Maroons’ godmother, Part 2
UP and ICA made me who I am today,” says Robina Gokongwei-Pe, head of Robinson’s Retail Holdings. She graduated high school from the Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA) in 1978, and continues to actively support the school’s scholarship foundation.
She also remains a big supporter of the University of the Philippines where she spent a couple of years before finishing her undergraduate course in the United States. Her love for UP remains to this day, even helping finance its basketball team Fighting Maroons.
Last month, Robina joined her ICA batchmates on stage in a nifty dance number at their homecoming.
She remembers her high school teachers made Math “not scary.” Math is not easy, but Robina is grateful for the discipline it fosters.
But her favorite teacher was Linda “Forny” Fornoles, who taught English.
“Forny introduced us to English fiction by Filipinos, when we had previously gotten used to [Western works such as] ‘Pride and Prejudice.’”
Almost half a century later, Robina reels off writings Forny opened her eyes to long ago: Manuel Arguilla’s “How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife,” Nick Joaquin’s “May Day Eve” and Alberto Florentino’s “The World is an Apple.”
“These [works] showed us the reality of the Philippines, through [the lens of] Filipino writers.”
In UP, Robina covered the sports beat for The Philippine Collegian. She held her own against other writers, including nationalists like features staffer Leandro “Lean” Alejandro.
“We argued constantly. He was a socialist, I a capitalist.”
But the two held each other in esteem, and Lean once told Robina, “Fine, I like capitalists who are responsible and who care for the marginalized.”
On the 20th anniversary of Lean’s assassination, Robina spoke at the ceremony.
“I still miss Lean today.”
Robina wrote a column for a national daily for 10 years. Her sister, Lisa, also a writer, is founder of Summit Publishing.
“As a writer, you become more imaginative, creative, outspoken,” Robina says.
Patriarch John Gokongwei, Jr., with his brother James, family and professionals by his side, has grown through the decades his retail business into a diversified conglomerate that has become a household name.
The next generation is now at the helm, led by Robina’s younger brother, Lance.
“Lance is brilliant in finance, which is essential in business,” says Robina. “His mind is like a calculator,” she grins, “Even if very few people use calculators nowadays.”
I laugh. Robina’s wit is what I like most about her. This is an inherited trait.
Before Robina’s wedding to lawyer Perry Pe, her father learned that a “ninong” (godfather) was going to wear a tuxedo to the event. He decided that he would wear nothing less, so he went to a rental shop.
“It fit well, just his size,” says Robina. “But he just rented a tux. He did not buy one, not even for my wedding!”
Robina’s mother, Elizabeth, is also known for her humility, faith and gentle demeanor.
“My mom’s very funny,” says Robina. One time, the driver, who was getting on in years, drove her mother to the office. To both their consternation, the guard did not let them into the compound.
After some time, when the gates remained closed, the matriarch reluctantly told the driver, “Please tell the guard that I am the wife of the owner.”
The guard came over. “Robinsons is over there,” he pointed to another building. “This is another business!”
What advice can Robina give to family businesses?
She turns serious. For succession, “Do not look any more at seniority or gender; choose the most capable one to lead the business” into the future.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of the Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at National (call Jennie Garcia at 0915-421-2276). E-mail the author at [email protected]
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