John Gokongwei's rags to riches story now a children's book

Posted at 08/30/2012 12:13 PM | Updated as of 08/30/2012 6:35 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Teaching kids about money and how to make more money can be a challenge. But the children of the Philippines' fourth richest man, John Gokongwei Jr., found an interesting way to do that.

It's by storytelling. It's a classic way of teaching a child values, but it's not about anyone's story.

It's their father's story, about his journey that made him the Philippines' fourth richest man.

Gokongwei's story as written in the book "Big John" begins in war-time era. Thirteen-year-old Gokongwei sold peanuts, soap and candles in Cebu after his rich father died and left them with nothing.

In the book, Gokongwei said it was a far cry from the lavish lifestyle he grew up with. But he was the eldest child and had to be the man of the house.

He narrated his heart-breaking separation from his five younger siblings, who were sent to China where it was cheaper to raise them.

Gokongwei made P20 a day from selling goods in Cebu's markets, part of which he sent to China for his brothers and a sister.

Teenage Gokongwei later braved the rough seas to trade goods between Cebu and Manila, and from there built an empire that covers food and beverages, malls, hotels, condos and airlines.

The story ends with Gokongwei revealing the true meaning of success.

"Can I tell you a secret? More than all my businesses, more than all the money I have, my family is my greatest happiness."

Gokongwei said children need not be forced into learning business. His ways may not be traditional Chinese, with him even naming his biggest brands after his eldest child Robina.

"I'm glad that my children are interested. I let them do what they want. Like Lisa, she wanted to be in journ, Lance into industry and banking, Robina in retail. Lisa was assigned to telco after us but after one year,she told me 'Dad, I'd like something else'... I said go ahead. She did it without capital and she built it up to be the largest publisher of glossy magazines," Gokongwei said.

Gokongwei said he learned not just one lesson from the many years he tried to deal with life's bad cards.

"I don't think there's only one lesson. There are many. You have an objective, you zero in on that. You be honest, hardworking. There's not only one lesson. The most important thing is to have an open mind to dream of bigger things and try to achieve that," Gokongwei said.

Lessons he said would apply even if it's no longer war time.