David Leechiu’s roller coaster lifeBy Theresa S. Samaniego
Philippine Daily Inquirer
David Leechiu’s life may probably have more twists and turns than your regular roller coaster.
His childhood, by his own account, was a happy and harsh one—marked by misfortunes, little successes, lucky encounters, second chances and a turning point.
But it was precisely these series of events—fortunate and otherwise—that allowed the 39-year-old Leechiu to soar at great heights, now being the country head (Philippines) of Jones Lang LaSalle Leechiu, the largest real estate advisory and consulting firm in the country.
In a recent interview with SundayBiz, Leechiu admits that early on his life, he already saw how reality bites—how at one minute, you may have all the best things in life, but then lose even much more with a blink of eye.
He recalls how his family had to struggle when their appliance store at Farmers Plaza in Cubao burned down and they had to find a way to pay for all the goods they were selling under consignment.
“During that time, I don’t think there was insurance for things like that. So significantly, we were very much in debt because we had goods under consignment that were burned down and we ended up having to pay for it,” he explains.
“We went from having three cars and TVs and all that to having zero. We literally have two days worth of savings. This taught me how to start from scratch,” Leechiu adds.
He then saw how his parents work as long as 18 hours every single day to go from having one or two days worth of savings to three to four months.
But even during that time, Leechiu admits that he was the least academic among siblings—he even had to transfer schools to finish his fourth year high school.
It was only during his college years at the University of Asia and the Pacific that he had his “turning point,” which he believed had forever changed the course of his life.
“Because we didn’t have radio and TV when the business fell, we were forced to spend so much time reading. So even though I was very distracted academically, I spent a lot of time reading and that prepared me for college, during which I realized that I have to fix my life in this next four years,” Leechiu relates.
He realized then that as it is, he was already lucky enough to be able to go to a “very good school” and that he shouldn’t waste this opportunity. He realized that he “can’t keep messing up because I saw how hard my my mom and dad work for it.”
When he finally graduated in 1994, Leechiu related that he was asked by a “mini taipan” to work for him in his paint company, where he stayed for only a year. The man, according to Leechiu, was looking for young people who can help him grow his businesses.
“I felt lucky already that I was earning P5,000, unlike my other friend who was earning P3,500. But my friends from Piltel, which back then was the company to work for, were earning P25,000. At that time, my girlfriend had wanted to get married, but she was earning P30,000 a month and had a car while I was still taking jeeps, buses and tricycles,” he explains.
Leechiu then had to make a painful decision to break up with his girlfriend—whom he eventually married—because he wanted to fix his finances. He also quit his job and went to trading tissue paper and just about anything he could sell. This went on for three months until Leechiu found another job as an analyst/agent under the company of Ramon Cuervo III.
After working for Cuervo, Leechiu was then hired by Lindsay Orr to work for First Pacific Davies (FPD) Savills, then a member of the First Pacific Group.
Unfortunately, the economic and political turmoil in early 2000s had prompted the company to finally shut down the business in 2003.
“It became really bad so Savills said, ‘you know what this market is too high risk for us, the numbers are so small.’ They told me to take it instead. Since they’re shutting down, they offered me to buy the business for a very low price,” he says.
Leechiu, his father-in-law who was a broker, and a colleague at Savills, Angela Padilla (along with her husband) had put their money together to take on the company that Savills had left to put up Leechiu Associates. Leechiu says he had put in 90 percent of what he had saved in 10 years—which even then was not much—to fund the company.
One of the biggest challenges, however, was their competition who were trying to bring them down.
“The competition called every single person in our office and said ‘you guys are closing down and we are going to shut you down because now we’ve heard you’re coming up with your little company called Leechui and Associates.’ They also told all our clients that we won’t be able to service them anymore,” he recalls.
“Again, remember, we were the only company in this industry that was run by a local. Everyone else from top management to mid management were all expats. So we really had to work long hours to compensate for that and I’m thankful that we never lost any of our clients,” he says.
“There were a few clients who really stuck it out with us—Bong Borja of Aegis People Support, Fitness First and Citibank gave us so much credibility, because despite us being a local company they still used us. Those three clients were very instrumental in giving us a lot of support and credibility through the crisis and through the early days of Leechui and Associates,” he further explains.
Meanwhile, in 2007, Jones Lang LaSalle was looking to expand its existing business in the Philippines. At that time, the company had instructed Lindsay Orr—the very person who hired Leechiu for Savills in 1998—to do that organically by hiring as many people as he wanted or buy a business in a similar field.
And that’s when Orr contacted Leechiu. After much negotiations, the contract between Jones Lang LaSalle and Leechiu Associates was eventually signed in March 2008.
“One of the last things that I asked from Jones Lang was if I can have the brand and our name attached—Jones Lang LaSalle Leechiu. I’m surprised that they said yes. I really did it because my mom kind of wished for it. It’s like a legacy for my parents to see my name. My mom and my dad are so happy every time they would see my name and they point it out to relatives. It’s very, very heartwarming,” he relates.
“Right now, the Philippine unit is the only company under the whole Jones Lang LaSalle organization that is branded differently. It’s also probably my way to put the Philippines on the map because my personal goal is to really change the way foreigners view the Philippines,” he adds.
Currently, Leechiu is bent on making Jones Lang LaSalle Leechiu a meaningful part of the parent firm’s network as he continues to be a champion for the Philippines.
In this way, he hopes the country will be able to attract more foreign capital.
At the end of the day, however, Leechiu admits that what he looks forward to is being able to make up for the lost time with his family after he has sucessfully ensured the financial aspect of his life.
“I’ve prioritized my professional life to secure my financial base. This year, I’m working on the biggest deal of my life and hopefully when that happens, it will allow me to give more balance to myself. Instead of working 15 hours a day, I can do it in eight. By then, I can spend time with my kids, bring them to school, have dinner with them, and spend more time with my wife,” he concludes.