Words by Lucky Chan
Photos by Karl Angelo G. delos Santos
Alcala, a small town about an hour north of Tuguegarao is a 3rd class municipality in the province of Cagayan, Philippines, with a population of about 40,000 people. Alcala is home to the Saint Philomene Church which is regarded as the widest church in the Cagayan Valley and the famous Alcala Milk Candy.
Various goods worth billions of pesos enter and exit the Philippines every day and one of the companies is owned by a Lasallite. Ramon de Leon or as the writer fondly calls him, Don Ramon, is the chairman of PAC-Atlantic Holdings Co., one of the leading multi-modal transport operators in the Philippines.
It was a cloudy Tuesday morning and we scheduled a meeting with Ramon de Leon of PAC Atlantic Group. He recently renovated his tall building in Makati and he invited us to his office at the top floor. Everything from the color of his logo, to the colors of his office, screamed La Salle green.
Ramon de Leon was born to Benjamin P. de Leon Sr. and Carolina T. de Leon, in a small town in Cagayan called Alcala. The town is so small, only 40,000 people call it home and almost located at the tip of Luzon. Ramon grew up in a fairly big family of 7 kids and he was the 5th or the middle child. “A large family was typical in the probinsiya at that time” Ramon fondly recalls.
He went to the Alcala Central School in Cagayan for his elementary education and onwards to San Jacinto seminary in Tuguegarao for high school.
Ramon added, “I was almost kicked out in High School because of what we did to that disciplinarian Prefect of Discipline.” And the environment at that time was very ripe for the violence and probably baka mamaya we’re not talking here now.”
Everybody during that time had that kind of tendency to be anti-establishment.”
“My dad was aware of my leanings that time and my older brother was in La Salle na so sabi niya La Salle na, so being a good son, I took the entrance exam”, Ramon remembers.
After graduating high school, Ramon went to the then called De La Salle College to take up LIA-COM for 5 Years. His Liberal Arts degree was Accountancy and his Commerce degree was Political Science. Some of his classmates then were former BDO executive Paquito Vista, Logistics entrepreneur Terry Capistrano, and corporate executive Corly Vergara.
The University of the Philippines was actually Ramon’s first choice for college, but at that time, in the early 70’s political activism was heavy at the state university. Early on, he had a taste of fighting for what is right. “When I was in High School, in the seminary, we led a demonstration against a priest who was so strict, his way of discipline was very physical. We were able to oust him. So parang may history ako eh”. Ramon fondly recalls the words of his Dad and how many of the students at that time ended up in the mountains to join the NPA, “if you go to UP baka mamaya kung saan saan ka makarating”.
With his three boys studying in La Salle, Benjamin Sr. bought an apartment in Quezon City for them to stay in. Son Ben de Leon of DLSC class of ’75 was the 4th among the kids and the youngest Nonong was DLSU-IME class of 82. All the three boys of Ben Sr. and Carolina went to La Salle.
Alpha Phi Omega
The 70’s was one of the more tumultuous times in Philippine history and it was sensible on the part of his Dad to steer him away from politically organized groups –from UP to La Salle. But on his third year in La Salle, Ramon de Leon joined the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) fraternity. While it is a national co-ed service fraternity organized to provide community service, leadership development, and social opportunities for college students, it was also common knowledge that there were violent incidents involving the fraternity at that time.
Quoting the APO website, “for over sixty years, Alpha Phi Omega in the Philippines has set the standard for college campus-based volunteerism. APO strives to help each member develop leadership skills, secure lasting friendships and provide service to others”. Ramon’s affiliation with APO was deep and this probably helped him in his career and in his life. Later, Ramon de Leon was instrumental propagating the ideals of APO La Salle in the institution by organizing activities to help build the image of the fraternity among the students and the academe.
By the time they graduated, De La Salle College was already called De La Salle University – Manila. After securing his diploma from the Taft Campus, Ramon’s first job was with FILSOV, a Philippine Soviet Shipping Company owned by Mr. Danding Cojuangco Jr., a fellow La Sallite. He was recruited by another La Sallite, Mr. Alex Tanjuatco of DLSC ’69, “kasi he (Danding) wanted all the salespeople to come from La Salle”, de Leon recalls.
He recounts further, “I joined FILSOV as an Accounts Executive and I left FILSOV as the European line manager, a senior management level. My job was to solicit cargo for shipping lines, essentially from exporters, importers and you convince them to use our shipping services”.
Then in 1981, he was pirated by another shipping line – Evergreen Shipping, a Taiwanese owned company. A friend Ramon met in La Salle, was working there and he told Ramon, “Parati ka naming nakakalaban sa account so I want you to join us” recounted Ramon. To seal the deal, they offered Ramon something that “I cannot refuse at that time, kotse ko lang noon was a Gemini and they offered me a Corolla” Ramon recalls with a chuckle.
The Taiwanese bosses then asked him to form a global forwarding company, as a sister company of Evergreen. As the General Manager, this is where De Leon learned the ropes of Logistics and forwarding because at FILSOV, we just purely did carrier, shipping lines, and airfreight services.
The Turning Point
Sometime later, De Leon saw the potentials of increasing their volume of business. He wanted to open a branch office in General Santos to take advantage of the Tuna shipments coming from there. But because the head of the Evergreen was too engrossed in another business activity – real estate, he was advised to just focus on the current business model. Believing in his idea, De Leon then talked to his American boss, Mr. Russell Smith, one of the directors of the company who then advised him to talk to Mr. Arthur Leong the owner of the company.
When his proposition was rejected by Mr. Leong, De Leon tells him “If I cannot do these things that I want for the company, I hope you don’t mind if I set up my company”. Expecting the worst, Mr. Leong calmly replies, “Are you really? Do you think you can really? Do you have the resources already to set up your company? De Leon responds by saying, “Sir I’m 31 years old, I’m willing to take the risk.” To which Leong responds with “Okay, okay. You’ve been a very good employee, and nothing personal, you can set up your own company, go ahead. You can even maintain your accounts here, as long as you use Evergreen, my shipping line”.
“So I went around and I talked to my customers. I told them “Hey, I’m setting up my own company. I hope I can still have your trust and confidence.” His customers were generally happy with his decision and most would have said “Yeah sure. Basta ikaw yung kausap namin, kasi yan yung importante your relationship” says De Leon with pride.
In December 1987, De Leon registered the company and he started operating on January 16, 1987, with only 3 people. De Leon recalls telling Mr. Smith during their last conversation, ‘Sir, I’m also getting two of my trusted staff” and he said, “Yeah go ahead, go ahead.” That was really a very nice gesture and it is sort of typical not burning your bridges. Until now when I see him “Mon, I heard you’re doing good, you have your own building already, I’m very happy for you.”
“Sarap pakinggan nun.” De Leon beams.
With some savings and three employees from Evergreen, De Leon then established what is known today as PAC-Atlantic Holdings with 9 companies under its umbrella and nearly 530 employees.
The Pac-Atlantic Story
Through its flagship company, Pac-Atlantic Lines (Philippines) Inc. is recognized as one of the leading multi-modal transport operators in the Philippines, Pac-Atlantic Group offers integrated and comprehensive logistics services encompassing the entire cargo-handling process. For over 30 years, they have set the industry standards in our core services: freight forwarding, consolidation, NVOCC, trucking, customs clearance & brokerage, warehousing, airfreight, and project cargo. Pac-Atlantic Group has achieved tremendous growth over the years, venturing into other non-allied activities such as business process outsourcing (BPO), trading, insurance agency, and consultancy.
Strategy Formulation is at the core.
Logistics and Freight Forwarding
-Pac Atlantic Lines
-Pac Atlantic 2100
Cargo Surveying Adjusting and Insurance
-Traders Adjusters and Cargo Surveyors
-First Global Integrated Insurance Agency
Business Process Outsourcing – for other logistics firms
-CS-PAC Global BPO
Trading and Renewable Energy – solar
“My wife doesn’t want to work anymore even if she is the overall treasurer.” She would say, “nandiyan naman si May”. “My daughter May is the managing director of Pac-Atlantic. “Yun ang ate”, Ramon beams with pride. I have 3 boys and 2 girls and 1 apo. All my kids are deeply involved in the business except my 3rd, Janina who works for a Singaporean-Japanese advertising company – Bonsey Jayden. She is the creative one in the family.
We asked him, “If you were to go back to your 31-year-old self, would you have done something differently? Would you have started earlier as an entrepreneur? His response was very honest, “I think I will do the same. Because well it was also very difficult to do it earlier din kasi, because you know as I’ve said I was starting my family, it was very risky at one point. But I think maybe it was the La Sallian spirit, the Animo, that made me decide on it because I talked to my classmates “yeah kaya mo yan” of course at that time during our time early ‘70’s, oh what are you guys doing in logistics or in the pier, kasi yung mga classmates naming nasa Bank of America with their attaché cases.”
His advice to his fellow young La Sallians, “I think it’s good to have a vision for how you are 10 years, 20 years from now. I think I attribute everything to hard work and relationship.”
Article originally published in Vol. 17 No. 2 of AnimoMagazine.