At a time when most of his contemporaries have long retired or are mulling retirement, Entrepreneur Consul Enrique L. Benedicto is on his second wind. A cement manufacturing plant. Ongoing construction of office buildings in the premier business districts. Beach resorts in Cebu and Bohol. All of these were done in the past 10 years. And he’s just getting started – again.
Unlike the proverbial Colonel Sanders, he found early success in his family’s hardware business in a downtown area of Cebu. The business quickly grew as it mirrored the rapid expansion of Cebu as a progressive city starting in the 1950s. Like most of his peers, he was a working student and helped out his father in the hardware store after school. These early difficult days instilled in him a tenacity to succeed, patience and a relentless focus on the business. This also entailed a lot of traveling particularly to the Visayas and Mindanao, and enlightened him in the direction of the progress of the country. The family business expanded to include a furniture design and manufacturing factory, a trading company, a steel manufacturing company and finally culminated in a cement manufacturing company. None of these businesses can be run from the inside of an air-conditioned office. Most of the time spent was on the production floors under the heat of the sun. The price of success came literally and figuratively from the sweat of the brow.
During this time, Enrique L. Benedicto married his soul mate, Helena T. Benedicto, and together they raised 5 children. Balancing their entrepreneurial responsibilities and familial obligations, they instilled in them the same values they have grown up in. The rigors of entrepreneurship and family life required sacrifice but the one thing he was conscientious of was time for his family. Despite the pressing demands on his time, it was important for him to let his children know he was there for any one of them. All 5 children have become entrepreneurs in their own right and raising families of their own.
At the same time, Enrique L. Benedicto became an Honorary Consul and represented the Kingdom of Belgium in Cebu City for around 30 years. During his stint as Honorary Consul, the Cebu Province and the Cebu City have both been recipients of bilateral projects and assistance programs from the Belgian government. During the worst typhoons in Cebu, Typhoon Mike (Ruping) in 1990 and Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in 2013, the Belgian government was among the first to respond and extend aid through the distribution of roofing materials, food, medicine and other essential supplies to those who needed it most. For his exemplary diplomatic efforts, he has received the following awards: Officer in the Order of Leopold II by His Majesty Baudowin of the Kingdom of Belgium; Officer in the Order of Leopold by His Majesty King Albert II of the Kingdom of Belgium, the highest award that can be given to civilians, Belgian or non-Belgian.
Consul Enrique L. Benedicto did not stop at being an entrepreneur and diplomat. Together with his siblings and father, he set up the Bernardo Benedicto Foundation Inc. Long before philanthropy was incorporated into a company’s CSR initiative, the foundation had already donated several school buildings, gymnasiums and similar educational structures. Most of these structures were in public schools in impoverished areas to benefit those who clearly needed it the most. For him, education was always the great equalizer. Remembering his own school days, he knew it was a way to give those who had fewer advantages a better start. The foundation was recently awarded by the Cebu Chamber of Commerce as the CSR Institution of the Year.
As the y2k scare faded into obscurity, the new millennium presented new challenges and new opportunities to entrepreneurs worldwide. For Enrique L. Benedicto, the opportunity came in the offer of a buyout of the cement company. Although conservative entrepreneurs usually never consider selling their businesses, especially one they started from scratch, and that businesses were meant to be run and not sold, he know the opportunity was too good to be passed up. Little did he know this was the start of his reinvention. And so a few years into the millennium, he was at an age where can already consider retirement with no regrets. Still having a keen business mind, where will he go from here?
As the rumblings of a crisis start to unfold and then roared crashing into 2008, Enrique L. Benedicto knew that the Philippines will not escape unscathed. But he also knew that the Philippines can recover faster. With faster GDP growth, the lethal combination of remittances and BPO earnings, and with a young population who had more financial and career mobility, the country has finally hit a sweet spot. And so in 2008, his first project was to launch a resort in the acclaimed island of Mactan Cebu. Far from being an “ego” project unfairly labeled unto hotel entrepreneurial projects, it was an investment and firm belief in the sustainable tourism growth of the country. At this point, the country own foreign tourism arrivals was far from its neighbors. But he knew the numbers will grow especially with more favorable press and air connectivity. There was also that unexpected boon of domestic travelers. Although, on his end, it wasn’t that unexpected. He recalled his own idyllic summer days and Sundays when he will bring his family to the beach. And so another resort followed, a grander one, in the island of Bohol.
Having forged his path into real estate with tourism projects, Enrique L. Benedicto then set his sights into the burgeoning BPO office industry. A few years thereafter, he entered into this market with construction of office towers in the central business districts. With all the construction happening around the country, he realized that there were great demand for construction materials and the one product that he was familiar with – cement. At his age when risk taking generally tapers off, should he go back to the industry that was now dominated by bigger competition through foreign owned and public companies? The answer was a resounding YES.
After intense discussion with his family, Enrique L. Benedicto started to plan, construct and finally operate Mabuhay Filcement Inc. Uniquely positioned, it is a 100% Filipino and privately owned company, and probably the only kind in the Philippines. Built with 100% Filipino and engineering capabilities, it utilizes the latest state-of-the-art technology in manufacturing and engineering design in cement manufacturing.
Enrique L. Benedicto has more ambitious plans up his sleeve. But the most important one goes beyond brick and mortar. Unlike most founding owners, he has no trouble handing over the company reins to his children. He firmly believes that they are more than capable to bring their group of companies to greater heights. After all, as he constantly reminded his children, there is strength as long as all of them are united. Now that’s true grit.