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Alex Wunchuking
Alex Wongchuking, president of Mighty Corp. and executive director of the Wong Chu King Foundation

Not many family-owned and managed businesses last beyond the lifetimes of their founders, often disintegrating either due to family squabbles or internal decline. A century ago and even up to the mid-20th century, the Philippines had many cigarette manufacturers but most of them have become extinct. Why?

Today, the Philippine cigarette industry rakes in P150 billion per year and is a top source of national government taxes for Philhealth, education and other social services. A “hidden champion” has quietly emerged in recent years, with the oldest Filipino-owned cigarette firm Mighty Corporation — owned by the Wongchuking family since its founding in 1945 — increasing its two-percent market share in 2000 to now approximately 20 percent.

Mighty Corp. has a philanthropic arm called the Wong Chu King Foundation, which honors the business founder, focusing mainly on educational, civic and religious charities. The foundation will celebrate is 36th anniversary on March 30 by inaugurating a church at Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan and also donating a new water tank to supply 240 households in Piat.

What are the success secrets or strategies of Mighty Corporation? Here are 14 success factors shared by its president and the founder’s fifth child, Alex “Kokoy” Dy Wongchuking, in an exclusive interview for The Philippine STAR:

1. Anticipate future trends and adjust. Many businesses have failed to study and analyze industry trends locally or globally in order to ensure long-term sustainability. Before, many Filipino cigarette or cigar factories manufactured the native style of “cigarillos” that had no filter, were short at only 85 millimeters in length, and were often smoked the other way around or chewed by customers.

Wongchuking said he was the assistant sales manager of their company from 1983 to 1985 when he noticed the changing fashion in local smoking, and saw how the then-new tax system was killing the native cigarette segment. So the family business, which was then called “La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos,” decided to adjust and change. They developed new, Virginia-tobacco type cigarettes in 1985, and the company and brand name was changed to “Mighty,” a name suggested by their eldest brother, Manny.

2. Preservation is basically harmony. Wongchuking explained that family businesses can only do well and last long “if you have family harmony and you can work well together with family members and other people.”

3. Succession should be based on meritocracy. The choice of who should be the successor or next leader should be based on who is the most qualified. Even the choices of other executives and managers should be based on merit.

4. Perseverance. Alex said that in order for success to be attained and continued, “There should be a high degree of patience and perseverance. It is like courting a girl, a lot of patience is required.” His example is how their factory La Campana remained steadfast in persevering for decades at only two percent market share, weathering all the storms and challenges. They never gave up, always preparing, competing and waiting for their opportunity to flourish.

5. Faith. Mighty Corp. founder Wong Chu King was a devout Buddhist all his life, and his children Alex and Caesar are devout Roman Catholics. Alex said, “Faith is important to business or the profession, because faith gives you spiritual development and direction. Meaning, faith keeps you cool all the time, whatever happens to our business, profession or life.”

The Wongchukings are devotees and supporters of the reputedly miraculous Our Lady of Piat, the Virgin Mary shrine in Cagayan province. Their Wongchuking Foundation also donates to various Catholic churches nationwide.

6. People. Alex Wongchuking attributes part of Mighty Corporation’s enduring success to their people, whom he describes as “very prudent and very dedicated.” He said it is important to take care of one’s people, to strengthen teamwork.

7. Filial piety. The Wongchuking family adheres to the traditional Confucian virtue of “xiao sun” or “filial piety,” which is reverence for and total obedience to parents and family elders. Alex said that apart from their late father and company founder Wong Chu King, the guiding force now of the clan and of Mighty Corporation is their 87-year-old mother, Nelia Dy Wongchuking, who was originally from Naic, Cavite.

Up to now, the matriarch still goes to the office daily from 8 a.m. to 12 noon. She was the daughter of a Chinese storekeeper in Naic, Cavite, to whom the young cigarette trader Wong Chu King used to sell his products; that’s where they met. The younger generation of the Wongchuking clan also remembers their ancestral roots in Fujian province and have donated to charity there to honor their patriarch.

8. Hard work. Alex says there is no substitute for traditional hard work. He says he and his siblings work beyond the normal eight office hours daily, even working during Saturdays and Sundays.

9. Innovation. Mighty Corporation and its owners have always innovated, not only with new products like modern-style cigarettes; they also modernized their manufacturing equipment to improve quality and increase yield of production. Their father also bought a new, bigger factory site in in Malolos, Bulacan.

10. Philanthropy. The Wongchuking family has always believed in philanthropy as part of their social mission for Mighty Corp., and also to honor the memory of their hardworking, simple-living and Confucian-oriented patriarch. Founder Wong Chu King had no chance to finish high school or college, so their foundation supports educational scholarships for three sets of beneficiaries: the kids of company employees, the kids of non-employees who are deserving students and need help, and also for children of rural tobacco farmers who want to study agriculture in college.

The founder himself migrated from Diok-Khue village in the Yeng-Ho township of Chio-sai area in Chingkang county (now a city and called “Jinjiang” in Mandarin), Fujian province, in 1919 as a seven-year-old kid with his father. The family had a small sari-sari store on H. Santos Street, Tejeron, Makati. Wong was later sent back to Fujian and came back at age 12 to help his father.

As a youth, Wong worked as a salesman for Lucky Strike cigarettes for what was then Columbia Tobacco of the Chinese tycoon Yao Shiong Shio from the 1930s to 1940s. Wong was 33 years old in 1945 when he decided to start his own small business called La Campana Fabrica de Tabacos on Tayabas Street, Sta. Cruz, Manila, on a 200-square-meter property. Wong Chu King has always been a philanthropic businessman.

11. Humility. Alex believes that for people to truly achieve success and be able to maintain it, one needs humility. “There should be an element of self-denial,” he explains.

12. Focus. He also believes in the power of focus, on the importance of “concentrating on your core business.”

13. Have only one family. Wongchuking strongly believes that whether for businesspeople or professionals, being faithful to one’s spouse is important to true success. Alex explained: “Having only one family is crucial for genuine success, because if one has too many families, that is a sure recipe for chaos and for nonstop family quarrels.”

14. Destiny. When asked what he meant by “destiny,” Alex said, “Destiny is key to success, just like in the Bible. When God called Jeremiah to become a prophet, he said ‘No, I’m a shy person.’ But God said to him, ‘Before you were born, you were already destined to become a prophet.’ It became true, Jeremiah became a good prophet, naging madaldal (he became eloquent). Read the Bible, Jeremiah Chapter 1:4.”

Source: Philstar Global


The Bell of the Cash Register Keeps Ringing for This Veteran Cigaret-Maker

by Minette Z. Lee
September 1979/OUTLOOK

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How a Young Chinese Immigrant Rolled Tobaccos by Hand, Peddled Them at the Street Corner, and Succeeded in Making His Hole-In-The-Wall Enterprise a Top Philippine Corporation Today

You’ve come a long way, baby!” Incongrous as it may seem, this congratulatory refrain of an American cigaret commercial which celebrates smoking as a part of Women’s Lib, just as aptly applies to a smiling, sixty-six year old grandfather named Wong Chu King, and to the company he founded, La Campana Fabrica de Tobacos, Inc.

La Campana is a P35 million company that produces and markets native or unfiltered cigarets filled with Philippine grown black tobacco. It ranks second in terms of sales in the highly competitive native cigarette industry and since 1975 has consistently made it to the list of the top 1,000 Philippine corporations.

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When King entered the cigarette manufacturing business 35 years ago, it was hardly with a bang. His was a small, hole-in-the-wall enterprise started more out of the need to eke out a living during the lean years of the Japanese Occupation rather than out of any ambition of making it big. During those uncertain times, this scrappy thirty-one-year-old immigrant from Amoy, China, with four assistants, bought tobacco from dealers, rolled them by hand and peddled them at street corners in Divisoria. Come liberation, it was just a matter of continuing a good thing and King set up shop at Calle Tayabas, near Blumentritt, Manila. Thus, with other local cigarette factories either destroyed or still undergoing reconstruction, La Campana was born.

Today, the three-lined La Campana factory at Sultana Street, Makati, occupies a two-hectare lot beside the sluggish Pasig River. The factory employs 365 workers and produces eight brands of native cigarets which go by such mellifluous names as La Campana Matamis, Magkaibigan, Campanero, Campanilla, Cortos La Campana, Magkaibigan Regaliz, La Flor de Luzon Largos, and La Campana Largos. The last three brands are of cigarets wrapped with black cigarette paper.

Spanish Roots

The Hispanic names of the company and its cigaret brands are not semantic accidents but rather are evidence of the Spanish roots of the Philippine tobacco, cigar and cigaret industry. Indeed, it appears that the world owes the discovery and popularization (but not the invention) of smoking to Spanish explorers and sailors. It is said that one of the strange sights observed by Christopher Columbus’ first expedition to the new world were of natives non-chalantly smoking cigars in the island of Cuba. Cigaret smoking was discovered later, in the West Indies and Mexico. The natives of the West Indies wrapped the tobacco they smoked with thin palm bark while those of Mexico used corn husks. The Spaniards substituted paper for the corn husk, an innovation which greatly abetted the spread of cigaret smoking in Southern Europe in the early nineteenth century. The Spaniards established tobacco culture, and later cigaret manufacturing in the Philippines, and for many years dominated the trade in the world.

La Campana’s traditional touch does not stop with the name. Even the packaging of the cigaret harkens back to the later years of the Spanish Era. Jose Riñosa, the general manager of La Campana, points out that native cigarets are distinctive because they have have a very strong taste. They are favored partly by the older people in the provinces who look upon the weaker Virginia cigarets as another sign of the lack of spunk of the modern generation.

“If we pack our cigarets the same way as the Virginia cigarets (20 sticks in a hard, square pack), our customers will think that the cigarets taste like Virginia cigarets and they will not buy it.” Thus, the native cigarets are packaged thirty sticks to a pack, and the pack is soft and five-sided and decorated with drawings in the style of the komiks (local comic books) of the fifties.

It is because of the distinctive type of packaging of the native cigaret that the manufacturing process cannot be fully mechanized. Despite this, the factory’s production is high speed and continuous. The factory’s average production is 200,000 packs or 60,000 cigaret sticks a day.

Production Process

2When the tobacco is brought to La Campana’s airy factory, the bales of 115 kilos each are placed in vacuum chambers where moisture is added to prevent crumbling and to render the tobacco soft and pliable for stripping out the midrib or leaf stem and removing any foreign material or dust. This process also kills off tobacco beatles and other insects in the leaves. Then the different kinds of tobacco are mixed in the blending machine. The tobacco, which comes from Isabela, La Union, Negros and Iloilo, are hand fed to a conveyor belt that carries it to a casing machine. In the casing machine, the tobacco is sprayed with preservatives and dipped in the flavoring syrups or sauces according to La Campana’s particular formula. Then, this blended tobacco is heaped into mandalas, or square piles approximately eight by twelve by eighteen feet, to mull for three days. Riñosa explains that this three-day wait is to allow the natural flavor of the tobacco to emerge. After the three days, the fermented tobacco is cut into shreds 4/10 to ¾ millimeter wide and carried to another cylindrical chamber where the tobacco is dried to the proper moisture content. This is critical because if the tobacco is too wet or too dry, it will not handle properly in the cigarette forming machine.

The tobacco is manually fed into the cigarette making machine. La Campana has 24 such machines whish turn out 1,000 sticks per minute. All in all, this manufacturing process is done with 185 workers. The other 180 workers which the factory employs pack the cigarets.

“No More No Less”

The packaging of the cigarets is done by women  who are seated in rows two-deep and who each turn out an astonishing 1,000 packs in eight hours. With the paper held ready by four fingers of the right hand, and a dab of paste on the index finger, the women scoop with their left hand thirty sticks from the stacks of cigarets in front of them and, in a series of deft motions done with a speed which gives the illusion of a single continues motion, bundle the sticks into a soft, five-angled package.

“ They don’t count, their fingers act as a mold. But,” challenges Riñosa, “open any pack and you will find thirty cigarette sticks. No more, no less.”

Wong Chu King is now chairman of the board of La Campana, but he still goes to the factory daily to see how things are getting along. Invariably dressed in a cotton shirt and khaki pants, King in his office at La Campana gives the impression of a kindly head of a large clan graciously welcoming one into his home. For La Campana is still very much a family corporation. King has nurtured La Campana to success as he might have his own child. With annual sales amounting to P21 million for a product that sells at P.50. retail, the child has indeed come a long way.