Jonathan Jay Chiongbian Aldeguer, currently the president of the Aldeguer Group of Companies. A TOYM awardee at the age of 27, Aldeguer actually has every right to be that intimidating, overpowering man. But he’s not. His success was brought about by his unwavering optimism about his country, unbelievable determination, and a highly creative mind, tempered with a realistic outlook in life.
Aldeguer (yes, a nephew of the ’70s dance icons Terry and Lally Aldeguer) recalls his beginnings as a businessman, which started during his college years at the Ateneo: “I engaged in several businesses when I was still in school. I’d be going around in my backpack, selling T-shirts to my classmates,” he shares. He says that coming from Cebu and moving to Manila to study had him looking for ways to augment his allowance.
But his business acumen would bear fruit shortly after he graduates. “I went backpacking in Europe and started collecting T-shirts from the different places I’d visit. And then, after Europe, I went around the Philippines as well, and I wanted to do the same thing. And I found out that in the Philippines, there weren’t attractive souvenirs. They were all old school native stuff, which, for a young college grad, wasn’t appealing at all. So I thought, there’s an opportunity,” he recounts.
And he didn’t waste any time. Just a few months after thinking of the concept, he set up shop in Cebu and opened Islands Souvenirs. He quickly turned his and other tourists’ problem into a business opportunity. He took an old idea, which is the souvenir industry, and put a new spin on it.
“We’re known for native handicrafts, and we have beautiful handicrafts, but they’re all native and dark and wooden. I felt that the Philippines, being a tropical island, was not properly projected in our souvenirs. I felt it would be best to project the fun, colorful, sunny, tropical island,” he says of his jump-off concept for Islands Souvenirs. And true enough, entering any Islands Souvenirs store transports you to a sunny and bright atmosphere, no matter how stiff the mall can be.
From Cebu, Islands Souvenirs expanded to other provinces. Aldeguer describes the company’s first year as “phenomenal,” as it reached a 400 percent increase in sales, which is no mean feat for a start-up business. In the store’s third year, Henry Sy loved the concept and immediately installed Islands Souvenirs in every SM outlet in Manila. Today, there are over 100 outlets of Islands Souvenirs in the country, including stores and kiosks. Aldeguer has also expanded globally by putting up branches in Okinawa, Japan, Singapore, and Macau.
And this Cebuano does not intend to stop there. Today, using Islands Souvenirs as his jump-off point, he has developed a new concept of the pasalubong center: a small department store-type setup, which includes all the pasalubong that hails from that certain province. He has opened an outlet featuring this new concept in Cebu.
“For instance, in Cebu, we have everything from guitars to chicharon, otap, of different brands. That way, we elevate the retail experience of pasalubong shopping, and at the same time, we’ve been able to help young entrepreneurs and small businesses by putting them in a more professional setting,” he explains. And he hopes to create this concept in other destinations as well.
This is a man who was able to successfully establish a business that has been running for 14 years now, and is showing no signs of slowing down. Now, how does he do it? He says one of the reasons for his success is innovation. “I think what I did, which many people have done as well, is that they found a business concept, and reinvented it. We hit the nail right on the head when we came up with the concept,” Aldeguer states. “It’s more significant more than ever in this ever-evolving world to constantly innovate.”
He also acknowledges the hard work of the people behind Islands Souvenirs. “I always believe that you have to trust people. Other people can actually do some things better than you can,” he declares. “I don’t think you can ever expand your business if you feel no one else can execute it other than yourself.” He believes that a business thrives because of the talents of its people.
And because of these principles, Aldeguer has received quite a number of accolades. He has been the proud recipient of the TOYM award, the Agora award, the British Council Design Entrepreneur of the Year Award, and recently, the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Small Business. Islands Souvenirs has also brought him to the Retailer of the Year Hall of Fame, as he was able to bag the prize three times.
But even with those awards, Aldeguer maintains a modest stance, and pronounces that work is just one aspect of his life. When asked how he is able to balance his time between his personal and professional affairs, he quickly replies, “That’s never been a problem. Ever since, work never defined me. There’s more to life than just work.”
When he is not wrapped up in his business, he tries to squeeze in as much leisure traveling as possible. In fact, his passion for travel is what spurred his successful business venture. He cites Bantayan Island, an island off Cebu, as one of his favorite places on earth. “I love that place. I keep kidding around that I might even retire there one day,” he says with a smile. He shares that he enjoys the water, and tries out as many water sports as he can. Right now, he’s looking into trying kiteboarding, and also hopes to visit El Nido sometime soon. Of international destinations, he cites Oia, Santorini, in Greece, as his favorite getaway spot.
In his travels, he also loves to take snapshots of people engaged in decisive moments. “I’ve always been a frustrated artist. The problem was, since I’m a very visual person, I have an idea of how I want to execute it, but for some reason, it doesn’t come out the way I envision it. It got really frustrating, so I shifted to photography,” he shares. He has been taking photos for five years now, and is planning to put up an exhibit this year.
And of course, aside from these passions, he devotes a lot of his time to his family, especially to his children. He has three children who are rapidly growing up, and he spends as much time with them as he possibly can. “Relationships are most important. I like to nurture relationships, whether it be with my family, my children, or my friends.”
Aldeguer clearly manifests an incredible zest for life, not letting anything get in the way of his passions. He has managed to build a business empire without compromising his time for his family. Quite an unusual sight to see in today’s fast-paced world. In fact, when asked to speak to young, aspiring entrepreneurs, his advice does not involve business principles or money-making schemes. “Start young. We have what it takes to be great entrepreneurs, and the environment’s so conducive for the young. I think they should exploit this opportunity,” he says. “More than business advice, I really try to instill hope in our country, because a lot of us have become hopeless. We’re all looking to leave the Philippines, which is understandable. I know there are great opportunities abroad, but I love the Philippines. I believe in its people.”