Mercedes Gotianun, grandma extraordinaire | Inquirer Business

Mercedes Gotianun, grandma extraordinaire

/ 02:20 AM December 18, 2022

Mercedes Gotianun

Mercedes Gotianun

Editor’s note: Mercedes “Chita” Tan Gotianun, cofounder of the Filinvest group of companies, passed on Dec. 11 at the age of 94. In this article, grandson Francis Gotianun, Filinvest Development Corp. director, pays tribute to his beloved ama—widely seen as the perfect complement to the late patriarch Andrew Gotianun Sr. and a woman who persevered to accomplish her goals extraordinarily.

Coming from humble beginnings, my grandmother Mercedes Tan Gotianun always strove to achieve more. She was a University of the Philippines magna cum laude graduate (Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy), the first woman universal bank president in the Philippines and in our family, she was the storyteller whose often-repeated stories wove her grandchildren together.


I was at the hospital the day before my grandmother passed away and was fortunate to have had the opportunity to speak to her one on one.


I thanked her for all the talks, get-togethers, visits, meetings, trips and calls—even the ones at 5 am. To me, these shared memories, experiences and might I even say, drama have shaped us into the family we are today. Our bond is a testament to the investment in time, effort and love that my grandparents made over many years. I promised her that I would continue to tell her story—that of a simple girl from a simple background who braved the odds and overcame the norms of her day—someone who made the impossible possible through love, hard work, perseverance and sacrifice.

There were three things in her life that defined her.

Francis Gotianun with his grandparents in 2012

GRANDSON Francis Gotianun with his grandparents in 2012 —Contributed photos

The wife

The first was her marriage to my grandfather, Andrew L. Gotianun, a Cebuano she met at a soiree who she said was, “so handsome!” They married on March 31, 1951 when she was 22 and he was 23. Married for over 60 years, Mercedes and Andrew were known to be the hand-holding couple dearly devoted to each other. Their journey was documented in a book entitled “Useless Each Without the Other,” a title which so aptly described their dynamic and passionate relationship. Andrew and Mercedes were business partners in a secondhand car financing company that they started at the first floor of their home on P. Casal Street, Quiapo. Andrew was the visionary and Mercedes was the tireless implementor. Together, they also pioneered the financing of appliances, partnering with international giants like Westinghouse Credit and Chase Manhattan. During precredit card days and in the early 60s, Mercedes was able to manage a portfolio of over 200,000 accounts because of the computerized system she had in place.

The business leader

This business was the second thing that defined her.

She is known now as a pioneer in the banking industry, but it all started from the desire to help her husband with what she could see was a heavy load. The time they founded Family Savings Bank, she had paved the way for being the first bank computerized from day one of business in the Philippines, allowing the bank to be known for its slogan, “We pay interest daily.”

As it was computerized, the bank was able to pioneer the paying of interest based on the daily balance of the depositor when other banks were paying interest based on the lowest quarterly balance of the depositor. The bank pioneered nationwide branching at a time when few banks were found in the farthest reaches of Luzon and isolated parts of Visayas and Mindanao—a service that allowed deposit and withdrawal in any branch nationwide during pre-internet 70s and pretelco lease lines, using microwave link connections to the computer center. As Family Bank fast grew to universal banking status, this eventually cemented her position as the first woman president of a Philippine universal bank. When Family Bank was sold in the mid-80s, my grandparents went into retirement.


But when many people might have rested on their laurels, Andrew with Mercedes in hand and together with their children, decided to once more to restart the business in 1989. It was this period for which she is now most remembered as the dynamic and driven cofounder of the second phase of the Filinvest group. She braved Mindanao amid checkpoints and the sound of gun shots in the hills when she rehabilitated Davao Sugar Central and North Cotabato Sugar. She often said that this business brought her the greatest satisfaction as she could see how restarting the mill had brought peace and prosperity to a restless district.

Little known and low-key, their foundation contributed P500 million toward the establishment of a full scholar, full board Technical Vocational School managed by the Jesuits of Xavier University to benefit the poorest of Mindanao in the memory of our grandfather.

The Filinvest group of companies has grown rapidly. Now, it is a major conglomerate with an interest in Filinvest Land and Filinvest Alabang for land development, East West Bank for universal banking and Davao and North Cotabato Sugar Central for sugar. It also runs hotels under the Crimson and Quest brands, generates power under Filinvest Utilities and manages infrastructure through the Clark International Airport, among other new ventures.

Andrew and Mercedes’ joint birth celebration in 2007.

GOTIANUNS Andrew and Mercedes’ joint birth celebration in 2007. (Standing from left) Josephine, Andrew Jr., Michael and Jonathan

The matriarch

The third thing that defined her was her larger-than-life role as a mother and grandmother. They had four children: Andrew Junior, Jonathan, Josephine and Michael. She took traveling trips with her young grandchildren and spent summers with them, molding their minds and values with her constant storytelling. She lived her values by example.

Ama will be remembered by our family as a fond and concerned mother and grandmother, and she will always serve as an example of a trailblazing businesswoman who pursued everything with passion and was the first in many things through her sheer grit, determination and drive.

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The last thing I mentioned to her was not to worry about our family and our business. I told her these were in good hands and that we would fight to build upon her legacy and make her proud. While the task ahead seems daunting, I am comforted that I do not carry this weight alone. I have a loving and supportive family and a dedicated Filinvest family with whom I know will see this through to success—for many hands make light work.

TAGS: Gotianun

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