The Mango King

April 26th, 2012

Since I started the advocacy almost seven years ago, Go Negosyo has been able to connect aspiring and well-known entrepreneurs, creating a big network of negosyantes who are helping each other to succeed. More than that, the advocacy not only teaches people to have a positive mindset and to establish their own businesses, but it also serves as an inspiration through the stories of how today’s bossings have built their way up.

Two weeks ago, I have shared the story of Rosalind Wee, the founder of the Marine Resources Development Corporation. Today, I am sharing another story of another entrepreneur and a good friend of mine who has shown hard work, passion, and creativity, which I think should be a source of inspiration among Filipinos, especially in the agriculture sector.

Justin Uy came from a big family in Cebu. His father was a cigarette distributor, while his mother is a housewife, who takes care of him and 10 other siblings. He attributed his entrepreneurial spirit not just because he belonged to a Chinese family, but they have to look for ways to survive because of their number.

He did enjoy his childhood, as he developed hobbies such as fishing and kite-flying. But at 15 years old, he had to help his family to sustain their growing needs, so he engaged into shells crafting. Later on, he tried his hand in fashion jewelry, poultry, chicken egg-laying, mushroom-growing, and other small-time businesses.

Justin’s main challenge is his lack of capital, which is compounded by the unsteady stream of income from his previous businesses. His shell craft business is the fad at the time that he established it in the 1970s, but it turned to be lucrative only for six months a year, because foreign buyers would not buy shell products during the winter. Justin also shared that the chicken egg-laying business proved to be a good venture as well, but he had no capital to raise chickens for five months until they are ready to lay eggs.

He then shifted his vision to do something else. In the early 1980s, he noticed that mangoes are so abundant that the farmers are not harvesting it anymore because no one will buy it. It is even sold at less than one peso per kilo. The dried mango industry has been in Cebu since the 50s, but it is mostly home-based. Justin remembered that one day, he saw his aunt making dried mangoes in her kitchen. This became his sign to engage in the dried mangoes business. It is in 1980 when Profood International Corporation was born.

As a latecomer in the dried mango industry, penetrating the local market became another challenge for Justin. He decided to go into export, aiming at Europe, the United States, and Japan. But aside from capital, he also realized that selling food products from a company in a developing country to a developed country’s market is tough. Justin thought of building a good reputation to back up the quality of his products in order for it to be acceptable in the international market.

To overcome these roadblocks, Justin engaged in toll packing for other companies such as Del Monte, Nestle, and Coca-Cola. This was not an easy feat. He literally knocked on their doors to present Profood and the services that it can offer. One time in 1986, he actually hired a cab while he was in Singapore to go to these companies one by one. He rarely called to set up appointments first; Justin literally took his chances.

In order to pass international standards, Justin upgraded and modernized his plants and trained his people. Learning from the companies that agreed to toll pack their products, Profood was able to adapt to their rigid standards. It underwent a modernization program back in 1994 as a requirement to apply for an international certificate.

Thirty-four years later, Profood International Corporation became the largest dried fruit producer in the country. From mangoes, they are now manufacturing products from 15 tropical fruits, and they are aiming to produce eight new products per year. The improvements that Justin implemented also earned the company six international standard quality certificates, such as ISO 9001:2008, HACCP, and HALAL.

Among his many achievements, Justin is proud that Profood was able to make a Filipino product to penetrate the mainstream market of developed countries. He also created a stronger mango industry, helping poor farmers and improving their living standards. Lastly, Profood became a shining example of a good family business that is being run professionally.

Justin shared that the greatest lessons that he would impart others, especially his daughters, were to trust God and to have integrity.  He had no plans of stopping, as he realizes that there are a lot of people depending on him and Profood. But more than that, his work became his passion in life, as he is constantly challenged to improve his company and help other people.

Unlike what most people think, most of the established Filipino entrepreneurs today literally started from scratch. They experienced trials along the way, but with their hard work, passion, and creativity, they were able to jump past these challenges and went on to become successful in their respective ventures. By setting a good example to others who may have been going through what he had been in the past, Justin truly deserved to be called the Mango King.