New City Commercial Corp.’s Javey Lim
“My grandfather and my father were extraordinary,” says Javelin “Javey” A. Lim, 43, New City Commercial Corp. (NCCC) supermarkets and community stores president. “Our stores burned down thrice yet they built the company from the ground up again and again. Through the tragedies, they persevered. They had faith that their efforts would not be in vain.”
In 1919, at the age of 14, Lim Tian Siu left his hometown in Chin Kang, Fukien, China, for Manila, dreaming of a better life. He worked in a cigarette factory and became a sales agent, but when war broke out in December 1941, Tian Siu and his wife, Ko Giok Loo, moved to a neighboring town and survived on what they could produce on their farm.
Because postwar Manila was devastated, the family decided to move to Cotabato City and started to trade freshwater eels. However, their store burned down and the family lost everything. The only remnants from the fire were a few charred coins.
Undaunted, the couple went to Davao City and in 1952 began anew, this time in textiles. With seven employees, the business flourished, only to be struck by fire yet again.
Javey, the eldest child of Lim Tian Siu’s eldest son, Henry, grew up close to his grandfather, who would tell him proudly that “though we got burned down thrice, he made sure that he still paid the people to whom he owed money for the supplies. It was amazing how my grandfather’s friends and even customers rallied around him, providing support, not just financially. They believed in what he stood for.”
In 1978, the family paid its debts. By that time, Henry had expanded the business, which encompassed a supermarket and a department store on Ramon Magsaysay Avenue, where NCCC Main still stands today.
Lightning struck not just once or twice, but thrice. In the early 1980s, the textile store in Davao City burned down. Javey’s brother Lafayette, who was in grade school at the time, remembers the fire and the family saving what it could.
The patriarch’s principles are embodied in the core values of NCCC: humility, caring, self-discipline, hard work, integrity, excellence and fun.
“We live by these values and we’ll pass these on to our children, our shoppers, our business partners,” says Javey.
Living by values pays off, for within 30 years, under the stewardship of the second generation, NCCC has become a conglomerate, diversifying into department stores (NCCC Department Stores), breads and pastries (Breadfactory), health products and pharmacies (HB1), hardware and home fixtures (Hardwaremaxx), film and digital print (Kodakan), recreation and a restobar (B3), and movies and theater (NCCC Cinemas). These are mostly in Davao, though outlets have been put up in Tagum—and, of all places, Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
“My father loved to dive, so he visited Palawan often,” says Javey. He had foresight and built the first supermarket in Puerto Princesa. Fascinated by the vibrant marine ecosystem, Henry also bought 20 hectares in 1995, which became Dos Palmas Island Resort and Spa.
When Henry passed away, his sister Tek Sim Go became chief executive officer while wife Helen became board chair and chief financial officer. The baton is steadily being passed: six from the third generation (though not in-laws) are working in various capacities in the business.
A graduate of De La Salle University-Manila, Javey preferred “practical things to studies.” He first worked in other firms, which exposed him to various practices and different kinds of people.
“Knowing that you are working for someone else and you are not the boss gave me valuable insights on how to run our family business later on. It has also kept me grounded through all these years,” he says.
Joining the family business in 2000, Javey started their wholesale business, which is now imitated by others throughout the country.
“It is not easy to play two roles, one as a business owner and the other as a family member,” says Javey. “Sometimes, it is hard to remain impersonal and be totally logical in discussions because there are personal issues that cannot be avoided. At times, it is a struggle to be firm yet respectful to family members while making business decisions.”
Communication is key. “We work on [communication] during monthly meetings. I believe that fighting with family members just because of business is not worth it,” he says.
With the recent birth of his son, Javey reflects on succession. “Honestly, I have no definite idea on how to train the fourth generation. Times have changed and the playing field has evolved. But I believe that we should allow the future generation to pursue their passions and be whoever they want to be,” he says.
But personal freedom does not guarantee automatic entry to the family business. “I believe that if our children decide to enter the family business, they should work outside for at least two years and gain some experience. Of course, there are other requisites before they can enter the family business,” he says.
Nonfamily employees are sometimes loathe to join a family business but judging from their heartfelt testimonials, NCCC is a great company to work for.
“Our people know and live the NCCC Spirit by heart: ‘We will be humble in our ways, caring in our manners, working hard to excel while having fun on the way.’ Our people are also evaluated based on how they live out the NCCC spirit.”
“We empower our people. You have to know who your people are and match them to the job that suits their talents. We cultivate excellence and teamwork. When your team knows that you expect 100 percent, they will give you more or less that expectation. I always tell my team that we look at performance based on results, nothing else.”
“We make sure that our people grow not just professionally, but also outside of work,” he says.
The company foundation, NCCC Cares, headed by Lafayette, is committed to help the needy through programs, such as scholarships, that “nurture and protect the youth, enhance and strengthen the family, and improve and sustain the community.”
Many successful family businesses emphasize hard work and discipline, but unlike NCCC, few make it a point to have fun.
“If you can laugh at yourself, you can be less judgmental and you can make sounder and more objective decisions. The harder you are on yourself, the more you commit mistakes. We all commit mistakes but what is important is to learn from them and get back up with less drama as possible. Humor goes a long way. If you are having fun, you will happily work for the growth of the company,” he says.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book
“Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press. E-mail email@example.com. E-mail the author at blessbook.chua
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