The Jollibee story: Lessons on leadership
(Last of two parts)
Like everyone else, we got hit by our biggest challenge ever in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic affected the restaurant industry the hardest. Yet amid this unexpected challenge, we found huge opportunities. We quickly pivoted from our largely dine-in focused business to offer delivery options. We beefed up our digital capability, implementing an accelerated digital road map that helped us better understand and connect with our customers, including improved apps, delivery websites and strategic partnerships with food aggregators.
Despite the immense challenges and obstacles during the pandemic and postpandemic years, I’m happy to report that the Jollibee Group has shown strong business results. Through everyone’s hard work and dedication, our sales and operating income reached record highs in 2022, increasing by 40.2 percent and 58.4 percent, respectively, from 2021. As it was, 2021 had also been a defining achievement for the company when we returned profitability to prepandemic levels through cost restructuring and strong cost and profit management.
In 2022, we opened 542 new stores across the globe—our highest ever in a single year. And Jollibee Foods’ stock price outperformed the market with 6.3 percent growth.
As of the third quarter of 2023, we were able to outperform even the record-high quarter sales and operating income of 2022, achieving the best-ever quarter in the history of JFC.
We are likewise grateful for the recognitions we have received throughout this journey, which inspire us to work even harder.
This year, we were cited among TIME Magazine’s “World’s Best Companies.” We were also the only Philippine-based company honored with the Gallup Exceptional Workplace Award, ranking us among the world’s top organizations dedicated to cultivating a culture of engagement among its people that drives performance excellence.
The company was also named in Forbes’ list of the World’s Best Employers for three consecutive years, with the Jollibee Group being the highest-ranking restaurant company even among international restaurants and also the highest-ranking Philippine-based company in 2022.
In the United States, four of our brands—namely Jollibee, Chowking, Smashburger and The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf—made it to Newsweek magazine’s list of “America’s favorite restaurant chains” this year. For Jollibee, on top of being named as one of the “Hottest Brands in America” in 2022, it was also named the fourth most valuable brand in the Philippines and among the fastest-growing restaurant brands by Brand Finance this year.
While we continue to build and invest in our business, we are also investing for the future by implementing more sustainable business practices.
As we grow, we acknowledge that our responsibility and impact on the world grows as well. Early this year, we launched our Global Sustainability Agenda called “Joy for Tomorrow”, which articulates our deepened commitment to a more sustainable future through three key pillars. First is food, providing quality food that can be trusted; second is planet, treating the planet with care; and third, people: uplifting the lives of people in our communities.
One of the programs we have is the Farmer’s Entrepreneurship program, which trains small farmers how to manage their farms as a business on top of elevating their farming knowledge, and enabling them to connect with institutions, like the Jollibee Group, to directly supply produce. This has resulted in increased income and improved livelihood for these farmers. Since 2009, over 10 million kilos of produce or about P477 million of revenue has been earned by 700 farmers through this pioneering program.
Another program is the Busog, Lusog, Talino (BLT) School Feeding Program, which continues to support the Department of Education’s feeding program through the BLT school kitchens. By making sure they’re busog (well-fed) and malusog (healthy), there’s no reason why every student can’t gain talino (knowledge) at school so they can excel in life.
We have also established the Jollibee Group FoodAID disaster response program, which has provided over 12 million meals to calamity-affected communities, including those in need of food during the pandemic.
The company has evolved from a small, family-run business into a professional and global organization. I consider myself blessed to have had my own leadership journey alongside the growth of the company—from an all-around part-time store crew during my college days in 1975 to store manager in 1978, to assistant operations manager, to operations manager in 1985, to executive vice president, to president of Jollibee brand to chief operating officer of JFC Philippines and then to 2014 when I was appointed as president and CEO of the Jollibee Group.
I have learned many things on this journey, and would like to share four of them with you:
1. It is important to surround yourself with people who are competent, passionate and dedicated. We always knew we didn’t know everything and couldn’t do everything. Very early on, we worked with consultants and individuals to professionalize the company and chose people who shared the same values.
2. Share your success and prosper together. I have learned that genuine sharing is when you are willing to give even things you need for yourself, whether it be time or resources. It is important not to get caught up in your own success, but to be grateful and share it with the people who helped make it happen.
3. Always keep a positive outlook of the future. It doesn’t mean being blindly optimistic, but rather, looking for opportunities in every situation. We shouldn’t be angry at the people who bring up problems to us; we should thank them for being honest and helping us pinpoint a problem that, when solved, could make us or the company better. I take comfort in this thought that every crisis or setback comes with a learning moment to progress myself or the company.
4. Finally, it is important to always dream big with passion and commitment. From that year we set up shop 45 years ago, it was our big “crazy” dream that brought us to where we are now. We’ve encountered our own fair share of failure in the process, but thanks to our team and our shared dream, we persevered.
From our store teams to those in our commissary and distribution center, our delivery riders, and in our support functions and corporate office, to our franchisees and business partners: our hardworking and passionate people inspire us every day, share in our dream and values, and pave the road forward alongside us.
As I close my remarks, I would like to thank our JFC Board of Directors headed by our chair and founder, Dr. Tony Tan Caktiong and my siblings for their constant guidance and support. I would also like to thank my late mom who lived a full life at 94 for providing the family values of unity and hard work.
I would like to also give a shout out to this one person who stuck by me through thick and thin, and gave me the inspiration, positive energy and encouragement through all these years. She is none other than my wife of 40 years, Susan, who, by the way, was chief procurement officer of JFC for 37 years until she retired two years ago.
And to my children, thank you for understanding the demands of my job and for always cheering me on. From them to all the people of the Jollibee Group, past and present, and to our millions of valued customers, it is on their behalf that I am joyfully receiving this award.
Thank you, Management Association of the Philippines for honoring our Jollibee Group family. I hope you will continue to cheer us on as we continue to go ‘bee-yond’ borders, bringing the best of the Filipino to the world. INQ
This was lifted from the author’s acceptance speech as the “MAP Management Person of the Year 2023” awardee. He is president and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corp. Feedback at [email protected].