UP Maroons’ godmother
The University of the Philippines is my alma mater,” Robina Gokongwei-Pe, president and CEO of Robinsons Retail Holdings, said when asked why she had continuously supported the Fighting Maroons since 2010, long before it made it to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines finals for the first time in three decades.
That lonely road even had the Maroons claiming just six wins in five whole seasons.
Robina tells me about #NowheretoGoButUP, formed by the state university’s alumni in 2014 to guide the team to victory.
An economics major, Robina was asked to officially help plan the UP Centennial in 2008. She got a couple of tickets to games. In 2010, Robinsons became a sponsor of the Maroons.
While most supporters would show up only in the homestretch, Robina would catch as many games as possible.
“Why basketball for UP? Why not a building?” I say.
Her father, tycoon John Gokongwei Jr., has funded educational causes, including a building bearing his name in Ateneo, and one bearing her mother’s name in Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA), where his daughters studied.
“I love sports,” Robina says. “I love watching them.” And playing them, too.
In high school, Robina was in the ICA swim team in the year it was formed, when the pool was built in 1973.
“We did not always win, but you don’t give up. It’s the same in business. In the beginning, we were quite small. But we never gave up. Robinsons Supermarket was not built in a day.”
She joined the UP swimming varsity, and was made backup.
In her brother Lance’s tribute book to their father, “Lessons From Dad,” Robina says, “The coach told my teammates, ‘Okay, this is your event.’ And then he went to me and said, ‘And you are going to be the backup. If someone gets chickenpox, you will be the backup.’
“So I cried to death because I had been practicing two hours a day. I had been swimming from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. daily in that dirty pool that we shared with frogs jumping around. And the coach made me a backup!
“When I got home, I knocked on daddy’s door to tell him I was home, because that’s what I always did. He asked me why I was crying, and I told him.
“He said, ‘That’s it? Do you know the challenges I’ve faced in my life? My father died when I was 13. I had to support my mother and brothers and sister. You will face so many more difficult challenges in your life. I just lost my proxy fight to be on the San Miguel board. I fought so hard for it and I lost. And you’re crying because you’re a reliever? Be glad you even made it to the team.’”
Coming from an exclusive girls’ school, Robina had never ridden a jeep, and she hit her head the first time she rode the campus “Ikot” jeep. “I did not know the roof was so low!”
But soon she became a pro, taking “the white DM Transit bus and the red JD Transit bus from the Oblation statue all the way to Buendia, from where I would get out, cross Edsa, and walk in through the gates to Forbes.”
“When we were in school, we only got a small allowance … for a snack,” Lance says in the book.
“Our parents never pitied us. We were not allowed to whine. We didn’t dare. For them it was honorable to work, and it was shameful not to work. Working hard is part of who we are, and we learned that from our parents.”
The kids worked their way up the business. Robina started as a receiving clerk in the “bodega.” Lance began as a management trainee, selling snacks.
During summer breaks, Robina tagged clothes; younger sisters Lisa, Faith and Hope tagged canned goods in the bodega; Marcia assisted in the kitchen of the Manila Midtown Hotel.
“How will you do your job at the top later on if you don’t know what people down there are doing?” their father said.
(To be continued)
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