12 kids, eight businesses, and no helpersBy Theresa S. Samaniego
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Martin Ignacio Paez Lorenzo is no celebrated gourmand, yet his success in the Philippine food and restaurant business could easily pass him off as one.
The chair and president of Pancake House Inc. candidly says that it was his love for food that allowed him to conquer the odds and become one of the country’s most admired and respected restaurateur. It helped as well, of course, that Lorenzo had the “discipline to run the business” which allowed him to successfully manage several brands over the years.
“I always enjoy eating and I enjoyed eating at Pancake House ever since I was a kid. We used to live near Rizal Theatre where the first Pancake House was located that was around 1974, 1975. So when the opportunity to acquire Pancake House in year 2000 came, I said to myself I might as well give it a try since I wanted to go into food retail as well,” Lorenzo tells SundayBiz.
Lorenzo, being a BS management engineering graduate at the Ateneo de Manila University and an MBA graduate at the Wharton Graduate School in the US, admits that he was no chef nor did he have any formal training on the restaurant business. His only exposure to the food business, he says, goes so far as agribusiness is concerned as his family used to run Del Monte Philippines, and is currently managing Lapanday Foods.
“I’ve been in the food business for quite a long time already before I acquired Pancake House because I, together with my family, used to run and operate Del Monte Philippines. But that was in food supply and distribution… I am not a chef and the truth is, I don’t even know how to make a pancake now [as] I am a finance person… What I do know is the discipline of running a business,” he explains.
According to Lorenzo, it was the original owner of Pancake House, Milagros Basa, who influenced him the most to try his hands in the restaurant business.
“Ms. Milagros Basa has influenced me a lot. She did a good job of taking care of Pancake House from the ’70s until the ’90s and she just had a hard time then managing the labor aspect. But the brand and food was very consistent at that time,” Lorenzo says, adding that Basa continues to own a 5-percent stake in Pancake House and still sits on the board.
But keeping the brand afloat after the acquisition of Pancake House in 2000 was another matter altogether. More so when his portfolio eventually grew to cover seven other brands that he acquired or put up: Dencio’s in 2004, Terriyaki Boy in 2005, Sizzlin’ Pepper Steak in 2007, Kabisera ng Dencio’s in 2008, Le Coeur de France in 2008, Yellow Cab and Chicken Rice Shop in 2011.
Lorenzo, however, remained unfazed, banking on the lessons learned from people whom he admired and respected the most and who have generously taught him the ropes over the decades.
“During the different stages of my life I have quite a number of people who influenced me. But most throughout my high school and college it was of course my late father. After college, it was my old brother Cito Lorenzo. I really looked up to him because a lot of what I learned from running a business came from him,” Lorenzo fondly says.
He recalls then that he was trained at a very young age. His late father consistently reminded them the need for discipline, which, for him, came in the form of sports and competition. The elderly Lorenzo fervently believed then that once you achieve discipline in school, sports and competition, this would later on be applied and reflected on everyday life, work and business.
During his younger years, Lorenzo relates that his father would always say: there is no bad business, just bad management—a principle which he had then applied as young boy to earn extra money.
“In high school, my first job was to take photos. I borrowed the camera of my late father and learned to use it, so that when I needed extra money, I would take photos during proms and balls,” he shares.
But running his eight different food brands, he admits, was no longer as easy as taking photos during the proms and balls he covered then.
“The basic challenge in any business is first understanding it. Like for Pancake House, I needed to understand why and how do customers go to our stores. Then there’s the challenge of finding good locations. Eventually, in any business, you have to have a strategic plan, a three- to five-year plan,” he says.
Lorenzo further believes that having a game plan and knowing where you want to be is crucial in every business. Locally, the company is intending to grow the different existing brands by moving to 30 to 35 new locations, mostly in Puerto Princesa City and Boracay, because of the regional tourism boom. On the international front, Lorenzo reveals that they are now building an international team that can export the Philippine homemade brands in Southeast Asia and Middle East, where a lot of Filipinos currently work.
“Our goal is to continue revitalizing the brands and to know what the market wants. I want to have a strong research and development team to enable me to become very close to the market,” he adds.
Lorenzo, however, is quick to stress that a business should not be all about money.
“You have to have good people. In fact the most important thing in any business is having a good management team. My goal is to always make sure that I have the right management team for the business at the right stage… I always surround myself with the best people in the industry, with people ten times more competent than me in their fields,” he reveals.
On a more personal note, Lorenzo also credits his wife and 12 children, who have since served as his foremost inspiration to successfully growing his own food and restaurant business.
“I have 12 children and my mother has 40 grandchildren. So I said to myself then that I cannot just rely on the family business which is Del Monte and our banana business in Davao. I had to have my own [business] for my children because there’s just too many grandchildren,” he narrates.
The family man that he is, Lorenzo says he always ensures balance between work and family, adding that he is very much involved with his 12 kids in their studies and even after-school activities like sports.
“Raising 12 children is really challenging and enjoyable. All of them compete, my eldest son is a Sea Games gold medalist, while my other son is second in the world in power lifting. Two kids play golf. So all of them are also into sports but they balance it with school,” he adds.
Surprisingly, a large family like the Lorenzos does not have any stay-in house help: “My wife [and I] prepare breakfast for the kids and by 6:15 to 6:30, they are already out of the house and that is when I prepare all the schedules. However, our eldest is already helping us with our youngest,” he relates.
Ultimately, the most important thing with fathering 12 children, according to Lorenzo, was to simply be there for them.
“Many people don’t understand that the most important thing a child needs is an anchor, the parents just have to be there—they need to know that you’re there whenever they need you. But you also always have to watch from a distance because you have to give them enough space to move but not enough rope to hang themselves,” Lorenzo concludes.
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