Remembering Ricardo Po, Sr.
In mid-2017, Ateneo Office of University Development director Arnaldo “Arnie” del Rosario told me that the family behind Century Pacific Food Inc. was planning a Ricardo S. Po, Sr. Professorial Chair in Family Business in honor of the patriarch. The family specifically wanted me to be the holder of the chair.
I knew of the Po family, of course. Not only are Century Tuna, Argentina Corned Beef and 555 Sardines household staples, but mutual friends speak highly of the intelligent sons and their astute and humble father. My academic rank already entitled me to an annual chair at the discretion of the university, but aside from a Henry Lee Irwin chair for creative writing years ago, where I taught a class on creative nonfiction that emphasized science writing, this was an unprecedented honor.
Over dinner, Arnie and I discussed business trends, family enterprises, Century Tuna and Ateneo activities with the senior Po, his son Christopher and company finance chief Oscar Pobre. The discussion flowed freely, underpinned by our shared values of industry, learning and love for country.
In December 2017, father and son, and their spouses, attended the Inquirer launch of my family business book “All in the Family,” where Chris graciously affirmed the partnership between their company and my school. To my regret, I did not have time to chat with the Po family (or other guests) during the launch—I have since told editors that if ever, all my launches would henceforth be done online and all books preautographed—but this was another gesture of generosity that I would forever treasure.
By then, I knew that I would learn a lot from the Po family. Chris graciously invited me to their headquarters, where as a bonus, I learned that two of my former students were already working with the company.
Despite their packed schedule, the patriarch and his son, plus brother Teodoro “Ted” took our conversations seriously, and their life experiences and the lessons learned thereof were so rich that it took three columns for me to do them justice (Feb. 23, March 2 and March 9, 2018).
When I sent Chris my condolences upon his father’s passing last week, he texted: “Dad had a very blessed life as well as a good, peaceful exit. And now he is on to his new life. We will remember and celebrate his life and his work. I recall our dinner and the book launch as well as your visit to our office, and my dad was present at all three meetings. Good memories!”
Heartwarming memories, indeed. At their office, when I asked Ricardo how family harmony is maintained, I remember him quoting a Chinese adage: “Tui yi bu, hai kuo tian kong, rang yi bu, feng ping lang jing.” When we take a step back, the sea and the sky expand. When we give way a step, the winds and the waves become calm.
To ensure that I truly understood, he wrote the words on paper, and I remember how gracefully he formed the characters. After years of just typing on the computer, I confessed that I could barely remember most of my Mandarin, and he patted my hand gently.
His words reinforced another quote on a frame hung on the wall: True humility is staying teachable regardless of what you already know. It’s something I tell my students to this day.
When I asked Ricardo how he managed to balance work and family, I remember him pointing his index finger heavenward, giving glory to God. I remember him adding how thankful he was for his wife Angelita, who stayed home to raise their four boys. “Not an easy job,” he chuckled.
Then I somehow found myself telling him that my mother, a medical doctor, also stayed home to raise us, as my father left medicine to start his own business, and that I miss both of them. I remember him listening intently, and his still and kind presence provided more comfort than words could ever bestow.
When he saw my face light up upon sipping Vita Coco (one of their products), I told him that unlike others in the market, this was not sweet, and tasted like it came straight from the fruit. He insisted that I bring a pack back home, and my husband loved it so much that to this day, Vita Coco is the only commercial juice drink in our home.
Rest in peace, Sir Ricardo. Your family, your friends, your people will continue your legacy.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada, or the e-book on Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected].