The Entrepreneur of The Year Philippines 2019 has concluded its search for the country’s most successful and inspiring entrepreneurs. Entrepreneur of The Year Philippines is a program of the SGV Foundation, Inc. with the participation of co-presenters Department of Trade and Industry, the Philippine Business for Social Progress, and the Philippine Stock Exchange. In the next few weeks, BusinessWorld will feature each of the finalists for the Entrepreneur of The Year Philippines 2019.
President and Chief Executive Officer
Destileria Limtuaco & Company, Inc.
OLIVIA LIMPE-AW was challenged to make her mark in the liquor industry after taking over the leadership of Destileria Limtuaco & Co. Inc. (DLCI).
Taking over a well-established company since 1852, she was under immense pressure to sustain her family’s legacy that had been managed through four generations. She was determined to prove her abilities as an entrepreneur by positively transforming DLCI’s culture and operations as well as establishing her own brands and ventures.
Ms. Limpe-Aw was introduced to the family business at young age. She thought of her father’s office as her playground and spent much of her childhood running around the plant. During summer vacations, she would run simple office errands and sit in board meetings, eventually learning to love the company.
As the first female head of DLCI, she admits that some would not associate the liquor business with women leaders but, as fate would have it, her father had seven daughters but no son. He naturally had to pass the business on to one of them.
“If I had a brother, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” she said.
Of the seven sisters, only Ms. Limpe-Aw was interested in taking over the company after seeing how her father devoted his life to the business. She recalls, “I saw him deal with different problems in the company. I just wanted to help him and make his life a little easier.”
This interest led her to study Business Economics at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. After graduating, she went straight to work at DLCI as her father’s assistant before being assigned to the cashier department. She eventually rose through the ranks and became the executive vice-president of finance.
Her ultimate test as an entrepreneur came in 1989 when the company suffered a labor strike, shutting down its plants and offices for nearly six months. Sales declined and the company’s distribution network fell apart, causing it to lose most of its market share of White Castle Whiskey.
DLCI had to undergo two retrenchment programs and manage its low sales volume.
Although DLCI was at the brink of collapse, closing was not an option for the Limpe family.
Ms. Limpe-Aw recalls that her father was adamant that they never give up no matter how difficult things became. Inspired by her father’s commitment, she developed sustainable solutions to address the company’s situation.
To alleviate the company’s financial problems, she decided to try her hand at exporting and making use of their inventories of imported malt whiskey. She studied trade agreements, identified prime export opportunities, and revived their manufacturing bonded warehouse. Soon, the company started exporting to Taiwan and other Southeast Asian markets.
She also improved the company’s products by adopting the ISO 9001 quality management system. In 1998, DLCI became the first distillery plant in the Philippines to receive an ISO 9001 certification.
Aside from paralyzing operations, the strike also led to labor-management distrust. Realizing that the company would need to adapt, Ms. Limpe-Aw facilitated change management initiatives by introducing changes to DLCI’s culture, policies, processes, systems and procedures. She worked with labor unions to rebuild trust and improve labor-management relations, forming resolutions that balanced the interests of all her stakeholders.
She recalls, “I sat through collective bargaining agreements and labor hearings to show them that I am not afraid and that I am fair.”
Through this process, she also formed her personal employee management principle: I will not give to one what I cannot give to all.
Despite the numerous challenges she faced, Ms. Limpe-Aw looks at the silver lining of her experience, saying: “I’m not afraid of problems because they’re opportunities.”
“If I didn’t go through tough times, there would be nothing to learn and I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Ms. Limpe-Aw’s foresight, principles and hard work paid off as she was able to slowly rebuild DLCI, referring to herself as “the turnaround CEO” when she assumed leadership in 2004.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Ms. Limpe-Aw continues to seek new ways to innovate and grow the company, while simultaneously promoting sustainable practices.
She developed her own line of craft spirits made with Philippine fruits sourced from local farmers, whom the company promotes in its advertising campaigns. Her product line includes Paradise Mango Rum Liqueur, Amadeo Coffee Liqueur, Manille Liqueur de Calamansi, Very Old Captain Artisan-crafted Dark Rum and Intramuros Liqueur de Cacao. These products have become staples at pasalubong centers, promoting Philippine-made products overseas.
This has also allowed DLCI to expand its operations to cosmetics. After extracting the essential oils of the calamansi and dalandan fruits, the company uses the by-products from this process as ingredients for soap.
Ms. Limpe-Aw said that her planned line of cosmetic products is all-natural and fruit-based, as part of a sustainable environmental approach.
Together with her sons, Ms. Limpe-Aw also launched Gaz, a ready-to-drink cocktail packaged in doypacks. Gaz is now exported to South Korea, where it is available in over 4,000 convenience stores.
In February 2018, she opened the Destileria Limtuaco Museum in Intramuros, which aims to preserve and showcase DLCI’s history and entrepreneurial legacy. It also features a scaled model of the company’s liquor making process to teach visitors about the liquor industry.
Driven by her desire to prove that she had what it takes to become an entrepreneur, Ms. Limpe-Aw has gone beyond developing DLCI and has ventured into projects in other industries.
In 2007, she tried her hand in publishing and established Asian Dragon, a bilingual (English-Chinese) business and lifestyle magazine that features the stories of various political personalities and entrepreneurs. In addition, she formed Sulu Food and Beverage Corp. which produces Sulu Originals mangosteen jam. The company will soon launch other products like coconut jam and sugar coconut nata vinegar made from organic coconut water. As part of an initiative to bring economic progress and peace to the region, the company established the first manufacturing facility in Sulu, sources its raw materials from the province and employs locals in its plant.
Aside from her current projects and ventures, Ms. Limpe-Aw assures her clients and customers that she has many products in the pipeline aimed for the mass market. She is confident that the company will grow even stronger after she retires because she has trained her sons to take over the business. “What my father did not finish, I continued. Likewise, what I cannot finish, my children will continue,” she said.
Her entrepreneurial journey is filled with tales of grit and resilience amid significant challenges, earning her several awards such as the Filipino Investors Society Big Boss of the Year Award, Priority Integration Sector Excellence Award, and the Go Negosyo Women Starpreneur Award.
Ms. Limpe-Aw has proven that established companies like DLCI can benefit from the younger generations. As an entrepreneur who has carried her family’s legacy into the future, she summarizes her advice to would-be entrepreneurs: “Today’s CEO cannot just be a professional CEO, but an open-minded entrepreneur as well because one must be able to think out of the box to successfully manage a business.”
The official airline of the Entrepreneur of the Year Philippines 2019 is Philippine Airlines. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. Banquet sponsors are Global Ferronickel Holdings, Inc., Jollibee, Udenna Corp. and Uratex.
The winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2019 will be announced on Oct. 15 in an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines will represent the country in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2020 in Monte Carlo, Monaco in June 2020.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is produced globally by Ernst & Young.
This article originally appeared in www.bworldonline.com on October 9, 2019