At age 28, Jardin Brian B. Wong does not only look handsome, his face almost like that of a fresh college graduate with just the right amount of innocence and charm, but he also speaks well, adding more weight to his friendly and pleasant personality. The description may be trite, but wait till you find out who he is.
Is he a real estate agent? Does he sell cars? Or is he an insurance agent? You could mistake him for any of these guys who greet you with a ready smile in the malls, each trying to sell you something with their dimples getting deeper as they try harder to make you stop and listen and talk to them, give them your phone number and all other contact details.
Jardin is not a stranger to this kind of life. In fact, he is in the real estate industry, among other sectors to which their family’s 18 companies belong. Jardin Brian B. Wong is the chief operations officer of Golden bay Fresh landholdings Inc., which is developing the Aspire Corporate Plaza, a pioneering 10-story office building in the heart of the Macapagal Bay Area.
“We’re the first to sell office spaces and not just lease them,” says Jardin, who met the Daily Tribune at the Golden Bay seafood restaurant, which his family also owns. “We’re offering a one-of-a-kind and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to own their office space in this booming area. In Makati, for example, you don’t often see buildings for sale. Whole buildings are just owned by one person or family, or their organization. And they just lease out spaces. So, for us, we’re sharing this small lot of ours by offering unique office spaces for sale.”
A graduate of De la Salle University where he majored in Political Science, Jardin almost took up law, but instead chose to spend two valuable years in China to learn to speak Mandarin. It was an eye-opener of an experience “where I learned that I am but a speck in this world,” he says.
A tiny speck he may be in a world with billions of people, Jardin nevertheless is an inspiring young man who, when we asked what his motto was, said, “Play hard, work harder,” which of course departs from the usual saying about the spoiled rich “working hard and playing harder.”
Life has given Jardin many blessings, but many of these, he deserved. He grew up in a middle class family where the parents started out in life as simple employees who, in the economically tumultuous year of 1986, decided to strike on their own as exporters of aquatic food products. His parents, Bong Wong and the former Cely Bernardino, had not looked back since then, while ensuring that as they prospered their children would learn good values, and do their part in building the family’s business empire.
“No one of us was spoiled,” says Jardin, who had to work in the family office “so I could have the rubber shoes that I wanted for playing basketball. Later, when my classmates had nice cellphones, I, too, wanted one, and again, my father told me to work extra hours in the family office, and my mother was sure to give me the budget for the phone.”
Jardin looks back with gratitude at “every experience and circumstance that I went through. I would not be who I am today if not for the ups and downs that I had had to pass through in my journey. Life is a learning process and you have to live it completely.”
His advice to other young people? “Dream first and then follow it up with hard work.”
Jardin dreamed of building the Aspire Corporate Plaza, which is now rising, “because we realized that so many families have been engaged in business, and have become successful, but to this day still rent their offices from other families. With the Aspire Corporate Plaza, we hope to help them achieve their dream of having their headquarters that they can call their own.”
Daily Tribune (DT): Jardin, when were you born?
Jardin Brian Bernardino Wong (JBBW): 2 September, 1990. Year of the Horse. I grew up in Manila.
DT: What is your project about?
JBBW: We’re currently building Aspire Corporate Plaza, a 10-story project with one basement. It’s the first of its kind in the area, an office project.
DT: Why is it considered the first of its kind?
JBBW: The rationale behind this is we want to help aspiring businessmen, both Chinese and Filipino businessmen who are now based in Binondo and Malate, and all these business districts where they have been renting for the longest time. A lot of our buyers are small-to-medium enterprises who want to take that leap forward. They’ve been in Malate and Binondo for the longest time, renting their office spaces and now that second and third generations are coming in, they want to invest in their own space.
It’s more of a legacy. Some of our clients look for this legacy kind of investment. They want to buy this office space to pass on to their children. That way, the company spirit can be revived or continued.
DT: How big is a unit?
JBBW: It ranges from 184 to 309 square meters but you can mix and match, so a unit can be as small as 184, or it can to as high as 2,400 square meters. We’re selling a total of 19,000 square meters. We now only have 10 retail units and 20 wholesale units. The retail units have small cuts and these are on the fifth to the seventh floors, and then the big cuts are on the 10th floor and the penthouse.
DT: How did you get into this business? Weren’t you planning to take up law?
JBBW: I was planning to take law. But as fate would have it, I was sent to China to learn the Mandarin language. I was there for one year and 10 months. I went there in 2010, I was barely 20. I was 19.
DT: Why did you want to learn Mandarin? Is it because it’s part of your heritage?
JBBW: Partly because of that. Second is because my Dad asked me to go. Third is I saw the potential of learning the language. Right now, it comes in handy because we deal with a lot of Chinese partners. So, it is helpful when I am communicating with them. Not just in our business dealings in China but also in Hong Kong and Singapore.
DT: What have your parents been engaged in through the years?
JBBW: My parents started out with a small shop in Binondo. This was in 1987. My dad is from Hong Kong. He came to the Philippines when he was a teenager. They call him Bong. He is Bong Wong. My mom, Cely Bernardino Wong, is from Pandan, Catanduanes. She graduated class valedictorian in elementary and high school. She took up accountancy in the University of the East. She was recruited. Back then, life was tougher for both of them. They persevered. They had a chance to get to know each other when they were both working with an uncle.
DT: How has this dual background influenced your management style?
JBBW: I am blessed enough to be exposed to both, the Chinese and Filipino cultures. So, I understand both. And I apply my knowledge to my management style. Actually there are some traits that are common to both cultures. With the Chinese, I would say they are very industrious, very thrifty and so that has taught me to think wisely.
For example, in the Aspire project, when I invest in an elevator, I don’t take notice of the price, but I take notice of the quality. I learned that from the management style of my father. I always go for value for money. So, that’s one of the good traits.
My dad would always tell us to go to the office on time. Also, to lead by example. But you also have to balance the emotional quotient of the individuals. That’s the Filipino part. As Filipinos, we know how to empathize. We’re very warm, we’re very soft.
DT: How has it been like living in Chinatown? How has your cultural development been?
JBBW: I would say it has been balanced. My mother has had a strong influence on us, like she would take us to church on Sundays. Or she would take us to our suppliers, who are Filipinos, and we would talk with them. But I also enjoyed joining my parents and siblings in trying out different restaurants in Binondo. We would eat dumplings. Or tikoy.
DT: Did you practice feng shui at home?
JBBW: My dad is more of an outlier among his generation that came here. Number one, he married a Filipina. So, his values are basically hard work and diligence. While he did not lecture us on hard work, he showed us what it is by example. He really worked hard and we were aware of that. After all, it is true that the best way to influence others is to show them that you are doing it and not just talking about it. He’s really been a constant source of inspiration.
If I arrive late, whether in school or at the office, I see to it that I make up for it. Because my dad would be happy if he knew that I made up for my late arrival. Usually one would take the day off when one is sick, but in my case, I try to report to the office even if I am late already. I can’t help thinking of the work that would pile up on my desk. So, that’s part of my training.
DT: So, your parents eventually started their own company.
JBBW: Yes, in 1986. Those were difficult economic times but they had to start it. The first company was called Ocean Aquamarine, a seafood export company. It was single proprietorship and it was owned by my mom. It was the same business as that of my uncle because at that time, he diversified to ready-made foodstuff like squid balls. Nobody would take over his original business, so my uncles did seven years earlier than my father. Another brother of my father concentrated on shark’s fin. He started in 1979. So it was my dad who started last, in 1986, when he was 33 years old already. He was ripe already in terms of ideas, and disciplined enough.
DT: So, tell me about your present company. It seems quite large.
JBBW: Ocean Aquamarine later on gave birth to Ocean Cellholdings. Ocean started out very small in Binondo. Just recently, we put up our own building, also on the same street. After almost 30 years of doing business, during which time we just kept working and were never really conscious of where we held office, we finally assessed our situation, and we saw the need to own our own office.
That’s why this project matters to us because we’re also one of those people that went through a lot 20 or 30 years down the road and eventually became successful, so they want to invest now. They want to upgrade their operations already. We know how these 40ish or 50ish Filipino-Chinese businessmen feel. They think about the future, they think about investing.
So, we started with one company, which widened its export products to include seashells, cashew nuts, seaweeds and a lot of other stuff. And then we invested in our own shipping line, the Seaboard Shipping Line in which we partnered with other families. Our ships ply between Manila and Dumaguete, Manila and Bohol and so on. Then, we put up our trucking company, our own brokerage company. We have a factory of construction materials, specifically panel boards, which my brother handles. Instead of using hollow blocks, people now use panel boards, so the construction time is faster. Then we have our own shell button manufacturing company handled by my brother-in-law and my sister. Then, we have Golden Bay Restaurant, with my dad being in charge. So, we’re starting to professionalize the business. So, we also have Golden Bay Holdings, which is developing the Aspire Coporate Plaza.
DT: And you’re the one in charge
JBBW: Yes. And then, we have a food processing company that caters to local restaurants. Our products include abalone and sea cucumber. It is being handled by my uncle but my dad is the majority owner. There are a lot more, but the total is 18.
DT: You have witnessed your parents’ rise to success. What are the so-called secrets of success of Chinese families who made it? What are the factors that made them successful?
JBBW: Number one would be hard work. The vision, the motivation, they all start from there. I would not discount the value of hard work because it all starts from there. So, if you’re not hardworking enough, and you don’t accept that there will be failures. If you’re not passionate enough, you will not be able to reach your full potential.
DT: What other value is important?
JBBW: So, number one will always be hard work and diligence. Number two is being honest.
DT: What is a typical day for you?
JBBW: Oh, hectic. I have six to eight meetings per day. Sometimes more. And not counting the in-betweens, like communicating via email.
DT: How do you unwind?
JBBW: I normally go out on Saturday nights. I am with my close friends, also to share our best practices in our businesses. My friends know me to be a Saturday night party boy. The common motto is Work hard, party harder. Mine is Party hard, work harder. My dad and I had a deal. I told him I would give all that I’ve got from Monday to Saturday afternoon, but Saturday night is when I relax. Although lately, I’ve been spending my weekends helping in the campaign of my mother. Or sometimes, lately, I would rather go home and watch Netflix.
DT: Do you read?
JBBW: Yes, I like to read books. I love Mitch Albom, whose works are both sentimental and sad. He writes about life and being compassionate.
DT: Of his works, which one is your all-time favorite?
JBBW: It’s For One More Day. The main character of that book died already, and in his lifetime, he had more than ample share of heartaches, setbacks and heartbreaks. So the theme of the book is if you’re given a chance to go back for just one day, what would you change? The lesson is if you want to live fully, you have to do what is best. No one is going to give you a one-day lease, so you do everything that you can while you’re still alive. Now rather than later!
DT: Tell me about China. How was your stay there?
JBBW: I learned a lot there because there was no one to rely on. I was all alone. That’s why the whole experience was an eye-opener for me. I learned how to talk to a stranger especially if I needed something. Or if I had some difficulty relating to someone, I had to make amends. I worked around a budget, too. It could be difficult emotionally when you’re far away from your family. So, I had to rely on my friends. During the first and second terms, I roamed around in my bike. On my third term, I bought a scooter. I became active in the gym. So I was slim and fit there. But I have since gained a few pounds. That was from 2011 to 2013.
DT: How do you look at the future for someone like you? Or not just for yourself, but for the Filipino youth? How can the youth move forward?
JBBW: Seeing the future, I think our generation has the chance to accomplish more than the past two generations combined. With the advent of technology, and the amount of capital working around, I think we have a lot of potential to really change the trajectory of the country. It’s not going to be easy to transform our country from a third world to a first world country, but as long as the youth of today have something to give or contribute, the prospects of this country are much better.
I believe we have a once-in-a-generation chance to restart this country. Besides, times have changed. The problem before was lack of capital. For an entrepreneur, the problem was the high cost of capital. If you borrowed from a bank, the interest was 13 to 15 percent. Right now, it is 7 percent.
DT: Of your many blessings, what are you most grateful for?
JBBW: I would not choose anything in particular because I am grateful for everything. Everything that has happened, but the sweet and the sour, both the good and the bad, because they made me who I am. I am thankful for everything, my family, friends, for their support, for the setbacks, the frustrations, the girls that turned me down (laughter), for the banks that rejected me because they didn’t believe in me and my ability, for everything. I won’t have this mindset right now if not for all those people I have encountered, and all those problems I had to deal with along the way. I can’t just keep the good memories and forget the bad ones, or how else would I have learned from life?
DT: What is your advice to the Filipino youth?
JBBW: Never cease to dream. Dream big, but it doesn’t stop with dreaming. Start with dreaming, but you have to fulfill those dreams with diligence, hard work and perseverance.