Philippine Daily Inquirer
From journalism to canning tuna
T(Part 2) he publicly listed and family-controlled Century Pacific Food, Inc. (CPFI), known for such iconic brands as Century Tuna, Argentina Corned Beef and 555 Sardines, is governed by the four Po brothers, who have imbibed the humility, love for God and family modeled by patriarch Ricardo S. Po, Sr.
The siblings have chosen their roles and functions based on merit, rather than age. But the brothers also knew that leading a company also requires other factors, such as personality and temperament.
If needed, each sibling can lead. But “Chris is the best fit in many ways,” says Teodoro “Ted” T. Po, chief operating officer. For instance, Ted, a wide reader well-versed in multiple fields, from science to business, prefers to remain in the background, ready to relinquish more public functions to his younger brother.
The term “sibling” connotes rank, so “instead of siblings, we prefer to treat each other as partners,” says Christopher “Chris” Po, chief executive officer. “We are equals. We discuss, even argue [on equal terms]. We treat each other as professionals.”
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” Ted quotes from the late US business consultant Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If needed, trusted longtime nonfamily professionals, such as chief financial officer and chief information officer Oscar A. Pobre, would “act as referee [among the family members].
Ted also recites a Bible quote oft-repeated in primary school back in Grace Christian College: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
Founder Ricardo Po prays constantly, thanking God for blessings, requesting for guidance on the best path to choose, and for Him to watch over the family.
The elder Po came to the Philippines from Guangzhou at the age of 15, hoping for a better life for his family in a new land. He taught himself English using a Chinese-English dictionary, and worked for the Great China News in the 1950s, starting as a cub reporter covering the prison and community beats.
He ascended the ranks, up to the top post, covering Malacañang.
One time, he interviewed the late Carlos Romulo at the Department of Foreign Affairs, alongside the then-young reporter Ninoy Aquino. Afterwards, Romulo and Ninoy needed to go to Malacañang, so young Ricardo drove the three of them in the company jeep to the Palace.
“Romulo and Ninoy were very nice,” says the senior Po.
Such exposure to media contacts proved helpful later on, when the patriarch set up an advertising firm in the 1970s. He delights in the fact that SM founder Henry Sy was a client, with the cursive SM logo still in use today a product of their firm.
Because of the 1973 stock market crash, the patriarch decided to turn his attention to food, and founded Century Tuna in 1978. The patriarch’s spouse Angelita stayed home to take care of the children, “a very important and not easy job, raising four boys,” says the senior Po.
With hard work, grit, the help of professionals and divine guidance, the company grew steadily.
“The challenges of helping the company grow are precisely why I joined CPFI,” says Oscar Pobre, one of the pioneer batch of nonfamily professionals who joined the company decades ago.
With executive stints in Meralco, Dole Philippines and Republic Flour Mills, Oscar is a seasoned financier who continues to believe in and work for the vision of the company founder.
Oscar helped steer CPFI through various ups and downs, including international financial crises. Oscar mentored Chris, who started out reporting not to his father but to him. The other children also directly reported to other nonfamily professionals during training.
“We owe Oscar a lot,” says Ted. “The counsel he has provided us all these years, especially during the hard times, is invaluable.”
(To be continued)