July 02, 2012

A grand plan

(Grand Benedicto, right, and his spouse the former Genevieve Sy.)

BE RESORTS Mactan is one of the most loved hotels in Cebu. Since it opened in 2008, the 161-room beachfront property has been wowing foreign and local guests with its refreshing approach to design and comfortable surroundings. It offers a taste of the boutique hotel lifestyle at very affordable room rates.

The resort (www.beresorts.com) is also fast becoming known as a wedding destination and a venue for all things leisure. Its “Summer Hangover 2012” in May, featuring wakeboarding and other fun activities plus a beach party capping the day’s events, was the talk of town for weeks.

The hotel was built by property developer Enrison Land Inc., a company owned by the Benedictos, a prominent Filipino-Chinese family of entrepreneurs and diplomats.

Its president is Grand Benedicto, 40, the eldest son of businessman and Belgian Consul Enrique Benedicto and his wife Helen Tan. “It was pretty much a given for us to eventually help out in the family business. But this was never really forced on us. My parents are pretty liberal and have been supportive of us in what we really wanted to do. So, no, we were never really forced to work during vacations, unlike our cousins,” he says.

A congenial relationship with siblings

BUT it wasn’t like the Benedicto kids were kept away from the family business—the elder Enrique and his siblings were into hardware at B. Benedicto and Sons Inc.—helping out their father and family patriarch Bernardo.

Grand laughs heartily as he reminisces about playing in the family’s factory with his siblings. “We were not made to work, but as kids we were there [in the factory]. We played there, we ate there. We’d ride the forklift.” It was the mid-1970s and while Manila was simmering under martial law, the Benedicto family was enjoying the quiet joys of Cebu which by then had already grown by leaps and bounds from the earlier seeds of entrepreneurship planted by many Chinese families who had transplanted themselves from their motherland beginning in the late 19th century.

Seeing their father Enrique work so hard and alongside his siblings inspired the younger generation to work as much and harmoniously with one another. Grand recalls that he and his siblings—Bendy, Joy, Mylene and Enrison—would observe their father working very late, then their mom would bring them to the factory to pick him up. Their mother was not a stay-at-home wife either, as she too worked and helped in her own father’s pharmaceutical and hospital equipment business under Blue Sky Trading Inc. She was also “very supportive of my dad. She epitomizes the saying, ‘Behind every successful man is a woman,’” Grand continues.

So even at a young age, there were no dreams of becoming a doctor, an astronaut, or a scientist for Grand. All he ever wanted to be was “successful at a young age. I wanted my parents to be proud of me.”

Being the eldest among the third-generation Benedicto brood, Grand strives to foster the same kind of congenial working relationship his father had with his siblings, with his own brothers and sisters who have also joined the family’s Enrison Holdings, which is mainly into furniture, cement, real estate, and, now, the hospitality industry. It helps that their age gaps are very small. “So we’re pretty much close,” says Grand of his younger siblings. “So that’s one thing going for us. We’re like friends. We can say whatever we want and nobody feels hurt naman. We discuss, we argue a lot, but at the end of the day, everything pans out okay. I think that’s what our parents inculcated in us—how to work harmoniously among siblings.”

(Summer hangover party 2012 at BE Resorts Mactan. From resort's Facebook account.)

Trailblazing into exciting frontiers

OFTEN described as someone “analytical and methodical, with an eye for detail,” Grand is often organized and quick to seize the moment, spotting and grabbing opportunities that present themselves.

As such, Grand has become a “trailblazer” of sorts as he pushes the family business into exciting frontiers. When he joined Berben Woods Industries, for example, he transformed the former plywood and lumber company, into a thriving furniture export business. “When I joined the company, we were mainly doing doors, molding and outdoor furniture. Now, we’re an OEM [original equipment manufacturer]. We do a lot of furniture for Martha Stewart, for example, but our own brand [Berben] doesn’t come out. Our boxes are branded ‘Martha Stewart’ when we ship it out. Design is a collaboration between them and us. About 95 percent of what we make goes to the US.”

He says the Cebu furniture industry has recovered somewhat since the U.S. economy’s collapse in 2009. “I think furniture will always be a part of Cebu. We have been holding up pretty well and the market has generally improved.” For its part, Berben has adopted lots of improvements and changes. “We have made our team leaner but stronger. The company is more buoyant and can adapt to changes faster by doing so.”

Expansion plans

GRAND says his father was “very open and supportive [of the hotel project]. Before I presented this to him, I had already done all the research, and so I was prepared to answer all his possible questions. He gives us a freehand naman to decide what’s best for our businesses. But we respect all his opinions about everything. Of course, he reminds us that in whatever business we pursue, we need to mind the numbers, the profitability.”

Working on the hotel project pushes the artistic and enterprising buttons of Grand. “I think it’s a dynamic business. I would always compare it to the fashion industry. You have to keep catching up on the next trend. It’s never stagnant. You have to be one step ahead of the pack.”

The experience of putting up a hotel was so exhilarating that the family has already decided on opening a second hotel, also on a beachfront property they own, but this time along Alona Beach in Bohol. Construction on the resort has started and is targeted for opening in early 2013.

“This is something to watch out for as we have combined the latest hotel design trends, our vast experience in furniture manufacturing coupled with our hotel management experience, all this set against the rugged beauty of Bohol. We are also in the planning stage for a third resort. Each resort is independently envisioned and provides different experiences with emphasis on the beauty of its location,” he explains.

While competition in Cebu hotels is fierce but friendly, BE Resorts has managed to hold up quite well. “We have our own niche market and will continue to intensify efforts to expand existing markets, as well as start marketing campaigns to enter new ones. We remain committed to providing the best value among the resorts. While we cater mainly to the leisure market, we have also seen an expansion in our corporate market. Overall, we are doing well amid rising competition.”

(Summer hangover party 2012 - from BE Resorts Mactan FB)

What he values most

WHEN he isn’t attending to his responsibilities in the family business, Grand is helping improve the bilateral relations between Romania and Cebu. As honorary consul for Romania, he presents the country’s interests in Cebu, and tries to get a lot of cultural exchanges going.

“Just last year, Mandaue City and Bacau signed a sisterhood agreement. We have officials from both cities visit one another and work on getting more cultural and economic ties going. Although getting from Philippines to Romania and vice versa is not so easy, lately, there are more Romanians visiting the Philippines for tourism or business,” he says.

His alone time, if he has any left, is devoted to his growing collection of exotic automobiles, many of them vehicles he dreamt of owning when he was still a kid. He currently has five cars which include a 1955 Porsche and a 1965 Jaguar, and a 1993 Jaguar.

He is also a member of the PACE Club, an organization of car enthusiasts who drive around Cebu and nearby provinces and sometimes put their cars on exhibit for special occasions. “I’ve always been into cars, first the Matchbox variety when I was younger, then RC [remote control] cars. I think this is where the interest really comes from, it is like living a dream. Finding the parts to complete the cars is really very fulfilling as well. So I take the cars out as much as I can, mostly on weekends. The cars are driven but also polished so they look nice parked in the garage, or clean and shiny when driven out.”

But he underscores that most of his spare time is really devoted to his family which includes his wife, the former Genevieve Sy, and their four children: Enrique III, 15, Giles Nathan, 12, Gianna Adrielle, 8, and Enzo Grand, 6. Genevieve provides the anchor to the couple’s marriage providing ample support to her husband and holding the fort while he works.

“What I value most is family time,” says Grand. “As much as I can, I would spend time with the kids, be it playing basketball, the PlayStation or Xbox, going jet-skiing or island-hopping, driving the cars around town, eating out, traveling or simply staying at home watching a movie together. For me this is the best time of all. This is how I want to relax.”

Now that’s a grand plan.

(This is the unabridged version of my column, dated June 29, 2012. Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photo courtesy Benedicto family.)

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