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From downtime activities to family humor to chicharon bulaklak—Lance Gokongwei talks anything but business with JAZA in BPI's "After Six"

By Alyanna Silvestre
Published December 06, 2021

What do you get when two of the country's most prominent business leaders are in one frame? You might think it's all serious, but in the fourth episode of BPI Preferred's After Six, it's anything but business.

In the YouTube mini series' latest episode entitled "Episode 4: The Gokong-Way," BPI chairman Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (JAZA) sits down with J.G. Summit president and CEO Lance Gokongwei for a friendly chat, and JAZA's charm and the latter's wit in one screen were certainly refreshing to the eyes.

Developing an identity outside the home country

The two kicked it off by going back when Lance went away to live in the U.S. and "develop an identity outside the Philippines."

Lance studied at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dealt with a diverse student body and experienced a life different from having a coddled one as a son of a billionaire in the Philippines.

"You learn to pick clothes that don't require ironing," Lance said when JAZA asked whether he does his own laundry back in the U.S.

Getting the feel of the family business

Lance also looked back on returning home to the Philippines one summertime and working on his father's family business for the first time.

"When I was an upcoming junior, I spent the summer in the warehouse of our department store. And here I was, a high flying Wharton student, and my job was to put the price tags onto, like, underwear or jeans or the like," he said. 

After graduating summa cum laude from Wharton, Lance finally and officially joined the family business.

"After graduating summa cum laude from Wharton, all my friends were going, 'Oh, I got a job in Goldman Sachs. I got a job in Morgan Stanley, McKinsey.' All the top jobs in the U.S. Wow, I got a great job working for my father in Universal Robina Corp., and I was a salesman there. I remember my first paycheck; it was P2,300. But my dad said, 'I'll treat you differently. I'm gonna give you a company car.' And he gave me a 20-year-old Datsun."

Growing up as the unico hijo

Lance is the only son of the late John Gokongwei Jr., so it's not surprising that JAZA questions him about growing up as an only boy, and his response was, "We're a very close family but, you're right, you end up with a 5-versus-one kind of arrangement, so being the only boy teaches you a few skills. Foremost is you have to be a little humble. Second, you'd have to be a little bit of a politician to get things you want across."

He added that the political skills he learned were needed to break up the groupings among the siblings.

Bringing with him the Gokongwei humor

As the conversation went on, JAZA decided to ask about the Gokongwei humor, "The interpersonals in your family are superb. You all have self-deprecating humor; you're always joking. Who had that sense of humor in the family?"

Luckily, Lance didn't forget to bring with him some wit and banter and indulged JAZA's curiosity by explaining how the family is naturally funny.

"I think it's probably a function of both my dad and my mom and maybe a little bit of the way, I guess from a Chinese heritage, the way parents bring up their kids," Lance said. "Our parents would never praise us, 'no? But they would never criticize us also. It's all cariño brutal. They use words like 'Gong kia, ' which basically means 'You're my stupid child,' but it's a term of endearment. So that becomes part of the chatter. And my mom was really always laughing and making fun of her forgetfulness and all this stuff. And my sister Robina is, I guess, the foremost example of [someone good at] self-deprecation." 

Taking a break every now and then

When asked about what he does during his downtime, Lance said he loves spending time with his wife and kids and the broader set of family and friends over lunches and dinners. He also revealed enjoying time alone by working out or running on the treadmill while watching Netflix.  

What a CEO reads and listens to

Aside from working out, catching up on his favorite Netflix programs, and, of course, browsing through weekly newspapers like The Economist and The New Yorker, Lance admitted to listening to podcasts, an interesting activity he discovered during the pandemic. 

When asked for recommendations, Lance mentioned Malcolm Gladwell, The Age of Napoleon and Business Wars. 

The goods on the supermarket stand full of snacks in his office

In an early segment of the After Six interview, JAZA asked Lance about his favorite snacks, and he straight up confessed that he has a stash of food to munch on in his office, "I'm the only person I know who has a supermarket stand full of snacks in his office." After this revelation, Lance rolled out his top five choices, three of which are from the family's snacks brand Jack & Jill, and explained the reason behind each pick. 

Lance started at the top with V Cut due to its really tangy barbecue flavor and continued with the Filipino favorite Piattos Cheese, Nova Multigrain for a healthier fare, and nuts, which goes very well with drinks. He then topped off the list with chicharon bulaklak, "After consuming all the healthy Nova Multigrain, that leaves you some ability to eat chicharon bulaklak, which is not as healthy but is ultra-delicious!"

Delighted by Lance's last choice, JAZA added, "But we have the whiskey later, let's bring out some chicharon bulaklak!"

Check out the full episode of the After Six episode featuring Lance Gokongwei below!