Learning by Doing (Ayala Land)

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(This feature was published in the website of Ayala Land last September 27, 2013)

At first glance, one would think that the youthful Sherika Tanmantiong, Anne King, Donna Tan, and Diana Tan are a group of university students. Little would he or she guess that these young women manage their respective businesses.

All four graduated from the Ateneo de Manila University and went to China to learn the language. They also share other interests such as travel and food, which play a big part in their lives as young entrepreneurs.

What brings these ladies together is the bond that they share as cousins. They belong to the second generation of the group that built Jollibee Foods Corporation. Although they have the option to join the company, they decided to explore the industry and go into business on their own.

It was Sherika who first had the courage to go on her own by bringing in the Red Mango franchise from Korea, along with her other partners. At 24, she left her job in Greenwich as assistant brand manager when she decided to go full-time into business. Red Mango became one of the pioneers of the frozen yogurt trend in the Philippines when it opened in 2009 in Trinoma. Today, Red Mango has eleven branches all over the country, including one in Greenbelt and another in Ayala Center Cebu.

Sherika’s parents provided her with sound advice when she decided to become an entrepreneur, such as working more hours or doing store visits even on weekends. She also realized the value of having the “humility to listen and to learn” even while still in Greenwich. It is important for her not to stop asking or getting advice, and listening to customers to keep on learning and growing. “That’s what my dad always says—you just ask and they’ll help you. You won’t know what could happen unless you ask.”

The youngest in the batch, Anne King, agrees. Before she opened her own store, Anne used to work as a management trainee for operations of Red Ribbon. During her first day there, she didn’t tell the other employees who she was so they would treat her as they would other employees. That experience allowed her to learn how to relate with people—not just those in the manager level, but more importantly, with the crew. “One thing I learned from my dad, who specializes in operations, is really relating to your people at store level,” reveals Anne. “They’re the ones who are really going to serve your store and interact with your customers.” Anne realizes that a storeowner cannot do everything alone. She knows that no matter how good the back office, systems, or policies are, it is the crew who will implement what the owner planned.

At only 26 years old, Anne was able to bring into the country the master franchise of Mr. Bean, the number one leading soy food chain in Singapore. The first Philippine branch of Mr. Bean opened in Alabang Town Center in 2012. Anne instantly liked the atmosphere and the community and felt that the mall was a perfect fit for Mr. Bean because the clientele are familiar with the brand that serves fresh soya milk and all kinds of taho, among others.

It was during a trip to Seoul when siblings Donna and Diana Tan chanced upon Sariwon Korean Barbecue, a restaurant that started in 1938 in Korea. The authentic cuisine pleased their palates so much that brought the franchise to the Philippines. They launched their first branch in Bonifacio High Street, the first international franchise outside Korea, last April 2012. The business flourished as the mall captured their ideal audience.

However, it wasn’t easy getting the last of the highly sought-after spots in the mall. The sisters were very upfront with their landlord. “We told them that we didn’t have any experience in running a restaurant, but we had knowledge of marketing. We were very honest with them. They still gave us a chance.” According to Donna, “Our dad is the vice president of real estate. He really stressed the importance of working well with the landlords—having integrity, so that’s what we practice in Sariwon. With our partners, our people, customers, we want to be sure that what we say we follow, that we walk the talk.”

The cousins give credit to their parents who encouraged them to explore having their own businesses. Diana shares, “They said that while we can learn a lot by working in a company, we are more or less stuck in a department, in a position. Whereas if you start your own business, you’ll learn everything about human resources, construction, legal—all the things we couldn’t learn in those departments because we were in the marketing department, for example. That was the main challenge also in having a business. We had to learn on the way.”

“I think we were confident to start the business because of the mother company, because our parents were also very active there,” says Donna. “The company will be there to go back to, but now is the time to explore and learn more.”

“Hopefully when we come back [to the company],” adds Diana, “we’ll have a lot of knowledge to share with them.”