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Joey Antonio: Success Built on Failure

The Century Properties founder persevered and hit the big time
By Tina Arceo-Dumlao

Jose E.B. Antonio, chairman of the Century Properties group, the largest privately held real estate development company in the Philippines, is not one to let failures stop him from achieving his goals.

Antonio says that he had invested in a number of small businesses – all of which did not perform as he expected – before he finally hit the big time with Century Properties. “I went through a stage when my small business ventures failed. These happened in the eighties before I went into real estate, at a time when the Philippine economy was spiraling down. Everyone was flying out of the country and people converted their pesos to dollars. So practically, all my business initiatives became unsuccessful. But what other people label or call a failure, I have learned, is just God’s way of pointing you in a new direction. So for me there are no mistakes, only new discoveries and new opportunities,” he says.

But at first, Century Properties looked like it was destined to have the same fate as his other endeavors, as it was put up at the height of the political and economic crises of 1986 and just two weeks before the EDSA revolution that saw the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship.

He had only P30,000 capital and six people who were daring enough to join him in his crusade. But his gamble paid off and he always looks back on that experience to carry him through the inevitable downturns in the cyclical real estate industry.

“The experience gave our management team the competitive advantage of having successfully weathered various stages of the real estate cycle. It was a slow start but we thrived to where we are today. We are now the biggest private real estate company in the country; our developments have won awards and now strive to introduce many innovations that become the standard in the real estate industry. I am sure none of this would have happened if it were not for the roller coaster experience I had with my businesses in the past,” Antonio says.

Stick to what you love and do best

He would also not have been able to do it without the proverbial hard work, passion for his business, and the ability to stay focused. “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. And if you love what you’re doing, it will never seem like work,” Antonio says, “And you have to listen, apply, and move forward. Do not procrastinate. Never give up. Look at the solution, not the problem and always believe in yourself. If you don’t, nobody else will,” he adds.

And now that he is in a position to share his knowledge with others, he recommends that entrepreneurs focus their time and effort on that one area they feel that they have an edge in, rather than diversifying too much.

“Take calculated risks and invest in a business where you have experience, a profound understanding of the market, and control. This is better than diversifying into other markets that you have very little knowledge of,” he says.

Taking risks is vital, he adds, because it is an integral part of any business. “It is a popular saying that ‘the higher the risks, the higher the returns.’ While this is true, we always take calculated risks even if the returns are modest. But there is no business venture that has no risk,” he says.

Looking back on his career, he cites three role models who made an impact on him and his business. The first, he shares, is his late grandfather, Ramon Antonio Sr., who was a career banking officer. “He exemplified hard work, perseverance and he was the one who taught who showed me the value of education,” Antonio says. He also admires mogul and business celebrity Donald Trump, “as a clever and creative real estate developer. His ability to recover from a near fatal financial disaster in the early nineties and become one of America’s billionaires demonstrate the tenacity of a person to consolidate and bounce back.” Lastly, he points to Henry Sy, “a person of humble beginnings.” He explains, “His focus on his specialized field and his determination can set a good example for entrepreneurs who become successful and yet have kept their humility and relationships with people he has dealt with for a long time.”

And considering how far he has gone, he has become a role model himself to entrepreneurs who also want to take advantage of the growth in the real estate sector in the Philippines, driven by the insatiable demand for housing and for space for business process outsourcing companies, for example.

Antonio has this advice for young people who also want to be successful in their chosen niche in business: “Success is a formula of hard work, correct timing, creativity, determination, and a good vision of things to come. But equally important is prudence – do not bite off more than you can chew; keeping your faith in God and maintaining your enthusiasm for new things.”

He adds that it is vital for entrepreneurs to put equal weight on vision and execution. “The two have to go hand in hand. As Thomas Edison said, ‘Vision without execution is hallucination.’ But I believe that everything starts with good vision. You have to have that foresight that will lead you and your people to execute and deliver,” he explains.

That foresight made Century Properties one of the pioneering developers in the Philippines with the award-winning Essensa development in Fort Bonifacio as its crowning glory. From there, Century became the first to provide completely furnished units with the South of Market development and it is now setting its sights on developing the former International School compound in Makati into what he calls Century City, which will rival developments in Japan and the United States.

At the same time, as special envoy to China, Antonio is spending a lot of time encouraging Chinese companies to invest in the Philippines and Filipino firms to take advantage of growth opportunities in the world’s fastest-growing economy.

And through J. Antonio Foundation, he has led the group in assisting in the rehabilitation of a children’s hospice in Quezon City – a mission called “Sagip Tahanan,” The foundation also organizes cataract surgery missions, called “Sagip Paningin,” for less fortunate elderly patients. Activities in the pipeline include projects for the environment and education.

But even with all these feathers in his cap, Antonio says he is more fulfilled knowing that he has made an impact on more than just the group’s bottom line. “I consider my most significant accomplishment having been able to enhance not just our corporate bottom line, but the real bottom line – which is to improve the quality of life of our people and the Filipinos in general whom we are servicing through our projects,” he says.

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