For Your Inspiration: Filipino Business Success Stories

For Your Inspiration: Filipino Business Success Stories

The Philippines has witnessed the phenomenal growth of several companies that now make up the top tier of successful businesses in the country.

The rise of these businesses has become the stuff of legend, and continues to inspire many Filipinos to this day. Here are three of them:


The SM Investments Corporation, better known simply as SM, is one of the country’s leading conglomerates, with considerable interests in retail, banking, and property development.
SM stands for ShoeMart, a retail store specializing in locally made shoes, which was how the giant SM enterprise’s began. The first ShoeMart opened its doors in Avenida, Manila in 1958.

SM’s founder, Henry Sy, Sr., was born to a Chinese family who migrated to the Philippines in 1936 when Sy was 13 years old. His father opened a variety store in Manila, which burned down during World War II. After the war, the enterprising Sy made money by buying and selling needed post-war commodities, including the shoes of American soldiers who occupied the city.

This experience inspired Henry to put up ShoeMart, and he was personally involved in the manufacture and design of the shoes his store sold. With its innovative business and customer service systems, ShoeMart grew to become SM Department Store, the country’s biggest department store chain.

Today, more than 50 years later, ShoeMart, now simply known as SM, has grown to unprecedented heights. Its retail division has expanded to food, with five store formats, including supermarkets and hypermarkets.

It has also ventured into residential and commercial property development under the SM Prime Holdings division, starting with shopping malls hailed as among the biggest in Asia. In addition to mixed-use and residential properties, the company now has a network of 44 malls spread across the Philippines, with a few found in other Asian countries.

SM has also gone into banking, with the establishment of Banco de Oro, now one of the country’s largest banks, and China Banking Corporation.


Every Filipino knows Jollibee, the leading fast-food chain in the country, with a market share that’s more than the combined shares of the rest in the industry. It has also gone international, establishing a presence in at least six other countries, and is strengthening its bid to become a major international Quick Serve Restaurant player.

Jollibee was founded by Tony Tan Caktiong, who came from a family of immigrants from Fujian, China. Tony’s father worked as a cook in a Buddhist temple in Manila before opening his own restaurant.

Jollibee started as an ice cream parlor and a Magnolia House franchise in 1975, in a small space in Cubao, and became popular among upscale shoppers in the district. Inspired by McDonald’s, it shifted its identity from an ice cream parlor to a fast food chain, McDonald’s style, complete with its own mascots.

Today, Jollibee Foods Corporation has become the parent company of its former rivals, such as Greenwich Pizza and Chowking.

National Bookstore

National Bookstore is the country’s largest chain of bookstores, with around 128 branches all over the country. It was founded by Socorro Ramos and her husband, Jose, just before World War II.

Socorro was born in 1923 and met her husband when she worked as a saleslady in a bookstore owned by the family of Jose, who was the brother of Socorro’s brother’s wife.

Their parents objected to their relationship, so Jose and Socorro eloped. Jose took over one of his family’s bookstores, which the couple named National Bookstore. They lost the store twice, first during World War II, and again in 1948, when a storm destroyed almost everything.

Jose and Socorro persevered and reopened the store, putting all their profits in erecting a nine-storybuilding in Avenida, which became the home of their biggest National Bookstore thus far. The rest was history.

Socorro’s strong negotiating skills with international and local publishers and suppliers have beencredited as the reason why National Bookstore was able to sell their products at affordable prices – a distinction the company maintains to this day.