The dream behind the global icon for Filipino food

The dream behind the global icon for Filipino food


Perhaps there is no Filipino brand more well-known than Jollibee. The homegrown fast food chain has created an empire of over 1,500 locations, spanning from here in the Philippines, to the United Arab Emirates, to Canada and the United States. To this day, the brand’s beaming bee mascot continues to go toe-to-toe with global fast food giants in terms of market share and revenues.

It is no surprise then, that Ernesto M. Tanmantiong, the president, CEO, and executive director of Jollibee Foods Corp. (JFC), has been named “Management Person of the Year 2023” by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP).

The award was previously known as the Management Man of the Year and is an award given by MAP to individuals in business or government who have attained distinction in management and have made valuable contributions to the country.

Despite the award’s nearly six-decade run, just 47 recipients have been recognized thus far since finding the MAP Management Person of the Year is “a tedious process.” Lilia B. de Lima, the award’s judging committee vice-chairperson, pointed out that the award’s criteria include integrity, prestige and distinction in the business community; exceptional ability in performing management functions; and tangible contributions nationwide, among others.

Mr. Tanmantiong has been chosen for “being able to accelerate Jollibee’s globalization and transform it into one of the world’s largest, fastest-growing restaurants,” according to Ms. de Lima.

The feat is all the more remarkable as Jollibee — like much of the restaurant industry — is one of the companies that have suffered the most from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The quick-service restaurant industry was among the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic. Even though we all are trying hard, this crisis spared nobody. For the Jollibee Group, this meant we had to close hundreds of stores, affecting many of our people, and resulting in a loss in 2020 — a first in our company’s history,” Mr. Tanmantiong had said in a previous interview with Esquire.

“This number could have gone higher if not for the substantial pivots we made to adapt to the changing needs of our customers and our business transformation. I cannot emphasize enough our appreciation for the hard work of our people and our partners, and through their collective effort, we swung back to profitability by the fourth quarter of 2020 and continue to grow and expand in 2021.”

Not that setbacks could hold his ambitions for the company down for long. It is no secret that it has ever been the dream of both Mr. Tanmantiong and his brother Tony Tan Caktiong, the founder and chairman of Jollibee Foods, to become the world’s biggest name in fast food.

“We never thought that we would grow this big, but my brother Tony always likes to dream big. So when we were operating the two ice cream parlors in the seventies, the goal at that time was to be number one in all the ice cream parlors in the Philippines,” he had said, speaking to CNBC.

“Yes, that was already the aim, to be number one. Then when we started introducing hamburgers and transforming the ice cream business into a hamburger business, the goal was to be the number one hamburger chain in the Philippines. At the same time, we were already thinking of expanding abroad.”

Mr. Tanmantiong said that when they achieved the number one position in the Philippines, they dared to dream bigger, setting a new goal post of becoming the largest restaurant company in Asia. They blew past that goal in 2014.

When they set the goal further to be the top 10 in the world in terms of market capitalization, they also achieved in record time. Now, the aim is to be one of the top five restaurant companies in the world in terms of market capitalization.

“We continue to dream big, and even despite the changes brought by the pandemic, our vision remains unchanged: to become one of the top five restaurant companies in the world by serving great tasting food and bringing the joy of eating to everyone,” he had said.

Serving up smiles amid crisis

Due to its size and influence, Jollibee had been instrumental in helping Filipinos during the pandemic through working with the government’s Inter-Agency Task Force, as well as its FoodAID Program. The company has donated over P300 million worth of food to thousands of frontliners and families who were severely affected by the pandemic.

Together with civic groups and other companies in the private sector, Jollibee also launched Project Karinderya to reestablish 320 karinderyas or eateries that have closed due to the pandemic, which benefitted more than 6,400 family beneficiaries or approximately 32,000 individuals.

Customers remain at the core of Jollibee’s operations, and no matter how high Mr. Tanmantiong’s dreams are for the company, he believes that they will continue to keep it that way.

“Many of the changes we’ve gone through were always predicated on our customers — from the time we shifted to hot meals from ice cream during our early ice cream parlor beginnings to today, where we pivot our business to adapt to the changing habits brought by the pandemic. We always strive to stay in tune with our customers, from their shift to digital, reliance on delivery and take-out, and dining in larger groups with their families at home. We responded as quickly as possible,” he had said.

“As the Jollibee Group grows, we want to make sure that the communities we serve grow with us. On top of providing employment opportunities, we also leverage on our expertise as a food company to help communities through the Jollibee Group Foundation.”

He noted that Jollibee programs are centered around access to food, such as the Farmer Entrepreneurship Program, which trains small farmers to become entrepreneurs. The program provides them a setup where they can directly sell to institutional buyers such as JFC, and improve their livelihoods substantially and sustainably.

“We are inspired to do more for our people and customers, to offer more of our great-tasting food to everyone, and to create more progress for the communities where we operate,” Mr. Tanmantiong said.

“We are humbled and honored to be among the brands that are loved by so many people across the globe. We have come a long way from our ice cream house beginnings in 1975. Back then, we were just looking for a stable source of livelihood for our family.”

“But through everyone’s hard work, we’ve grown into a company with over 5,800 stores across 34 countries carrying 17 brands. We know there’s still much to do, and we will not stop in our mission of serving delicious food, bringing the joy of eating to everyone,” he added.

Aside from his leadership position at JFC, Mr. Tanmantiong is also at the helm of Vismin Foods Corp., chairman of Jollibee Vietnam Corp. Ltd., chief executive officer of Jollibee Foods Corp. (USA), treasurer and director at Red Ribbon Bakeshop Holdings, Inc., and treasurer and director at Tokyo Terriyaki Corp. (which are all subsidiaries of JFC), and treasurer and director at Winall Holding Corp.

Mr. Tanmantiong is also on the board of 65 other companies. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Ateneo de Manila. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran

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