Jon Ramon Aboitiz: Reluctant executive

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Jon Ramon Aboitiz, the man who presided over one of the most valuable family-owned conglomerates in the country, passed away on Friday. He was 70.

He leaves behind a family fortune estimated at one time by Forbes at $5 billion and an enterprise spanning over power, banking, food and property development.

JRA, as he was called by colleagues, started as a rather reluctant executive having been effectively forced to take on the job left by a retiring relative. This was in the 1970s when, despite having earned a management degree from a US university, he joined the family business via its shipping subsidiary. He would later head the Aboitiz Group as its president.

The family business was founded by Paulino Aboitiz whose Spanish farmer father migrated to the Philippines in the 1800s. The enterprise started with hemp, trading on abaca and in merchandise trade. The family lore tells of trading abaca with the use of a single batil, a wood-hulled banca with outriggers, buying and selling hemp in Leyte initially and later in neighboring Cebu. That enterprise would eventually morph into a logistics business that pioneered in container shipments, helping accelerate growth not just its own business but the lives and the fortunes of those the family did business with.

The family would relate how in the 1990s they would collectively decide to get out in the many businesses they were into that in JRA’s own words were capital intensive, took too much executive time and paid back too little. As a result, the family would sell their industrial gas unit, their chemicals joint venture with their Japanese partners, their wood pole treatment facilities, their cement manufacturing business and even the shipping line that at that time had no takers.

The family completed most of the divestment program just before the 1997 global financial crisis struck when their relative conservatism allowed the enterprise, under the Aboitiz Equity Ventures banner, had amassed billions in cash with practically no debt.

From president of Aboitiz Shipping Corp. in 1976, JRA took on the responsibilities of chief executive at AEV from 1994 to 2008. He served as president of Aboitiz and Co. from 1991 to 2008.

As a fourth generation Aboitiz and one of the pillars at AEV, JRA helped steer the enterprise that in 2017 was one of only eight from the Philippines included in the elite global list of 2,000 profitable businesses.

Estimates show AEV has market capitalization totaling a little over P300 billion.

With JRA’s passing the baton is passed on to Erramon I. Aboitiz as AEV President and CEO.

“Jon will be profoundly missed as he was an inspiring leader, loving and lovable, and someone who easily connects with everyone around him. His passing is certainly a great loss, not only for the Aboitiz Group, but for Philippine business as well,” he said in a statement.

The Aboitiz Group encompasses AboitizPower, AboitizLand, Union Bank of the Philippines, Pilmico Foods Corp. and Republic Cement.

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