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The chairman of multi-brand retail conglomerate Suyen Corporation believes in nurturing relationships, creating icons, and constantly diversifying—essential tactics in these highly competitive times

By Marge Enriquez

Benito “Ben” Chan, chairman of multi-brand retail conglomerate Suyen Corporation, is one of the most loved business leaders in Manila. Cool, suave, and humble, he is known as a man with a big heart.

Chan attributes his success to guanxi or guanshi, one of the pillars of Chinese culture. Guanxi (which literally means “connection” or “rapport”) is about establishing a network of mutually beneficial relationships outside of a formal environment.

He takes guanxi a step further by cultivating a familial culture in Suyen Corporation. Its flagship, Bench, has over 530 stores nationwide and three dozen Bench Body stores in China. Suyen Corporation has 18 local brands and 42 foreign brands.

Growing up in a close-knit and sheltered family, Chan helped out in the family businesses. Social life was limited, and holidays were spent at work. Still, it gave him a feeling of belonging, aside from sharing in the responsibility.

This sense of family has been so ingrained in Chan that he carries it over to work. “I believe in lifelong relationships with my employees, suppliers, landlords, customers, business partners, endorsers, banks, designers, and artists. I am proud to say that in the nearly 30 years since we started Bench, we have truly formed a Bench Family. They have been with us through thick and thin, helped us to learn and grow. In turn, we have helped them, too. The deep connections and relationships we have nurtured over the years can be considered among Bench’s most prized assets. They are irreplaceable,” he says.

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The guanxi is extended to his corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, which are targeted to education, environment, the arts, and health.  Chan clarifies that the CSR projects are not driven by mere charity or donation. They are a way of returning the blessings to the society that has supported his businesses. He learned this practice from his parents.

“Part of the moral obligation of maintaining a long-term relationship is reciprocity, or giving back. In Chinese culture, you give back because a relationship is about give and take, a two-way street,” he says.

Bench Foundation provides scholarships and publishes books. Suyen has supported environmental causes, raised funds for breast cancer, and is a major sponsor of the annual Philippine Art Fair. Deaf-mute salespeople work in his stores, which is a long-term company policy.

Chan points out that Bench’s Love Local, a campaign that promotes nationalism and patronage of local products, has been the company’s rallying cry since the brand’s establishment in 1987.

Chan adds that his love for the country and appreciation of its culture deepen whenever he travels. “I want to impart patriotism to my fellow Filipinos. The success of our country depends on it,” he says.

Ben Chan is the cover of Asian Dragon Magazine’s December 2016-January 2017 issue. Read his full story and how he remains unfazed by competition by constantly thinking outside the box (plus! entrepreneurial advice) inside the magazine, available in all leading bookstores nationwide or downloadable from the Asian Dragon Magazine App, free on Google Play Store, iTunes, and Amazon.

Photographs: Ronnie Salvacion courtesy of Suyen Corporation

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