(Source: Inquirer.net | December 31, 2017)
The next president of the country’s largest business group is a woman whose first steps as a young adult pointed away from business, only to circle back to it years later.
Before Ma. Alegria Sibal-Limjoco made a name in the retail and franchise industry, she was known more as the daughter of a lawyer who made a living selling books.
When she was eight, she would wake up early on weekends to help out in her father’s bookstore called Alemar’s.
“On Saturdays, my classmates slept long hours. On Saturdays, I had to wake up early and work at the store,” she said in an interview with the Inquirer.
Alemar’s was founded by Ernesto Sibal, the man behind a number of publishing companies, including the Phoenix Publishing House.
Being raised by parents who ran a business had its perks, she said. The business gave them a nice home, a chance to study abroad and so forth.
But it came at a cost.
Limjoco said her parents didn’t have much time for them when they were growing up.
“They worked so hard. It took too much of their time. I hardly saw my parents,” she recalled.
She remembers spending Christmas, one of the most awaited holidays in Filipino households, waiting for her mom to close shop.
Her mom, Alegria Rodriguez, wouldn’t go home until the last customer left the store, she said.
This means not going home until it was almost Christmas eve.
“My mother and father were always in the store. We wanted to have another dream,” she said.
And so, when she had to decide what to take in college, she didn’t want to take a business-related degree.
Instead, she took up foreign diplomacy at St. Theresa’s College, convinced at a young age that anything that is not business-related means having more time for herself.
She did not become an ambassador like she initially wanted, however. After college, her father made her study in New York City, where she enrolled in the New York School of Interior Design.
Amid all the glamour that is New York, she juggled jobs, working in a department store, in a bookstore and even sold Avon products.
All these seem like detours in retrospect. We know now that it all goes full circle.
Limjoco, considered by many as the mother of the Philippine franchising industry, is not just a businesswoman today like her parents, but she will also soon head the largest business organization in the country.
“Somehow, I knew I would still go back [to our business]. When I was studying in the States, I knew that was where I was going to land,” she said.
Before the Philippine franchising industry reached billions of pesos in sales, there were just a handful of franchises in the country.
Phoenix Publishing, which she said wasn’t even a franchise, joined 14 other companies in the establishment of the Philippine Franchise Association (PFA).
More than two decades ago, she said that not much was known about franchising.
She, herself, only learned about its potential upon reading a report funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which identified franchising as the “next wave” of the future.
“In 1995, nobody knew what franchising was. When we invited DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), they sent somebody from LTFRB (Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board),” she said.
But through the years, franchising has grown and helped widen the scope of the middle class, thanks in part to the efforts of Limjoco.
In 2018, Limjoco, vice chair of the PFA, will take on more responsibility as she takes over the reins of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).
She will be only the second woman to hold the position.
Coming from a life of helping small retail stores branch into franchises, she told the Inquirer that she would focus her two-year term as PCCI president on helping out the small players in the business community.
She also said she wanted to continue the work done by her predecessors, the most recent being George Barcelon.
But on top of the chamber’s past projects, she wants to focus on MSME development, and even help K-12 students find better internship opportunities with PCCI member-companies.
Limjoco, who was a member of the PCCI board of directors for years, is taking the helm of the organization at a time when the business landscape in the Philippines is expected to change dramatically.
While Limjoco agrees with many of the advantages these changes would bring, she still has her reservations.
All of these changes—from new taxes to more foreign companies jostling with small Filipino firms—await her in the year ahead and she is expected to be more than ready to meet the challenges.
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