The birth of a death service provider
“Make life beautiful for others. Do not live only for yourself,” says York Bautista Vitangcol, 51, CEO of the St. Peter Group of Companies, the death care preneed service provider currently ranked 162nd in Businessworld’s list of Top 1000 Corporations.
“Ask yourself, ‘How will I serve? How will I thank the Lord?’ We try daily to live by the values of my grandfather, Tatay Francisco, who founded the company almost 50 years ago.”
Francisco Manuel Bautista did not have a comfortable life. An orphan, he was bullied in school, and was so frugal that he chewed the lead off the pencils of his classmates for reuse. He washed his one uniform in the creek while tending carabaos in Montalban, Rizal.
Perched on a carabao, he gazed toward the lights of far-off Manila and vowed that someday, he would find success in the big city and improve other people’s lives.
After he finished fourth grade, he worked in the sand and gravel business. Once, during the Japanese occupation, the enemy soldiers stole his truck, beat him up and left him for dead.
Hardship did not deter him. He married Basilisa, a gentle homemaker who took care of their eight children.
“There was clear delineation in their roles,” says York. He ran the business, she ran the household. Unlike other spouses who would meddle or complain when times became difficult, Basilisa trusted her husband.
Francisco inculcated his down-to-earth values to his children.
Board chair Orlando R. Bautista, 62, Francisco’s youngest child, showed me his hands. “These are the hands of a mechanic. Our father expected us to be able to work with our hands. If we wanted something when we were young, he advised us to work for it also. He’d say, [a rolling stone gathers no moss].”
“All of us officers are licensed embalmers,” said Mildred V. Vitangcol, York’s spouse and also president and CEO of St. Peter Life Plan, Inc. “How can we run the business if we don’t know what’s happening on the ground?”
Dream to reality
In the 1960s, a relative who learned about the emergence of preneed plans in the US informed Francisco of the opportunity. At first, the latter was reluctant. This business was unheard of in the Philippines at that time.
Complex contracts had to be scrutinized, which would faze any college major, let alone one who had to stop school in the middle grade.
Cultural misconceptions about death also made it complicated for such an enterprise to thrive.
Daughter Florita “Del” Vitangcol, 75, third among the siblings, said, “I also did not agree because of the risks. But relatives helped out, and God provides.”
Friends also provided assistance, and in 1970, St. Peter Life Plan was born. St. Peter Chapels was formally incorporated five years later.
From his office in Quiapo, Francisco reflected, “So this is the kind of life a businessman leads.” His dream was becoming reality.
“My father did not want me to be employed elsewhere,” said Del. When she came back from the US, she was told, “In our business you will run your own company!”
Del is now chairman emeritus and spiritual director-guiding light of the company. Every Monday, Del leads everyone from officers to employees in a prayer meeting, sharing inspirational messages to encourage them to start the week right.
Things were tough at the start.
“For the first 15 years, most Filipinos did not believe in pre-need plans. The business was not stable, and we could not raise salaries, change offices. But I prayed to God to send the right people. When you see a butterfly and run toward it, it flies away. When you sit down, it comes to you.”
In 1998, the company was already on track toward professionalization, with the third generation at the helm.
(Next week: Transition)
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