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Business lessons from an octogenarian

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 21:07:00 04/26/2008

Filed Under: Economy, Business & Finance

OCTOGENARIAN book publisher Esther A. Vibal relies a lot on her keen memory for just about everything -- for describing the circuitous route that her company Vibal Publishing House (VPHI) has taken to become the country?s biggest textbook publisher; for retelling how she made the transition from being a newspaperwoman to being a businesswoman; or for making major company moves that almost always reverberate in the entire local book publishing industry.

"I keep my mind busy. I see to it that I read the newspapers everyday, doing competitive monitoring and also clipping materials that can be a source of business opportunities,? says Vibal who can?t seem to get the newspaperwoman out of her system up to this day.
A writer for the old Manila Times? women?s section, the forerunner of present-day lifestyle section, Vibal counts the likes of Eugenia Apostol, Estrella Alfon and Trinidad Tarroza-Subido as her contemporaries.

Her husband Hilarion Vibal, on the other hand, was the business editor of the then Evening News. Love blossomed at the newspaper?s composing room where they would often bump into each other. Together, the Vibal couple later on made the big leap to entrepreneurship and established initially, a business magazine called Insurance and Finance, and later on, a printing press.

It was through her habit of reading the newspapers that Vibal saw an opportunity that chartered the course of their publishing house.

?In the 1960s, I saw this notice in the newspaper wherein an American endowment for Philippine education was being advertised and bidders to publish textbooks were being invited. We formed a consortium with other printers and that?s how we got our start in the textbook business,? Vibal recalls.

From this initial project, they were able to grasp the fledgling textbook publishing industry and established what is now the country?s leading developer and publisher of textbooks and curriculum materials for elementary, high school and college students, reference books, workbooks, supplementary materials and even children?s storybooks.
Widowed in 1988, Vibal forged ahead solo to propel the company into a multibillion- peso corporation, even earning for it a citation from the Bureau of Internal Revenue as one of the highest taxpayers in Quezon City.


Vibal extols the virtues of thrift and prudence in handling money as the most important thing entrepreneurs should practice to succeed. She should know because she has seen its importance in the growth of her business.

?When we formed the consortium to bid for the US endowment, whatever we earned, my husband and I saved and plowed back into the business. While the rest of the members of the consortium bought big houses or luxurious cars, we went on to build up capital. Today, VPHI is the only surviving company from the consortium and we know we did the right thing, holding off on luxuries and thinking of our employees first,? Vibal says with pride.

Capital formation, she states, should thus be first and foremost. ?Build your savings, bring your income straight to the bank,? she urges.

Vibal also underscores the importance of character-building among startup entrepreneurs. ?Listen to your parents when they tell you to save. I grew up with elders who did not forget to remind me to be good, katakot takot na pangaral. The thing with young people nowadays is that they have too many distractions to spend on?new cars, new cell phones, vacations. These things will come in easy if they start growing the business first. As a young girl, I learned to invest in real estate, hulugan pa, and I am reaping the fruits of those wise investments now. I never depended on a man and I was already buying even when I was still single,? the fiery businesswoman adds.

The third lesson Vibal emphasizes is that there is no substitute for hard work. ?All my waking hours, I was focused on the business. My husband and I really did everything we can to grow VPHI. Luck is only one percent, the rest is really hard work,? she recounts.

Even with the way she bought real estate, Vibal adds, she would exercise caution. For instance, their property located along Edsa corner Quezon Boulevard is now worth millions and Vibal recalls even going to the Department of Public Works at that time to research on what the plans were for that area, long before Edsa was constructed.

?I asked them, ano po ba balak nyo sa lugar na to? And the engineer whom I talked to said they would be building a very long highway. If I didn?t go out of my way to ask, would I have known that that area would be a prime spot today??

The fourth lesson that Vibal has tried and tested and is now sharing is the value of investment. ?You multiply your assets and not divide, invest in the right ventures and you will know this by reading a lot, by talking to the right people and by listening to those who have been there,? Vibal states.

Everything will be fired up by ambition, of course. ?Ambition gives you a sense of direction. Go forward, you should want to find yourself farther than where you are today. The drive to achieve and to excel should always burn,? Vibal admonishes.

She also does not forget to count her blessings and acknowledge the one Great Source of all of this. ?Spirituality is very important as you go through business or through life in general. Amid all and in the final analysis, I think my biggest achievement in my life is my relationship with the Lord.?

These values and wisdom have translated to Vibal?s many worthy undertakings and advocacies, including being the first and only Asian president of the International Inner Wheel in 1986, an organization based in London.

Under three Philippine presidents, she served as commissioner of the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women and spearheaded the Philippine delegation to many international conferences on women sponsored by the United Nations.

Currently, she serves as trustee of the University of the Philippines Center for Women?s Studies, and heads the Nation Council of Women, the umbrella organization of all women organizations in the country including, among others, the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, the Catholic Women?s League, Zonta, and the Young Women?s Christian Association.

Books will be around

The proliferation of online resource materials and other forms of book substitutes does not faze Vibal. Her long-running love affair with the written word has made her confident enough that there will always be a need for textbooks.

?This is a need business what with 85 million Filipinos and a still growing population. Textbooks are important especially in the Philippine society. The country has definitely come a long way when it comes to the quality and quantity of textbooks for schoolchildren. Ten years ago, the ratio of books to the number of children is 10 to one, now each student can now have his own book to himself in the public schools,? Vibal points out.

VPHI has earned a reputation in the publishing industry as one of the very few which could fulfill the government requirements for textbooks. Its very stable capital base, and an integrated printing and publishing business that could print in the millions make VPHI an industry leader, much to the chagrin of competitors. But Vibal says she is not bothered. VPHI?s impeccable track record, she says, can speak for itself.
?The first question the World Bank or the government will ask you is ?Have you printed books in the millions?? How many can answer ?yes? to that question? We can, without batting an eyelash because we have worked so hard for this.?

There is no stopping this achiever. From the newspapers she reads everyday, she learns the idea of online publishing and knowledge sharing and is ardently pushing the concepts through Filipiniana.net, the most comprehensive research portal and digital library dedicated to Philippine studies, and WikiPilipinas.org, the world?s biggest Philippine encyclopedia available on the Web. How many octogenarians would bother about the Internet, or the worldwide Web? Vibal will.

?We can?t ignore the future,? she reasons out. ?You cannot be just where you are, you have to know your place in the scheme of things. I think that differentiates us,? she concludes.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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