Tony Tan Caktiong is the founder and current Chairman and CEO of Philippine fast food chain Jollibee. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in chemical engineering. Caktiong had initially planned an ice cream parlor when he founded Jollibee, then subsequently added additional dishes such as hamburgers, french fries, and fried chicken.
Food and family are two essential elements behind the success of both Tony Tan Caktiong and his company, Jollibee Foods Inc.
While growing up in Davao (Southern Mindanao), he and his brothers worked in their family restaurant where their father was also the chef. From his parents, they learned two basic ingredients that led to the Jollibee phenomenon — good food and humility.
After high school, Mr. Tan Caktiong moved back to Manila to pursue an engineering course at the University of Santo Tomas. Upon graduating from the university, he and his brothers applied for a franchise of Magnolia Ice Cream House.
The business was already doing well but they noticed that the customers were looking for something besides ice cream. This gave them the idea to serve sandwiches and spaghetti. Pretty soon, the hot meals were outselling the frozen delights. Mr. Tan Caktiong decided to convert their two ice cream parlors into dine-in fast-food restaurants called “Jollibee.”
The story behind the name is as interesting as the company’s. When Mr. Tan Caktiong and his family were brainstorming on a symbol for their business, they thought of a bee because it is known for its hard work.
Bees also produce honey that represents the sweet things in life. In addition, they also wanted the name to connote happiness and prefixed “jolly” because people should be happy with their work to enjoy it. With Jollibee, the Tan Caktiong team decided to focus on the Filipino taste. They made sure — as their father had taught them — that all the food that Jollibee serves must taste good.
And when they learned that the Number One fastfood chain in the world was making an entry in the Philippines, Mr. Tan Caktiong knew that they had only two choices: to be a franchise of the global brand or to stand on its own.
Today, it is a known fact that Jollibee is the undisputed leader in the local fastfood industry. Jollibee commands 65% of the market, leading in three major segments — Jollibee in chicken and burgers; Chowking in oriental fast food; and Greenwich in pizza and pasta. Moreover, Jollibee is one of the largest franchising networks in the Philippines. From two stores in 1975, Jollibee can be found in around 900 locations in the country and 29 overseas. This phenomenon is due mainly to Mr. Tan Caktiong’s persistent drive to innovate, to look ahead, and to learn from other companies’ successes and mistakes. He is the toughest quality controller of Jollibee’s products and services.
At the moment, Mr. Tan Caktiong is upbeat about doing business in China and Indonesia. Jollibee will explore opportunities in the Japanese dining segment through the US California-based Tomi’s Teriyaki Japanese Restaurant. He is not afraid to fail despite an unsuccessful venture in the Middle East. From a business standpoint, he considers the episode successful because of the valuable lessons he learned form it.
For his tremendous success, Mr. Tan Caktiong was recognized Management Man of the Year in 2002. He has also been presented an Agora Award for Outstanding Marketing Achievement, a Triple A Alumni Award from the Asian Institute of Management, a Golden Scroll Award, a Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) Award for Entrepreneurship, a Star of Asia Award from BusinessWeek, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Asian Chain Restaurant Operators and Suppliers Series.
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