Eugenio H. Lopez Sr.Eugenio H. Lopez Sr., together with his brother Fernando, founded E and F Enterprises 84 years ago in Iloilo; this venture grew to become the Lopez Group of companies. Don Eñing passed away in the United States in 1975, a few weeks before what would have been his 75th birthday.
He was orphaned at a very early age. His father Benito was governor of Iloilo when an assassin shot him when Eugenio “Eñing” Hofileña Lopez was six years old and his younger brother Fernando was only three. They grew up under the care of their uncle Vicente, Benito’s younger brother, who raised the young boys as his own.
Even as a young man in sleepy Iloilo early in the 20th century, Don Eñing showed a lot of promise. He was sent to Manila to study at the Ateneo de Manila and later at the University of the Philippines where he took up law. He went on to Harvard for his master’s in law, after which he returned to Manila to start a career in business.
He quickly enough demonstrated his genius for conceiving and setting up pioneering enterprises. He sees a need, mostly of providing services to help people improve their lives or ease their daily burdens. In his late twenties, the would-be founder of the Lopez Group put up El Tiempo, the first crusading newspaper in Iloilo. At 31, he organized INAEC, the first airline in the Philippines and in Asia.
Opportunity to start afresh
The war years resulted in his budding businesses being totally wiped out, something that would discourage most men. But he saw it as an opportunity to start afresh. He made a decision to move out of the family’s traditional sugar business and into industry. The colonial mentality of his time scoffed at his audacity to want to buy control of Meralco, the largest industrial company in the country. He merely went ahead to prove the skeptics wrong.
Driving Don Eñing in his desire to buy Meralco from its American owners, General Public Utilities, was his belief that the Filipino is as good as any American in running a company as complex and financially demanding as Meralco. He bought the utility for more than $66 million in 1961. It was “the biggest leveraged buyout of that era.” It was, arguably, Don Eñing’s “biggest and most daring feat,” especially considering the prevailing mind-set at the time.
He enlisted the brightest young Filipinos to help him steer Meralco “to greater heights than the Americans ever did or could by adding power generation to its business and bringing down consumer rates to their lowest levels in Asia,” noted one of his sons, Lopez Group chairman emeritus Oscar M. Lopez (OML), in a 2010 speech.
The other thing he did was to become the county’s tri-media pioneer, running a string of radio and TV stations, and newspapers, from ABS-CBN Broadcasting to The Manila Chronicle. ABS-CBN went on to introduce color broadcasting and nationwide simulcast broadcasting. Both media companies were important in shaping public opinion in those times. Don Eñing was not afraid to go against the political powers and tangled with presidents on questions of principle in defense of good government.
Being the first to do something that they think is valuable to society is one of the characteristics of the Lopez way of doing business, a time-honored practice continued by Don Eñing’s children and grandchildren.
“…This tradition of venturing into what no other Filipinos have done, or to where no other private sector Filipino companies have, continues in the businesses that we start or invest in, and even in the projects that we undertake as part of our corporate social program,” OML said.
Love for scholarship and learning
His business acumen aside, Don Eñing nurtured a deep love for scholarship and learning, for art and letters—particularly Filipino art and letters. He would regularly schedule book hunting trips abroad, paying just about any price so that he could add more Filipiniana books to his collection. His appetite for anything about the Philippines, its history, people and culture was insatiable.
From the start, the Group’s founder was determined to get as many Filipinos to share his joy in Filipino art and culture. He believed that art and culture play a significant role in instilling fierce and real pride in being Filipino.
The Lopez Museum, which opened on February 13, 1960, was a devoted son’s tribute to his parents, Benito and Presentacion. It is an institution renowned for its collection of rare Filipiniana books, Rizal memorabilia, maps depicting the colonial-era Philippines and the masterpieces of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.
Among the museum’s treasures are a thirdedition (Rome, 1524) “De Moluccis Insulis,” by Maximillianus Transylvanus, which contains the first printed account of Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines, and a copy of Belarmino-Lopez’s “Doctrina” in Ilocano published in 1620 and considered the earliest Philippine imprint. The former is the oldest book the library has in its possession.
The Lopez Museum continues to add to its enviable collection of over 20,000 Filipino titles and even bankrolls the publication of new material in keeping with Don Eñing’s aim to preserve and promote Philippine art and letters.
In favor of labor
As an employer, Don Eñing’s generosity is the stuff of legend. The Old Man, as he had become known, took especial delight in surprising employees with raises, bonuses, gifts—and even their own hospital. He also ordered his management team, when in doubt, to resolve issues in favor of labor. He was, quite simply, walking his talk, underscoring his belief that his people were the “most valuable and important asset.”
This outlook was also something that Ambassador Manuel M. Lopez (AMML) took to heart. AMML started his career in Meralco in 1965, not as an executive working in an air-conditioned office, but “pounding the pavements with the meter readers and bill collectors, going around with the linemen in their trucks, working with the tellers in the branches.” His salary, like theirs, was about P160 a month. To this day, AMML is known for instituting a culture of “malasakit” in Meralco.
These cardinal virtues by which Don Eñing lived, including Nationalism, Pioneering Entrepreneurial Spirit, and Employee Welfare and Wellness, are enshrined in the Lopez Credo and Values. These Values are practiced by the Group in the areas of business excellence and corporate social responsibility.
Don Eñing, Lopez Group founder, would have turned 111 years old this month. The spirit of the man lives on—in his precious, priceless bequests to the country and its people, and in his cherished Values that guide his family and Lopez Group employees.
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