my priority,” he said.
As life’s twists forced him to drop out of school, Mr John honed his entrepreneurial skills, first by selling peanuts from his backyard, then by becoming a peddler at the market. Along the way, he also developed his legendary toughness and resilience.
“It was here in Cebu that I earned my first few pesos. I always used to wake up before dawn to ride my bicycle to the public market many kilometers away. I set up a little table in the market to sell spools of thread, bars of soap, and candles,” he said. “I earned about 20 pesos a day by working longer and harder than everyone else, but it didn’t matter because I really loved my work. I loved being an entrepreneur.”
Using himself as an example, he proved that it’s never too late to learn and that you are never too old to be working—as long as you have the passion for it.
“Today, I am 92 years old. I still wake up early and I still love what I am doing. I still know everything that is going on in my company,” said Mr John. “I still love to learn and I’m always reading books, and now, online stories in this digital age. I always tell my children, my grandchildren, and my colleagues: Love your work, Work hard at it. Love your family. Love your country, never stop learning, and always look back and be grateful to where you came from.”
From a precocious, intelligent child to one of Asia’s most admired businessmen, it’s a lifetime achievement definitely worth celebrating.
SPEECH OF JOHN GOKONGWEI, JR. AT UNIVERSITY OF SAN CARLOS, CEBU. OCTOBER 17, 2018
FR. DIONISIO MIRANAD, DR. JESUS ALCORDO
"It’s always special to be back here in Cebu, my hometown.
And it is extra special to be here at my Alma Mater, University of San Carlos.
I flew here this morning on the airline I named after this city I love, Cebu Pacific.
I went to school here at the University of San Carlos for my primary school and my high school. I was
valedictorian in grade school, and I was number one in my class in high school. Because of that, I
received free tuition at school.
I remember Fr. GRIES who taught us English Literature, and Mr. Quibilan, the principal. I especially
remember Fr. Smith, who was the disciplinarian, because one day he caught me running in front of his
office, and I had to stand in the corner for one hour.
When I was 13 years old, my father died, leaving me to take care of my mother, my four brothers, and
my sister. At the time, my youngest brother, James, was only nine months old. I took care of them all.
Because the family has always been my priority.
It was here in Cebu that I first earned my first few pesos. I used to wake up way before dawn to ride my
bicycle to the public market many kilometers away.
I set up a little table at the market to sell spools of thread, bars of soap, and candles. I earned about
twenty pesos a day by working longer and harder than everybody else. But it didn’t matter since I really
loved my work. I loved being an ENTREPRENEUR.
And so all through the years, I stayed as an entrepreneur, loving what I did and working hard. And
always learning from the school of life.
Years later, when I was married to my lovely wife Bia, and had six children of my own, I finally had the
means to go back to school. I went to De La Salle University to get my MBA. It took me four years since I
was a working student. When I got my diploma it was one of the proudest moments of my life. Then I
went to Harvard in 1972 for 14 weeks to take the advance management program.
Today, I am 92 years old. I still wake up early and I still love to do what I’m doing. I still know everything
what is going on in my company. I still love to learn and am always reading books, and now, online
stories in this new digital age. I always tell my children, my grandchildren, and my colleagues: Love your
work. Work hard for it. Love your family. Love your country. Never stop learning.
And always look back and be grateful to where you came from. Thank you, University of San Carlos, for
being a large part of who I am today. Thank you for this lifetime achievement award."