Bellevue’s Johnny Chan – Low-key, loved and lucky (1)

I would buy lands and other real estate properties and sell them at the right time or develop them

Johnny Chan, chairman of Bellevue Hotels and Resorts, says he bought properties in Makati City villages like San Lorenzo and Dasmariñas for only P185 per square meter but now fetches half a million per square meter. | Photograph courtesy of Alvin Kasibal

On the south side of Manila, in the suburban Alabang area, the five-star Bellevue Hotel stands majestically and welcomes into its spacious lobby and various public spaces the cosmopolitan set from this side of town as well as their guests from all over the metropolis.

Bellevue, which began operating in 2003, offers not only the first five-star accommodation in the Muntinlupa-Las Piñas area but also a large ballroom for big banquets, function rooms of various capacities and dining outlets serving local and cosmopolitan culinary specialties.

While other hotels sooner or later rose around Ayala Alabang and its surrounding gated villages, Bellevue, to this day, has remained the place to stay and hold one’s big parties including weddings and debuts, club induction balls and professional fellowship nights, among other events.

Gradual rise to the top

Johnny Chan, Chairman of Bellevue Hotels and Resorts, is the low-key, unassuming and very relaxed gentleman behind this pioneering tourist establishment.

He is a lucky man, one who has achieved success in the hotel and resort business. Like many Chinese businessmen who have made it big, he gradually rose to the top, taking one step at a time in the proverbial ladder of success.

“I was in the real estate business,” he recounted in an interview with the Daily Tribnune. “I would buy lands and other real estate properties and sell them at the right time or develop them.

“I was already buying properties in Makati villages like San Lorenzo and Dasmariñas. A square meter in Dasmariñas Village then cost 185 pesos.

Hardworking father

It is a trade that he learned from his father, the old man Chan, a first-generation emigrant from Fujian whose first job was with a Chinese trader in Binondo. “He was a conservative Chinese and was very thrifty,” Johnny recalled.

His father, according to Johnny, “was one of the early condominium developers in the Binondo area. He developed the Maligaya Tower, Pearl Tower and Diamond Tower.” Built in the 1960s, this pioneering trio still stands, serving as a vanguard of high-rise living in downtown Manila.

“My father first worked in Sta. Cruz for a Chinese businessman. He was a hard worker,” Johnny shared. “But he was not happy with being an employee. He borrowed money from his boss and opened his own grocery.”

Baguio for a hometown

After World War II, the elder Chans moved to Baguio where Johnny was born. “My father became a trader. He brought his merchandise all the way to the Mountain provinces where he would sell to the Igorots.” He was a good salesman and was able to convince them to buy whatever it was he was selling. It helped that he learned to speak Ilocano, one of the local languages that the residents spoke.”

His parents enrolled him at the Baguio Chinese School and, later, Saint Louis University.

Johnny thus regarded Baguio as his hometown. He has fond memories of the place, kept friends from among his schoolmates and he would bring his own family to the summer capital for their annual vacations. His attachment to the hometown of his youth has been immortalized in one barangay that had been named Johnny Village.

For ten years, Johnny and his parents stayed in Baguio until they returned to Manila and lived in Sta. Cruz district. In time, Johnny’s father began investing in apartment buildings and it was in this field that he became very successful.

Mother’s sari-sari store assistant

In the early years, while her husband was learning the ropes of real estate development, Johnny’s mother operated a tiny sari sari store where, “as a little boy, I would assist her,” Johnny recounted.

His initial involvement in his mother’s home-based enterprise and his exposure to his father’s creative approach to business would serve as the seeds for the young boy’s bright future.

When he was of ripe age and had worked in his father’s business, Johnny married a beautiful woman, also of Chinese descent, whose family owned the Copacabana and the Tropicana serviced hotels and apartments.

For the longest time, Johnny focused on his real estate business. “I would invest on a property based on my gut feel,” he said. “I would sort of feel if it was a good location and that a piece of property was promising. I could imagine how the place would become in a few years time. I made decisions based on my business intuition.”

Venetian blinds as sideline

On the side, Johnny sold venetian blinds. “It was a period when new subdivisions were being opened and people were building their homes. Our company was the first local manufacturer of mini and micro-mini blinds, vertical blinds and folding doors. We also sold blinds with designs. We used colored electrical tapes to create artistic illustrations that became visible when the blinds were closed.

Our venture lasted up to the time our products were trendy. We stopped our operation when the demand declined, but we benefited from the boom period.”

Johnny’s big dream, though, was to build a state-of-the-art serviced residential apartment building.

Johnny recounted, “I saw the potential in Copacabana and Tropicana. Then I decided to do same thing here in Alabang. But while we were in the planning stage, we realized that what was missing in the area were a large ballroom for special occasions and big conferences and a meeting place for friends and families.”

(To be continued)

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