Cecilio Pedro: Outperforming and Outthinking Giants
In our fast-paced, hectic world, we all need a daily dose of faith, hope, love, and stories of heroic struggles against all odds — something to inspire people, give them hope and courage to fight, and egg them on to persevere.
When you read inspirational rags-to-riches stories, you’ll see a few common threads like hard work, passion, determination, and drive. There’s also one bulk of elements in these stories filled with obstacles, failure, and incredible odds. And in almost every case, the main character of the story would never have expected to achieve so much in a single lifetime, yet managed to overcome difficulties, surpass difficult obstacles, and laugh in the face of failure.
How so? Well, especially in moments where they find themselves faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, the minds of the main characters of these rags-to-riches stories often echo the age-old saying, “Things are not always what they seem.” For them, if you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage, even though you might not know it until later. This concept is beautifully exemplified by the not-so-typical rags-to-riches story of the man behind the Philippines’ first homegrown toothpaste called Hapee, and this might just ignite your never-say-die spirit and inspire you to become all you can be.
Outthinking the Giants
The visionary behind Hapee Toothpaste and its proud manufacturing company, Lamoiyan Corp., is Cecilio Pedro, and his story embodies immense entrepreneurial spirit.
I first had the opportunity to exchange notes with Cecilio more than a decade ago when he was our speaker in an Ateneo MBA roundtable meeting with fellow professors, then in several more chance encounters during various speaking engagements we were invited to, and I have to admit that knowing the man up close and learning about his inspiring story gave me goosebumps in a positive way.
Pedro is quite known for taking the big and scary step to compete with multinational giants in the toothpaste industry by producing locally-made toothpaste, and this is how he made it to the top. But before people thought Pedro was crazy for competing head-on with global toothpaste brands Colgate and Close Up, the two multinational toothpaste brands were Pedro’s only customers in his first company, Aluminum Container Inc., which supplied aluminum toothpaste tubes to the two from 1978 to 1985.
“At that time, I was thinking that toothpaste is something that everyone uses. And multinational firms will be here for the long term, so I thought it was a safe business,” he said.
Pedro was only half right as the said big brands did stay in the market. As for his business, however, it was going quite well until plastic toothpaste tubes were invented and both Colgate and Close Up decided to switch to plastic tubes in 1985, forcing Pedro to close shop.
“I never thought that they would switch to plastic tubes. My business got in trouble when they left,” he lamented.
Relying on a few customers was Pedro’s biggest mistake yet. Money stopped coming in, leaving him with millions of aluminum tubes.
Deeply mired in debt, he could have committed suicide had it not been because of his deep faith in God’s power and mercy. And so, with faith and a stockpile of aluminum tubes, he turned his crisis into an opportunity when he opted for the unthinkable – to compete with Colgate despite it being a multinational brand already known to many.
Not Giving Up
With faith, guts, and hard work, he put up a “David vs. Goliath” type of fight.
With more affordable prices and a unique target demographic, among other reasons, his sales started to dent Colgate’s. They then offered to buy him out, to which he answered, “I don’t think you can afford my price.”
Lamoiyan has increased in popularity, capturing a decent chunk of the market and making his company the country’s first homegrown toothpaste empire, but at that point, the toothpaste war was far from over.
Colgate and Close Up, being the big multinational brands they were then, usually occupied the best grocery shelves in supermarkets, making their products more visible to customers. Hapee, on the other hand, has to make do with a small spot in the supermarket. Yet, despite this, Pedro refused to give up, especially since he had gone so far from where he started, “I now have millions of customers because of my toothpaste. That’s something to be happy about,” he added.
Standing his ground, Pedro persevered, and from being a household name in the Philippines, Hapee toothpaste started being exported to the Middle East, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and other Asian countries. Pedro’s company, which he named after his grandmother, has also expanded to provide dishwashing liquid, anti-lice shampoo, fabric enhancer, detergent, feminine wash, and the special gum-formula toothpaste called GumTect, among others.
Corporate social responsibility
Cecilio’s greatest accomplishment was not limited to manufacturing as corporate social responsibility is a very important part of Lamoiyan’s way of doing business even up to this day.
“In Lamoiyan Corporation, we believe that we can make our presence a blessing to society. These activities are focused on dental missions, helping the deaf community and taking care of the environment,” said Pedro.
Living by its company motto, “To make a difference for the glory of God,” Pedro gives opportunities for the hearing impaired by employing and providing them with free housing in thanksgiving to the Lord and keeping with his faith. And since sign language is the only means of communication between the hearing-impaired and hearing personnel, he has also required his managers to learn it.
To further extend his gratitude, as the chairman of the Deaf Evangelistic Alliance Foundation, Inc. (DEAF), which helps the hearing-impaired with employment and skills training, he grants scholarships to at least 200 hearing-impaired students.
With his work and advocacy, Pedro was recognized as The Outstanding Young Men and Women (TOYM) awardee for Business Leadership by the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Philippines in 1991 and then bagged the Agora Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship the following year. In 2004, international accounting and auditing firm Ernst & Young also honored him with the award for Socially Responsible Entrepreneur of the Year for his unrelenting hard work and charity.
A Story of Entrepreneurial Perseverance rather than Rags-to-Riches
Reflecting upon his unique story, I have come to realize that the key to success is owning of the family’s devotion to the business, resilience in coping with disappointment, and the intensity of long-term commitment to the business. That, in a nutshell, best characterizes the country’s Toothpaste King, and it is my fervent hope that family business owners and visionaries can learn so many lessons about Cecilio’s values, faith, tenacity and vision for his company.
Pedro’s actions and decisions as a founder/visionary were very apparent in his story. He wanted to leave a lasting legacy for the next generation to emulate. But more than that, he also longed to build on values that go beyond profit — one that also embraces people and the planet.