Philippe J. Lhuillier: A smile and a golden egg keep him goingBy Michelle V. Remo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Businessman and diplomat Philippe J. Lhuillier says he cannot explain why he feels happy most of the time.
Instrumental in building his father’s pawnshop business in Cebu into a dominant player in the country, he says with certainty that his happy disposition is one effective formula for success.
“When I wake up, I am already in a happy mood. My wife notices that, and she asked me once why I would jump around and make antics in the mornings,” Philippe tells SundayBiz.
His positive aura and innate affection for people perhaps are the reasons he was well loved by the Filipino community in Italy, where he served as Philippine ambassador from 1999 to 2010.
Recently, he was appointed by President Aquino to serve as Philippine ambassador to Portugal.
Award from Italy
Known for his leadership skills and warm nature, Philippe became the first Philippine ambassador to Italy to be given the prestigious award of “Ordine della Stella della Solidarieta Italiana” (Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity).
The Italian government gave him the award in recognition of his contributions to the promotion of goodwill between the Philippines and Italy.
The award was also in recognition of his efforts to help overseas Filipino workers based there.
During his 11-year post in Italy, Philippe opened the doors of the Philippine Embassy. The place became a venue for various activities that serve Filipinos in the foreign country—from computer seminars, to short courses in entrepreneurship, sports, and dialogues with OFWs.
“For our short courses, we would invite a guest speaker every week to teach Filipinos,” says Philippine. “Sometimes, when we had no speaker, I myself would teach them entrepreneurship,” he adds.
For Philippe, who handed over the leadership of Cebuana Lhuillier to his eldest son, Jean Henri, following his appointment to Italy, things that make him a fulfilled diplomat and a successful businessman are the same.
He carries along with him his positive outlook, his Christian values, and genuine concern for people whatever hat he is wearing.
At only 8-years-old, the young Philippe started to learn independence and hard work, and already showed signs of his penchant for entrepreneurship.
At that age, he was sent by his Cebu-based parents to Manila to study. Every summer, he would go home to Cebu to learn from his father lessons about running a business. He would also help out in the day-to-day operation of the family business. His father, the late Henry Lhuillier, was a French consul to the Philippines who built pawnshops in Cebu in the 1930s.
“My father was strict in giving allowance, and so I know the value of hard work,” Philippe says. He says his father would give him money if he helped out in the pawnshop.
It was in grade school when Philippe’s entrepreneurial skills first manifested. Teachers in La Salle required students to bring rosaries every day. What Philippe would do is sell rosaries to his classmates who would forget to bring their rosaries. “I would sell a rosary, which I would get for 30 centavos, for 40 centavos,” he says. They would buy from me because they did not want to be reprimanded,” he says.
Seeing how his father valued hard work, Philippe says he has learned not only to work hard but also to love and be happy about working hard.
Philippe also says he has a golden egg that serves as his good luck charm. The golden egg, which symbolizes his positive outlook in life, was a gift from his father.
“I always have it with me,” he says, pointing to the golden egg displayed on his table.
On the family’s pawnshop business, Philippe expresses pride over his family’s pawnshop business (which eventually turned into a group of companies). He says it feels good to know that the family’s business is helping individuals, particularly by serving their short-term needs for cash.
“Pawnshops help people who are in need of short-term cash. Pawnshops contribute to the economy,” he says.
He says Cebuana Lhuiller, the flagship of a string of entities under the PJ Lhuiller Group of Companies, has worked to improve the image of pawnshops in the country. He says that while an old-school perception was that a pawnshop was “a place of last resort,” pawnshops in the country are now viewed more positively by customers.
He says in the case of Cebuana Lhuiller, it strives to give its customers the Filipino value of hospitality.
“In Cebuana Lhuillier, we tell our staff to say hello and to smile a lot to the customers. We want our customers to feel at home whenever they are in our pawnshops,” he says.
He says pawnshops in the Philippines, led by Cebuana Lhuiller, are very much different from those in other countries.
In China for instance, he says, a person who visits the pawnshop is required to drop his jewelry for pawning at a box at a high place. The client is not able to see the face of the attendant, he says.
“Here in the Philippines, we strive to give a much more personal service—the Filipino way,” he says.
Philippe, who went to La Salle from grade school to college, says he also credits the Christian values taught by the school in the molding of his character. The Christian-La Sallian education helped imbibe in him the values of compassion, discipline, and prayer, he says.
“I always carry a rosary in my pocket,” says Philippe. He never got rid of the habit since learning it from grade school.
Whenever things get tough, Philippe says he manages to keep on smiling. Besides hard work, Philippe counts on his faith, a positive outlook, and his golden egg to accomplish his objectives.
“Like what my father used to tell me, as long as I have the golden egg, I will be fine,” he says with a big smile.
Philippe, who aims to significantly build economic and social ties between the Philippines and Portugal as ambassador, says he takes with him his Christian values, his optimism, and his golden egg as he focuses on his new endeavor as ambassador to Portugal.
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