Filipino tycoon John Gokongwei dies at 93

Founder John Gokongwei of conglomerate JG Summit Holdings appreciated the values of thrift and hard work, said his son.
Founder John Gokongwei of conglomerate JG Summit Holdings appreciated the values of thrift and hard work, said his son.

Filipino tycoon John Gokongwei, who built a sprawling business empire from a modest trading business he ran on a bicycle, has died. He was 93.

Mr Gokongwei's JG Summit Holdings owns over 30 per cent of United Industrial Corporation, parent firm of Singapore Land Limited, one of the biggest office landlords in the city's Central Business District. His son Lance announced in a text message that his father "passed away peacefully" at 11.41pm last Saturday.

Forbes magazine listed Mr Gokongwei as the third-richest Filipino, with a net worth of about US$5.3 billion (S$7.2 billion).

JG Summit and Robinsons Retail Holdings are among the Philippines' largest family-run conglomerates, with a market capitalisation of over US$20 billion and interests in air transportation, telecommunications, banking, food, property, retail, media and petrochemicals.

Mr Gokongwei was born in Gulangyu, Xiamen, in China's Fujian province. His family migrated to Cebu province, in the Philippines, and his rags-to-riches story is emblematic of a generation of Filipino-Chinese who were forced to flee the upheavals set off by China's communist-led revolution and World War II.

Mr Gokongwei already owned one of the country's top food companies, Universal Robina Corporation, in the 1990s when he branched into retail with a chain of shopping malls and groceries.

He also invested in properties and petrochemicals. In 1996, his company launched budget airline Cebu Pacific Air.

His companies now have interests in food, beverage and property firms in nine countries. In the past year, the Gokongwei group has taken stakes in emerging technologies and start-ups that are into new media, health, data and logistics.

"(Dad) knew that in business, there are many risks. Some fail, some succeed. But as long as he knew we worked hard and did our best, then that was fine," said Mr Lance Gokongwei, 51.


The tycoon is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and his children: Robina, Lance, Lisa, Faith, Hope and Marcia.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2019, with the headline 'Filipino tycoon Gokongwei dies at 93'. Print Edition | Subscribe