Who is Delfin Lee?

Posted at 11/03/10 12:38 AM

MANILA, Philippines – Before Delfin Lee became today's social pariah, he was considered a dreamer, a visionary, and, as his daughter Divine described him, "an idealist."

A natural entrepreneur, he has the guts and appetite for risk: He transformed previous wilderness in lahar-covered village in Pampanga into what is now a bustling cosmopolitan community called Xevera, prompting Mabalacat Mayor Marino Morales to consider him as someone who had "the full measure of miracles requisite to a canonization."

But Xevera is also the housing project that dragged Lee's name down. Lee and some of his employees are now facing syndicated estafa raps for allegedly sabotaging state-run Pag-IBIG Fund through ghost buyers that took out housing loans from the provident fund's members.

This is a story on the rise and fall of a businessman once dubbed by his friends as the “Donald Trump of the Philippines” and who has looked up to SM mall magnate Henry Sy. He has aspired to make Globe Asiatique the “SM of Philippine housing.”

Art of real estate business

The art of doing business runs through the veins of Lee, who is in his mid-50's. His parents and grandparents ran a lumberyard business in Sampaloc, Manila where he first learned the many ways of making money. In an interview with Pampangapep.com, he narrated how he earned commissions from chatting with the shopowners in their neighborhood and his friends’ businessmen-dads, eventually matching the needs of buyers and sellers among them.

The lumberyard, manufacturing, and trading businesses have since moved to the back burner after Lee decided to join the real estate bandwagon in 1992, a change largely due to his exposure in importing construction-related materials.

Lee has a knack for acquiring market intelligence by keenly paying attention to the needs of those left out by mainstream property developers. His first project—a subdivision called Santa Barbara Villas I project in San Mateo, Rizal in 1994—initially targeted generations of employees hired for the family's business. He realized their nagging needs for a house they could call their own while he was sweeping the lumberyard floor.

Soon, the P150,000-worth two-room units made more affordable through homebuyers’ access to a Pag-Ibig loan were selling like hotcakes. The 1997-98 financial crisis, however, stalled him from further building on the success of his first real estate venture.

After sorting out the unsettled payables post-crisis, Lee was at it again by 2000, targetting largely niche clients like police force, soldiers and teachers for the typical socialized housing products. He moved on to other target buyers, like OFWs and office-goers who would pay P750,000 for a condo unit in Metro Manila that provides the convenience of easy access to the MRT rail network in the metropolis.

In 2002, he partnered with Malaysian partners and created Filmal Realty Corp. which developed another horizontal community with units for less than P1 million for the low- and middle-class market segments.

“I did not have any single study made on my projects before we put them up. I relied more on gut feel and always listening to the customer. It is not about what I want, but what they want,” he told Inquirer in 2007.

At the core of his business model is a housing product that is affordable but addresses the cultural needs of a community. A typical "township" product, such as the Xevera brand in Pampanga, have top-line features like a school, church, town hall, a wet and dry market, a clubhouse with an Olympic-size swimming pool, commercial areas, an amusement park, and a 3-hectare eco park.

Thinking big

Lee called his company Globe Asiatique "because we want to be global in thinking and standards of quality, at the same time we're excited about being Asian," he told Philippine Star columnist Wilson Lee Flores, his distant relative, in a published interview last February.

Globe Asiatique has a portfolio that includes the Xevera brand of “township” communities in Pampanga, locations Lee candidly told pampangapep.com he stumbled into while pursuing a girl.

A replica of the Xevera concept and other permutations of similar affordable housing projects are being constructed in other areas, including Mindoro and other areas in Visayas. Other housing projects are located in Valenzuela City, Binangonan in Rizal, Antipolo City. There are 2 high-rise condominiums in Mandaluyong City and Quezon City.

The housing business has been basically a family affair. Son and heir Dexter is the vice president for finance and executive vice president, while daughter Divine is the vice president for international sales and marketing. Divine, who has been dabbling as a model and clothing line owner, has also graced several glossy magazine covers.

Lee is media-savvy, or, as his peers in the Chamber of Real Estate and Builders' Associations (CREBA) described, is bold and innovative in his marketing approach.Globe Asiatique and Filmal have been major sponsors and have donated house and lot packages to winners of reality shows in ABS-CBN like “Pinoy Big Brother” and other game shows of the network.

This came handy when Lee was planning to raise capital through the stock market way back in 2005.

Shelved IPO

Lee is in a business fueled mainly by the availability of financing--both for the developers and the homebuyers. Pag-IBIG addressed both, but aggressive expansion plans required access to more capital.

When Globe Asiatique’s credit lines with local banks were used up, the plan to proceed with the Initial Public Offering (IPO) at the local bourse became more compelling. The IPO, scheduled for late 2010, was supposed to bring in about P3.3 billion.

But when the Pag-IBIG brouhaha happened, the IPO plan was shelved. Globe Asiatique cited "weak global market conditions" but there were also news reports that it was because BDO Capital, the underwriter, quit. - Research by Lala Rimando and Leilani Chavez, abs-cbnnews.com