He is one of the most respected businessmen in the country, but few know that Ramon Del Rosario, Jr., President and CEO of the PHINMA Group, is a doting grandfather who enjoys spending time with his eight grandchildren. “I love hearing them chatting and squealing with joy, that makes me happy. They give me a lot of joy and satisfaction.”
Ramon describes his two four-year-old granddaughters as the most talkative little girls he has ever known. On a recent trip to El Nido, they talked non-stop as they took a 45-minute boat ride with him. “They’re incredibly smart girls. I’m surprised to see them using hand gestures while explaining themselves. And when I started singing to them ‘Row, row, row, your boat,’ I was told, ‘Okay Lolo, you may stop now.’ I laughed at how candid my little girls are,” he said.
Ramon is the son of the late Ambassador Ramon V. Del Rosario, Sr., who is one of PHINMA’s founders, and is considered by some as one of the founding fathers of Philippine industry.
“My father taught me that building a nation is not the government’s responsibility alone. Citizens should take part and each of us should find what our roles are in nation building. Now as PHINMA’s CEO, I believe I’m privileged to have resources that I can use to help make this country better than it already is.”
Running the business for almost a decade now, Ramon aims to bring PHINMA back into the top tier of Philippine enterprises over the next 10 years and contribute as much as he can to help build a better Philippines.
Before becoming a diversified group of businesses, PHINMA was involved in heavy industry – cement, pulp and paper, and bottle making. It was the Philippine market leader in cement until the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis kicked in, severely hitting the country’s property and banking sectors. This caused PHINMA to sell its cement businesses.
Ramon was given a tough task – to decide what the company needed to do next after giving up cement. He and his team agreed that the best resource the Philippines has that can compete against other countries, is its people. “If the Filipinos really are our chief resource, they need to be well-educated so that they can compete with the rest of the world. My team strongly believes in the value of education, so we decided to enter the business of education. But we aimed to do things differently.”
PHINMA shifted to education, focusing on education for the poor, in line with Ramon’s dedication to nation building. PHINMA believes that the poor people are the ones who need education the most – a good quality education that will lead them to better jobs.
Quality education for the poor
“Even though we’re focused on education for the poor, we made it clear to ourselves that it is still a business and it cannot be run as a charity. That’s the real challenge for us, which is providing quality education that is both accessible to the poor and profitable.”
But it took the company 10 years to build up their education business into one that would generate respectable profits.
“Those who come to us are children of farmers, tricycle drivers, and manual laborers. They cannot pay tuition fees upfront. So we developed our strategies in education the poor. We allow them to pay whenever they can, give them some leeway, and offer scholarships aside from our already low fees.”
Another challenge that PHINMA schools face is that most students who come to them are products of the public school system. Students apply as college freshmen with skills in Math, Reading and Science at barely a Grade 5 level. But quality education, for PHINMA, means accepting students with elementary skills and giving them a chance to catch up.
“Even though they are not qualified to be college freshmen, we take them in and do the best we can to work with them, so that by the end of their four or five years in college, they are ready to take the same board exams that those from La Salle, UP, and Ateneo take. We want to show them that it is worth the effort, and that being poor is not a handicap to being successful.”
“Chito Salazar and his team under PHINMA Education have done a great job of developing students. We’re watching very closely our performance in the board exams and we are very pleased. We have successfully produced 29 board placers in different fields of expertise, and in some board exams we’re getting 100% passing rates. These are the stories we love to tell. It is astounding if you consider where all our students began even before entering PHINMA schools,” he said.
“We’ve had good results, and this encourages more students to enroll with us, trusting that PHINMA can hone their learning skills and help the achieve success,” he added.
Ramon was once the chairperson of the De La Salle University Board of Regents, one factor that led PHINMA to enter the business of education. He is also the current Chairman of different organizations like the National Museum of the Philippines, the Makati Business Club (MBC), Philippine Business for Education, and the Integrity Initiative. “Because I’m such a blabbermouth, I keep getting elected chair of these things,” he says, but it seems leadership comes naturally to him, as each of these organization is not only visible, but also widely respected today.
“My wife tells me I’m a Don Quixote, that’s why when I said we were going to visit our windmills in Guimaras, she told me I should bring my helmet and my spear, and I can ride into the sunset. That’s because I’m a person who likes to do what I can to help solve problems if there are such problems.” “I feel greatly blessed to have a voice that can be heard. So I use my connections as PHINMA’s CEO and from other organizations to gather people with the same goal of helping build a better country.”
The same passion, he hopes, extends to his company. “I think that PHINMA people enjoy the work they’re doing because it’s not just about making money, it’s about really helping to build a better country and helping make lives better. That, I think, translates into waking up each morning and being happy to go to work, because the work you do is about building a better Philippines. And that is something to be very proud of.”
With all his success, Ramon is most thankful for the support of his family. His father served as his mentor and inspiration to lead PHINMA while his mother brought humor and balance to their lives. His wife, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren give constant faith and confidence, support, encouragement and love. He refers to his four daughters as the jewels who brought sparkle to his life, with his wife Marivic as the crown jewel, who inspires him and keeps his feet firmly on the ground.
Ramon wants to help that youth experience the successes he had. So when invited to speak during graduations, he tells graduates to always take care of two very important things.
“Take care of your name, make sure it is something that you protect, and make it as valuable as it can be so that you can face yourself in the mirror each morning and be proud of who you are. More importantly, take care of your family. Spend time with them. You can take all of life’s difficulties better if you have family to ease the burden, and all the joys of living will be much more meaningful.”