By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
At her age and stature, Alegria S. Limjoco more popularly known as “Bing,” could have just go about her leisurely pleasures, but she cannot. The call for her to pursue what she does best – helping startups – was too compelling for her to ignore.
Limjoco is the new president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), the country’s largest business organization, earning her the distinction as one of only two women presidents to have run the country’s voice of business.
“My doctor told me ‘you don’t need this stress’,” says Limjoco when she consulted his physician and even his family, who resisted the idea of her leading the highest post at the PCCI.
Throwing all cautions to the air, Limjoco hit the ground running. Over the past few weeks, she requested fellow board members for inputs and guidance to develop a work plan that will build on the accomplishments of the previous leaderships. She revived the old practice of conducting a strategic planning.
“The goal was to create a plan that would outline our mission and vision for PCCI’s continued growth and sustainability and for smooth implementation of projects,” says Limjoco, who used to serve as PCCI Director.
To avoid unnecessary stress, Limjoco said she would also defer to the Board for position on certain issues of national interest.
All she wanted is continuity of the PCCI leadership. She noticed that one reason good projects do not get implemented in any organization or even in government when new leadership takes over is the lack of continuity. Every administration would like to start new and unwilling to pick on what had been started even if the past programs are really good.
Limjoco is not just concerned about continuity of project implementation, but also succession at PCCI. She would like to ensure sustainability of the organization. Thus, she vowed to cultivate and nurture new and young leaders to succeed PCCI’s leadership.
In this case, she cited her predecessor George Barcelon for the creating and leading the committee on Youth, Services and ICT. She cited the need to nurture the youth, who have great ideas on the new ways of doing business in the digital age.
“We really prepared for the next generation, who will be the next presidents. When you see qualities in them, develop them to become future leaders,” says Limjoco. She saw a number of potential leaders at PCCI.
“We can always be there as advisers, we just have to guide them and they listen to the advisers,” adds Limjoco, noting the need to listen to the wisdom of the senior leaders.
“I cannot disregard them, I like continuity,” stresses Limjoco.
For her reign, the lady leader would like to continue what her predecessor had started. Barcelon came up with GIANT Steps program with emphasis on micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). That should be an opportunity for Limjoco to follow through.
Building on what Barcelon has started, Limjoco said her term would be marked by an overarching goal towards prosperity. It will take off from GIANT Steps to Prosperity. The term PROSPERITY should stand for these big words: Promoting Sustainable Entrepreneurial Resilience Industrialization and Tech-Ready Economy.
To leap into prosperity, Limjoco will highlight the development and promotion of MSMEs that Barcelon started, but still need to be pursued further as she believes that entrepreneurship is key toward inclusive growth especially for those in the countryside.
There are issues, particularly funding, for MSMEs that need to be further ironed out as she noted that government financing may not be enough and can be difficult at times.
She is looking at how the Internet can help the MSMEs break into the digital world for their small business ventures. Limjoco noted that PLDT VOYAGER alone as much as 5,000 online businesses already.
Of course, she will continue to pursue the promotion of franchising, an industry that looks up to her as their foremost mentor. Limjoco serves as chair of the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA) and at one time as CEO of Francorp Philippines, the country’s foremost developer and consultancy firm for franchising concepts.
As the mother of Philippine franchising, Limjoco was the first Filipino and first Asian to earn the Certified Franchise Executive (CFE), a mini-MBA on Franchise Management at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, USA, and at the Asian Institute of Management, both accredited by the Institute of Certified Franchise Executives (ICFE) of the US-based International Franchise Association (IFA).
Over the years, Limjoco has represented the PFA in various international franchise events including the World Franchise Council (WFC) and Asia Pacific Franchise Confederation (APFC) Meetings, as well as various international franchise shows in the US, Europe, and Asia.
But as she becomes president of PCCI, Limjoco is conscious that she cannot just be the mouthpiece of franchising, but for all other business models.
Limjoco, however, is more than willing to share what she has learned from franchising as a stepping stone for the small enterprises although she would like to emphasize that the foundation for a good business is to know about financing and how to handle it properly.
“Whatever business model you are going to use, you have to see the big picture because some when they see money coming in, they would lose focus,” she adds. Thus, she also emphasized on closely working with the MSMEs through constant follow ups.
Limjoco, who started from the Philippine Retailing Association, and on to the PFA has been mobilizing these associations to develop new entrepreneurs and discover new concepts that are now successful in the market.
She also cited a more proactive government through the Department of Trade and Industry in helping businesses, like the reduced steps in the filing of business applications and permitting from 15 steps to 3 in certain areas.
With all these goals, Limjoco seeks to strengthen the potentials of PCCI’s local chambers as catalyst for entrepreneurship in the countryside. She intends to highlight the role of the local chambers to have more active role in the PCCI’s overall network since they are the face of the organization in the provinces.
“I really would like the regional chambers to work and perform so I asked them to submit work program after planning because we have to be more proactive. If you come to me with a problem, please also come up with a solution,” adds Limjoco, who loves delegating her work to the Board members.
PCCI has 130 chapters all over the country and 119 industry association members. It has also some 2,000 direct members that together could reach a total of 35,000 members.
“This is what we want to intensify so why not work together because like the ‘walis tingting’ we can achieve more if we are together,” says Limjoco.
Already, PCCI will hold its Area Business Conference North Luzon in San Fernando, Pampanga. The choice of San Fernando is a strong pitch for the Northern Luzon businessmen to claim that their time as an economic power has finally come. They have the investors, investors and access to the northern part of Luzon.
“Most of the regions are positive,” says Limjoco. Businessmen have proposed for the creation of one stop shop center where MSMEs can file their application without having to shuttle from one government office to another.
“We should not make doing business difficult and costly for our micro and small businesses,” she adds.
Aside from its local network, PCCI can also harness its 55 business councils where they have counterpart from different countries to help discover the Philippines as a new investment destination. The PCCI Business Council committee is headed by chairman emeritus Francis Chua.
PCCI will also strengthen partnership with their 119 industry association members to help in the government’s K-12 education system.
Already, they have started with the easier track which is in the retailing sector through the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA). PRA members have been cooperating to provide the required minimum on the-job-training of 80 hours for the Grade 12 students.
“We tie-up with schools for retailing, which is simple and definitely the minimum of 80 hours exposure would be just enough, but those already in the technical vocational courses like furniture making, 80 hours of internship will not suffice,” she adds.
Thus, she would push for immersion program for new entrepreneurs. She remembered that when she was sent to the US by her father for apprenticeship at Barnes and Noble, the famous bookstore brand in the US, it was an eye opener for her. Her father saw how hard she worked over there because there was no one to run to, she has to fend for herself.
“There are things that one cannot learn from school, but the realities in life are best seen when you work with other employees, how do you see yourself there,” she adds.
PCCI will also tie up with the Department of Agriculture and Department of Science and Technology to help in the product development and packaging of products.
PCCI would ensure startups will be provided with the needed support to improve their capabilities. There will be free seminars to new entrants in business.
She vowed of equal chance for startups noting that mostly those from Metro Manila have the upper hand to be featured, but there are also successful startups in the provinces that are worthy of recognition.
“These provincial startups have not been recognized, we want to discover them so they will further bloom,” she adds.
Among the chambers, she cited the Negros Oriental Chamber of Commerce and Industry led by Edward Du for their efforts to provide internet service to schools in the 4th and 5th municipalities.
In the franchising sector, Limjoco said they have been conducting free seminars to encourage those planning to enter into business to go for franchising, the fastest way to set up a business and a proven successful business model.
“We cannot do this overnight, this is not shotgun, but we can start planting the seeds now,” he adds. She particularly cited Oryspa, which has gained prominence overseas because of its authentic natural oils extracted from rice. There is also the Generics Pharmacy that bloomed to a thousand outlets. These are just a few examples of startups that made it to become big industry players.
Having been in the business and actively involved in the PCCI, PRA and the franchising sector, Limjoco was sort of groomed to someday head the country’s largest business organization. Although she did not actively campaign for the post, Limjoco was just riding with the flow.
“Honestly, no,” says Limjoco when asked if she expects to get the PCCI top post. But she noted: “They said and really saw I was able to help the micro grow and all that, and being the one who can really help PCCI to go to the bottom of the pyramid.”
Limjoco now stands as the second of only two women presidents of this mostly men-dominated organization, the first being Noemi Saludo.
“Whether I become president or not because there is also resistance from my family, I offer everything to the Lord,” she says. The only thing she was certain though was that if she gets the position, “I must really perform well.”
More importantly, she will work to ensure the sustainability of the organization. She cited how the PRA and PFA became sustainable as an organization. Similarly, she said, PFA became a force in the franchising sector not just locally but in the international scene. Before, the local industry had to beg for presence from the government as it strives for relevance during their early years.
“Now, it has ripened, we grow it and pray for it,” adds Limjoco.
Most of all, Limjoco feels the need to help PCCI because it has a mandate and a nationwide network that no other organization can claim.
“Other organizations can claim regional presence, maybe small here and there, but we are all over with grassroots presence, so there is a need to guide this network because this is potent in bringing change in the countryside. I feel I can be that someone,” she adds.
There are also some PCCI local chambers whose management needed some strengthening and to become more relevant in their own areas.
“We have to move forward, we have to work together,” she adds.
Considering this is already the peak of her career, Limjoco sees it as her time to give back.
“Really, it is for me to share whatever I’ve learned that’s all, to God be the glory because if you have it then share it with others,” she adds. The Sibal family though has long been involved in charitable works with the Phoenix Foundation, which her mother founded for relief efforts for schools and churches.
Limjoco comes from an affluent family, who owned the famous Alemars Bookstore. Although Alemars had long been gone, the family’s book publishing business Central Books is still growing. It publishes law books primarily on demand. His late father was doctor of laws.
The middle child, fifth in a brood of 9, Limjoco was never spared from the discipline of his lawyer father, who taught them the regimen and rigidity of business at an early age.
“While my classmates can sleep long hours on Saturdays, we have to wake up early to help run the store. So, I am always an early riser,” says Limjoco.
“We are trained and disciplined, not rich. Our parents worked so hard,” says Limjoco, who grew up missing their parents because they were always busy running the business. Learning from this experience, they decided to shift into the publishing of law books. They have also established Phoenix Publishing.
At this stage, Limjoco can no longer ask for more, but feels she has so much to give. In fact, her most important lesson in life is “It is really better to give than to receive, better to share.”
That is why she finds fulfillment in helping the micro and small businesses grow under her eyes. “It is something money cannot buy,” she says.
She does not look forward to retirement. For as long as she can help others grow, maybe not within PCCI or wherever, she would like to go on.
Her nurturing nature has earned her the accolade as the mother of franchising in the Philippines.
“To those that I helped grow, I was like a mother to them because wherever they are, I coach them. I am like the cheerleader, telling them you have to do this. Give them the confidence they know they have, but are afraid to show it, so somebody needs to push them,” she adds.
Acknowledged for her vast contributions in franchising and other businesses, Limjoco has been conferred numerous recognitions, including Go Negosyo’s Filipina Starpreneur in the Enterprise Enabler Category from the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship (PCE) and one of the “10 Most Influential Filipinas” by the Female Network. She has also been recognized as a Pillar of Philippine Franchising and as the Woman Icon of Franchising by the Franchise Excellence Awards (FEA). Recently, she received the International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award in Redmond, Washington, USA and the Teresa’s Achievement Award in Business and Technology by her alma mater, Saint Theresa’s College of Quezon City.
Despite a seemingly noisy political scene, Limjoco was optimistic describing the local economy of growing from “good to great.”
“With the Golden Age of Infrastructure, then comes the Golden Age of Entrepreneurs,” she adds stressing that small startups will not only think of looking for a job but of creating jobs for others.
“I am gung-ho this time because the big push in infrastructure is helping a lot in creating more economic activities that is why we are running out of workers,” she adds.
Aside from domestic growth, Limjoco also sees the ASEAN region with 650 million strong consumer population as a big opportunity for Filipino businesses. “Whenever I go abroad, people start to consider you as ASEAN not Pinoy anymore because we are now one in ASEAN,” she adds.
With the economic recession in the US and Europe, she said, Asia is now the force to reckon with and at the center of Asia is ASEAN where the Philippines is the fastest growing member country.
“Since 2015, the Philippines was already in the sweet spot. You add the right economic fundamentals in place and we have an economy that is growing from good to great. We are the rising star in Asia and we are yet to maximize our potential,” she adds.
“It is time for business and it is time to think about being an entrepreneur because we cannot just be standing idly by. We have to partake of this growth in whatever way,” she adds.
Aside from her dad, she looks up to her Kumadre Tessie Sy-Coson of the SM Group for her iron fist in spearheading the transformation of the family’s business empire. On the side, Coson also leads the Asean Business Advisory Council, making Limjoco wonder how she was able to balance her life.
Limjoco has been brought up to be a good Catholic, reared by nuns in an all-girls school.
“I start the day with a prayer or mass so what I do is start the day with the Lord,” says Limjoco, who pursued this habit after finishing college at Saint Theresa’s College where students hear mass every single day of school.
Wonder what she prayed for? She prays that whatever problems that come her way that day, there is nothing she fears because she will be guided properly.