My Father the Social Entrepreneur

Today let me dedicate this column to my father, who is more popularly known as Joecon, as he celebrates his 75th birthday tomorrow, together with his twin brother, my uncle Raul Concepcion. I will have to pre-empt a column that I had prepared for the new year, which will just come out a week later.

My life’s journey over the last 48 years has been a tremendous experience for me because of my Dad, and let me share some stories with all of you who follow this column (which I learned to my amazement is quite a number, although I’m sure it will never be as many as those who read my wife’s tita, Rosalinda Orosa, or my friend, Babes Romualdez, who both write for the Star).

My father took up agriculture majoring in Soils at the Araneta Institute of Agriculture, which is now known as De La Salle Araneta University after the family decided to donate the school to the Christian Brothers. This is where he met my mom, Marivic. His future in-laws, my Lolo Salvador and Lola Victoria Araneta, owned the school, so how could my father fail in his course, especially when he was dating the daughter of the owners. Sometimes I wonder what made my Dad take up Agriculture, since his twin went to Accounting at UCLA. It’s funny how despite their being twins, their courses in college were so different and how later in life, they pursued such different paths.

But being twins also had certain advantages. For example, I remember stories about how they shared dates pretending to be each other. Imagine, my dad dating the same girls my uncle dated, while swapping his good dates with my uncle. Good thing it stopped when they both got married.

Earlier my father was supposed to have become a priest, having studied at a seminary for two years. But I guess the call of the real world was too much for him to ignore, or maybe he just heard the call of my future Mom.  We lived in Pasay City, at the corner of Taft and EDSA where now stands our shopping center. It was a very modest house, and prone to the floods that Pasay is famous for. I remember having to swim to my room whenever the rains would pour. All the kids had to share one room, and the whole house would have probably fit in the living room of many houses today. The small compound was shared by my Dad’s twin, and this is how we became close to our cousins. Looking at the pictures of those times during the last Christmas Eve party, I was reminded of when I kept wearing my costumes as Batman or Superman and was always looking to fight evil (it seemed I ended up picking on all my cousins and brothers).

My Dad’s advocacy started with the Pasay Citizens League for Good Government, the Jaycees and so many other civic projects. During my childhood, I remember our weekly packing of relief goods for flood victims, or fire victims, or for whatever tragedies just kept happening in Pasay City.

The famous street battle with the Lapiang Malaya was the first encounter of bloodshed and violence for my father, and what a nightmare for me as a kid. I had always wondered why my father loved to be in the middle of all these socio-civic activities. He ran as representative for the Constitutional Convention and won it handily. I remember campaigning with him, using our Volkswagen Camper at that time, and my uncle, his twin, would appear as my Dad in some sorties around the city to cover more grounds in a short time (another benefit of having a twin).

Because of his activism, when Martial Law was declared, my Dad was among the first to be incarcerated at Camp Crame by the Marcos regime.  As the dictatorship worsened, it came to the lowest point for our business. It was very close to being taken over by a Marcos crony at that point when I asked my Dad what can he do and he told me not to worry, that he was working on something that would fight the dictatorship.  

This led him eventually to establishing what the country badly needed at that time, a citizens action group called Namfrel. Namfrel was really the start in teaching Filipinos to stand up and be counted, and fight back by watching over their ballot boxes. The idea generated millions of Namfrel volunteers, who later moved as the first wave of the people power revolution.

As I look back on those days, I think God in a way was preparing my father for the big role he was to play in helping bring back democracy to the country. Watching the video clips shown during our Christmas party, seeing the pictures of my Dad wearing the Namfrel jacket with the black super huge frame, I could not help but be reminded of Ninoy Aquino. The Namfrel fever became so strong and gave so much courage to Filipinos to stand up and fight that it was inevitable that it would lead to the Edsa Revolution.

After that, my Dad decided to help the Cory govenment as DTI secretary. He served also as mentor to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who had her first stint in government service as assistant secretary at DTI at that time. Up to this very day, PGMA always refers to my father as her mentor, as the one who gave her the confidence and attitude to face the challenges of public service.  In the meantime, in his own way, my Tito Ronnie also nurtured a unique advocacy for the benefit of Filipino consumers.

Known as the consumer and oil price watch, his advocacy has also helped millions of ordinary Filipinos to make an educated stand against unreasonable price increases in basic goods and utilities.

In business, my Dad and I always differed about business models and philosophies. He loves the chicken business, no matter how difficult it is. He still tends to be a protectionist, while I am more of the brand builder and free trade advocate. But in the end, even with these differences, I believe my father has lived up to be a good mentor.

Now I know that his purpose in life was to give encouragement to our countrymen in the darkest moments of our history. His theme song, The Impossible Dream, remains strongly appropriate to his vision for the country, for his quixotic quest to see the Philippines rise from poverty and become one of the most respected countries in Asia and the world.

48 years of knowing my Dad will always be the most significant experience of my life. Now as I turn towards a new frontier in my life of helping people fulfill their dreams of entrepreneurship, of giving hope and inspiration to everyone thru the “Go Negosyo” advocacy, I realize I am drawing on all that my father has taught me in serving others.

Now I have found the reason why at that young age I was exposed to all these civic work that my father loved to do. I am an entrepreneur by heart, a serial entrepreneur who loves to create businesses one after another, and I owe my success to my father for properly guiding me. But more than doing business, he has taught me to love this country much more. To my dad, Joecon, thank you for making me, and countless other Filipinos, care about our country. Thank you for the 48 years of your mentorship. We love you. Happy 75th birthday!

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How would you rate dad as a mentor and how has he inspired you?
I posed this question to my siblings and here are their answers:

My father is a man of many dreams, a man who believes that he can make a difference and change the world to become a better place, that if we all did our share and if we have God with us, nothing is impossible. I grew up idolizing my father, trying to mimic him from lugging around suitcases of paper to setting up a small office next to him. My father was not a ‘hands on’ coach. He would never tell me what to do but I learned so much more from what I saw him do. He taught me the meaning of servant leadership. My father often took the road less traveled, fought the fight many were afraid to do.  It is from him that I have learned the value of honesty, integrity, love for our neighbors but most importantly that deep love for God and devotion to our Blessed Mother.

As a mentor, Dad did not teach – he lives a life of HOPE and FAITH.  Dad never dreamed, rather, he acted on impossible dreams, and yes they really do come true.  Dad you are ‘my reach for the unreachable star’, you inspire me to reach far deeper into the interior of my heart. Happy Birthday Dad, we love you dearly. 

Dad taught me how to love my country.  Even at our country’s lowest point he stuck it out and never stopped believing in it and that the Filipino could rise and do anything. He taught me how to think of those less fortunate than myself and to use my blessings to help others.  He taught me the value of hard work, honesty and integrity, to never get ahead at someone else’s expense.  To love God first and everything else will follow.  I have always looked up to him and I am so proud of what he has done in his lifetime.  I am so proud to call him Dad.

My father has a passion and that is to serve his country in many ways: Namfrel, ASEAN, Barangay Captain, Ten Outstanding Students, and many more.  All his life, he has committed himself to serve the Filipino people.  I wish I could be more like him…

It’s not usual for dads to directly mentor daughters.  Same can be said of Dad and I.  I grew up with my dad busy trying to change the world (or at least a small part of it called the Philippines).  The values and principles he espoused and fought for were more of nation than family.  He mentored me indirectly by bringing me up in an environment where he encouraged me to choose whatever business endeavor I was inclined to.  He provided much encouragement and support.  He was more “rah-rah” than “do it this way” and he would always take every occasion to say how proud he was of my pursuits (even if at times it was a real struggle).  He would always tell me never to give up, to try harder and to never take the easy way out.  You could say he was “tor”mentor in the best way possible.  

My dad as my mentor has been very inspirational.  He has allowed me to dream yet make it reachable.  My father has helped me set values in my life that gave me direction and a proper understanding of what is just.  To this day I still come to my dad for advice and pick his brain on how to deal with the complex problems of life. 

Daddy has always been by my side giving advise and support in every thing I do.  Every night we make it a point to share and exchange ideas.  He has inspired me to always think BIG…think positive and believe in the impossible.  I look up to him as he exemplifies a true mentor as he leads by example.  His dedication to his work and advocacies, love for his family, selflessness for the poor and loyalty to his country give me a deep sense of pride for my father who I love so dearest.