Tony Tan Caktiong inspires graduates to dream big
Jollibee founder and chairman Tony Tan Caktiong shares 7 tips to new graduates. Credits to Tony Tan Caktiong via Philippine Star.

Jollibee Foods Corporation founder and chairman, Tony Tan Caktiong, delivered a speech that inspired graduates of the Asian Institute of Management.

The inspiring Chinoypreneur chief of the Philippines’ most popular restaurant chain, now expanding rapidly into the global market, shared about his journey to success in business starting with dreaming big, his experiences with failure, the value of learning, working with people, making choices, giving back, and being happy.

Below is the full text of Tony Tan Caktiong’s speech published on the Philippine Star:

Mr. Peter Garrucho Jr., OBE, chairman, AIM board of governors and trustees; professor Jikyeong Kang, president and dean, Asian Institute of Management; members of the AIM board of governors and board of trustees; faculty, executives-in-residence and distinguished fellows in Development Managements of the Asian Institute of Management; members of the diplomatic corps, special guests from government, academe and the business community; JFC board of directors and management; ladies and gentlemen, graduates….

Congratulations to each and every one of you. You may all have different reasons for taking up further studies here at the AIM – you have already earned my respect and admiration, simply by making it here today on your graduation.

All of you, without exception, have every reason to be proud. Seeing through the program in spite of sleepless nights, having to read and think through countless case studies, already signifies that you value the importance of continuous learning. As you celebrate today, I hope you also find time to convey your thanks or express your gratitude to those who have in one way or another, helped you achieve this new milestone in your life.

Incidentally, Wash Sycip who was a very dear friend and mentor, and who happens to be one of the pioneers of this school, exemplified and championed the immense value of education and continuous learning. The very thought of how the program has yet again produced another batch of potential future leaders would have without a doubt made him happy. I purposely used the word leaders as I believe there has always been an abundance of good managers everywhere, but not enough leaders…. Leadership matters, and it matters a lot. Companies and countries alike needs exemplary leaders.

With us here today are a few such leaders who have truly led and have made a difference in their respective fields, and can perfectly serve as an inspiration to us all – Former Supreme Court chief justice Artemio Panganiban who was one of the, if not the best our Judiciary has ever had with his unparalleled wisdom, former senator Alberto Romulo who has dedicated his entire life in public service for our country and with absolute integrity, having served as executive secretary, secretary of Finance, Budget secretary, and as secretary of Foreign Affairs, and Edgar “Injap” Sia, an exceptional entrepreneur, founder of Mang Inasal and DoubleDragon Properties. All of them were once like you. I hope that like them – I will see and hear of you making your own mark, making a difference in whatever field or path you take, and making your mark with purpose and meaning – to be leaders of others, and eventually inspire future generations.

In addition to the lessons you were taught and the countless management insights, principles and best practices you have learned about successful leaders and companies here at the AIM which are certainly essential – more importantly, I hope you take with you and continue to strengthen those that relate and pertain to character…. discipline, perseverance, resilience, integrity, excellence and….. always doing the right thing. I assure you that these would prove to be invaluable in good times, but even more so when difficult and seemingly insurmountable challenges come your way.

When you begin a new journey tomorrow, I also hope that you find joy in the actual journey itself for it is through both the difficulties and the triumphs of the journey that one grows, makes us better, and gives life its meaning. The attainment of most of your goals, especially material ones I hope you will realize is secondary, as they can be fleeting or temporary. But how the journey molds your character, provides you with countless opportunities to make a difference and gives your life meaning…. stays with you forever.

I hope you can allow me now to share a few things that have helped me on my own journey on far too many occasions:

First, dream big and whenever you achieve your dreams – to dream even bigger. When Grace, my wife and I opened our first store, we already aspired to make Jollibee the largest restaurant company in the Philippines. I can still remember back then with only a few stores, news came out that the largest fast food company in the world and who was number 1 in each and every country, was about to enter the Philippines in a big way. A few of our friends advised us to try and sell the business while there was still some value that could be had. When we decided to continue on, the very same friends thought we were not very smart and a little bit crazy. It was our dream that prevented us from giving up. And as my brother William would say, instead of chickening out, we came out with Chickenjoy! For those of you who might remember – The original spelling of our brand Jollibee was with a “Y,” which we quickly changed to an “I” because even if we were just starting out without any guarantee we would even succeed and ever set foot outside the Philippines one day, we already wanted to ensure the brand name can be registered globally.

Contrary to what some may think, Jollibee was not an overnight success. Our entire family had to work very hard – all my siblings included, each of whom have been with JFC on the same journey almost from the very beginning until today – Ato who is now our CEO, Joseph our country head for the Philippines – whose son Jefferson Tan is one of the graduates today – and William our chief real estate officer and head of design. It was our shared dream with our people throughout the organization and our loyal customers who continued to support and inspire us without end for which we are very thankful for, that prevented us from ever giving up. There is also something about dreaming big, always filling one’s self with optimism, that brings to mind one of the often quoted lines from the Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: “When you want something, all the universe will conspire to help you achieve it.”

Second, Never be afraid to fail. Failure, assuming you learn from them can be the best teacher. I can say firsthand that some of the greatest and most meaningful learnings come from failures. Needless to say, I continue to make them to this day. What would be inexcusable is to make exactly the same mistake twice, and even more so to repeat the same mistake countless of times.

Third, Never lose your incessant thirst and love for learning. Having a natural curiosity can be an extraordinary asset in more ways than one can ever imagine. This is even more so as the pace of change in the world is increasingly becoming more rapid, some industries quicker than others. Being unable to adapt can put in question one’s relevance and render one’s knowledge, skills and even entire business obsolete.

Fourth, life involves making choices. Anything is possible, but one cannot do or have everything. In our case in JFC, we made the strategic and disciplined choice of creating joy and happiness through food, through great tasting food. While I was very fond of everything Walt Disney growing up – my greatest influence was probably our father, who was a chef who cooked really delicious food even with the most basic of ingredients. I remember he told us that if you are a tailor, you have to make sure the clothes fit perfectly well.

If you are in the restaurant business, you need to make sure the food tastes really, really good. But lest I forget, likewise of equal influence and an equally, if not more important person who has raised me to be grounded and appreciate the simple things in life is my mother. So to my mom – thank you.

I believe it matters less what you choose to do or become, as long as you do it very, very well.

Dreams do come true but one cannot have dozens or hundreds of dreams. If you choose too many, you’ll almost certainly achieve none of them.

Choose one or two and give it your best. Have opportunities to diversify and get into new and exciting business opportunities come our way? Thousands of times. Could we have succeeded in at least some of them? Maybe. But in hindsight, doing so would probably have meant less success in the restaurant business. Since we opened our first store to our 4,500 stores around the world today, running restaurants has pretty much been the only business we’ve known.

Fifth, In the retail industry, there is a saying that what is important is location, location, location. From my experience, it is people, people, people.

Also, choose and surround yourself with people whose capabilities are far greater than yours and who likewise share the same dream, passion, values and principles. I can assure you that you cannot do it alone. For me, I instantly won the jackpot by choosing Grace, the best partner I could ever have in life, and my family especially all my siblings, including my brother and sister in-laws who have given their unwavering support in many ways.

I have always been a firm believer that the businesses which are ultimately admired and built to last are those who believe that everything ultimately begins and ends with people. Always remember, regardless of your business, whatever the circumstances…. without exception – taking care of your people is paramount.

Sixth, giving back. I believe that a country needs more entrepreneurs. Very early – I came to the realization that the greatest form of charity is growing a successful business. The multiplier effect creates more employment and can improve the lives not only of your people but your people’s families as well. Related businesses are also able to thrive and grow from our suppliers to our partners. It has also allowed us to help make a difference in a much more organized way when we founded the Jollibee Group Foundation, led by my wife Grace, some 15 years ago.

With our two core programs, the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program and Busog, Lusog, Talino Program, it gave us the impetus and additional means to fulfill our responsibility of doing more than our fair share in Nation Building. Don’t wait until you become big or successful. There is no right time.

Seventh and last – be happy. The very reason we included the word Jolly in the name of our brand and company name is that working hard and achievements are simply not worth it if you are not happy with and do not love what you are doing. Even amidst any negativity or pessimism – never get discouraged and always have the heart of an entrepreneur who often sees all blue oceans in terms of opportunities and blue skies in terms of potential and outlook no matter how seemingly difficult the environment or situation.

The future and the rest of your very promising lives starts tomorrow. Trust me –There are many reasons to be hopeful! Believe in yourselves. And as we always like to say in Jollibee Foods Corp., the best is yet to come.

Before I end, I’d like to once again thank the leadership of AIM, all the hardworking and passionate men and women of Jollibee Foods Corp., my family and all our friends.

Always take care and I wish you all the very best!

Thank you!

SHARE your tips for new graduates in the comments below and SEND cheers to Jollibee’s Tony Tan Caktiong, inspirational Filipino leader!

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