Tony was the third of seven siblings born to poor parents who migrated from the Fujian province in China to look for a better life here in the Philippines. His father began as a chef in a Chinese Temple. Not later on his father was invited to open a restaurant business in Davao so the whole family moved south. All together, they helped one another in managing the restaurant business which in turn became profitable. This allowed young Tony to return back to Manila and pursue his course Chemical Engineering at the University of Santo Tomas (UST).
In 1975, Tony and his colleagues went on a visit to a Magnolia Ice Cream plant located in Quezon City and learned that it was offering franchise when he saw a poster for it. By the month of May, with his family savings, he took P350,000 to grab the franchise opportunity and opened two Magnolia ice cream parlors named Cubao Ice Cream House located near the Coronet Theater, and Quiapo Ice Cream House located beside the bridge – the one going to ilalim – near a Mercury Drug outlet
Tony started with just two ice cream. Then after two years, he offered chicken and hamburger sandwiches, because customers were telling them they didn’t want to be eating ice cream all the time. They prepared the food in the back kitchen, and soon noticed that people were lining up more for hamburgers than for ice cream. Then in 1978, when they already had six ice cream parlors, they asked themselves: “Why don’t we change into a hamburger house?”
That was also the time they decided to incorporate and realized thet they needed a brand name. They were looking for a symbol that would represent the group, and because Tony was very impressed with Disneyland characters, they decided on a bee. The bee is a busy creature that produces honey – one of life’s sweetest things. They thought it would be a very good symbol to represent everybody. They decided they would all be very busy and happy at the same time, because if they were busy but not happy, it wouldn’t be worth it. That’s why they put the word jolly and just changed the “y” into “i” to form a brand name – JOLLIBEE.
McDonald’s came in 1982, but they didn’t feel threatened because they were a little naïve and Jollibee was doing very well. They found McDonald’s to be very good at everything, but it didn’t know the local culture. They knew the Filipino’s taste buds and what he liked in food, so they offered him flavorful and good-tasting products. He likes pasta, so they started offering spaghetti. He likes chicken, so they came up with good fried chicken by mixing different flavors. They also knew something important all along: Filipino taste is sweet. This is very Filipino – very Asian. He said: “If we eat anything sweet; we don’t really think it’s sweet; but try giving it to a foreigner and they’d be surprised.”
Jollibee group has also become bigger. Now they have Chowking, Greenwich, Delifrance, and the recently acquired Red Ribbon. Greenwich pizza started as an over-the-counter pizza store at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan, Metro Manila, in 1971. One time, the founder approached Tony to ask if they were interested – at that time she has 50 kiosks and having difficulty managing the business – when she asked them if they were interested, Tony said, “why not? Let’s form a joint venture.” They took over the management in 1994, but they retained the taste of her products because it suits the local market. On the other hand, they took over Chowking in 2000 because Chinese food is also very popular among Filipinos, but there was no good company serving the market. So they took over and worked on it.
“Delifrance is doing so-so. And the reason is because we’re still not used to eating bread as a meal – therefore, the market is limited to the AB classes. It can’t grow into a mass-market type.
Tony Tan Caktiong is another exemplar example of an inspiring entrepreneur. He had all the achievements from Management Man of the Year in 2002 to an Agora Award for Outstanding Marketing Achievement, from a Triple A Alumni Award from the Asian Institute of Management to a Ten Outstanding Young Men Award for Entrepreneurship. And to cap it all, he also won the World Entrepreneur of The Year 2004 by Ernst & Young besting other 31 world entrepreneur competitors