A life well lived
Entrepreneur and engineer Felipe F. Cruz, the founder of FF Cruz & Co. Inc., will be remembered for his vision, hard work, honesty and generosity of spirit as much as his achievements in constructing major interchanges, ports and bridges in the country.
He belongs to a generation of visionaries who helped define a country—yet who continued to adhere to old-fashioned values, strict work ethic and simple ways to their dying day.
Cruz was raised in Angat, Bulacan, where his family ran a rice mill. Given his humble beginnings, he was determined to buck the odds. He was the only member of the family to acquire not one, but two, college degrees—BS Geodetic Engineering from the University of the Philippines and BS Civil Engineering from the National University.
He married Angelita Almeda who hailed from a landed family in Bicol. Although his wife’s mother, Josefa Almeda, helped to get the couple started, he proved to his in-laws that he was worthy of being Angelita’s spouse through his entrepreneurial drive.
In 1949 he established a surveying company which evolved into a construction and engineering firm in 1954. With his success, Cruz was even able to send his in-laws on a world tour in the ’50s.
In the ’60s, he became the first Filipino, and one of the first in the world, to make use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) for civilian surveying. His contract with the US government sent him around the globe to find the exact locations of the cities using satellite tracking.
Cruz was also credited for producing the maps of Vietnam since he also surveyed the country.
Subsequently, FF Cruz & Co. Inc. expanded to build roads, geothermal and power plants, and piers such as the Batangas International Port, Iligan Port, the Sanggali Fishing Port Complex in Zamboanga, Port of Cagayan de Oro, Port of Iloilo, General Santos Fish Port Complex, Port of Semirara in Antique, to name a few.
Philip, the second of Cruz’s six children, recalls how his father’s decisions uncannily saved his life. At 12 years old, Philip expressed his desire to study in the West; his father agreed to send him to boarding school in Australia. Meanwhile, since Philip was an officer of the Boy Scouts at San Beda, the principal asked Philip to attend the 11th Boy Scouts Jamboree in Greece. Philip could not attend as he was going to New South Wales. It turned out to be fortuitous; the plane carrying 24 Filipino Boy Scouts crashed. (It was after these Scouts that some streets in Quezon City were named.)
After attending Sacred Heart boarding school, Philip studied in America to obtain a double degree in architecture and industrial engineering, as well as a master’s degree in management from Columbia University. He worked for a design firm in the US which participated in the construction of Naia 1. FF Cruz & Co. was the local counterpart.
Although Philip and his other siblings sit on the board of FF Cruz & Co., he set up his own construction firm, Filipinas (Prefab Building) Systems Inc., which built the Philtrade on Roxas Boulevard in partnership with DMCI. The construction of the 1.2-km building was accomplished in two weeks. His clients also included Philippine Plaza, Manila Hotel and National Museum.
“My father taught us to generate our own business so we don’t rely on inheritance. My parents trained us well,” says Philip.
The eldest of the Cruz siblings, Josefina “Josie” Cruz Natori, founded The Natori Company, one of America’s leading lingerie brands. She is now a global fashion icon.
Aida Chinloy, Eric and Angelita Cruz are entrepreneurs, while Maria Lourdes Martinez is a doctor.
Philip collaborated with his father in the construction of the Edsa-Ortigas interchange, Kamuning flyover, and Kalayaan flyover. One of the Cruz’s last projects was building 11 bridges in Aurora in six months.
To Philip, Cruz set an example of sound business practices.
“Since he was once a government scholar, he didn’t want to cheat the government. When we bid for government projects, we bid to provide durability. We don’t cheat the government in terms of materials and formulas. With steel and cement, there is concrete strength. In making bridges, you shouldn’t fool around with the structural integrity of the building,” says Philip.
“When you say 10 cubic meters of concrete, you deliver 10 cubic meters,” he points out. Some projects could involve cheating because the flawed construction could not be detected. Cruz suspected that if anything looked too good to be true, it must have involved some deception.
“When the concrete has been poured, you don’t know how much steel was used in the framework,” he explains. “It’s up to you to be honest. Our father taught us that you have to work for what you want to earn, and do it honorably. We give a guarantee of 15 years to protect our name.”
He says that while some politicians tended to favor some contractors, his father was never motivated by greed or ego in lobbying for project. “We never wanted to go into rig bidding. My father bid according to terms of reference.”
Cruz advised his children that in contracts, the other party should also be satisfied in the dealings. Philip quotes his father, “While you are making money, don’t exploit or take advantage. You will be happy when you go to sleep. The next morning will feel like a wonderful day.”
A workaholic, Cruz woke up at 4:30 a.m., played nine holes of golf and went to the office. Even in his 90s, he still reported for work, except when he was sick. His wife, Angelita, still signs the checks, at 88.
To Josie, Cruz was the quintessential entrepreneur and optimist. When she was 5 years old, she recalled that her father had a small office in Manila while her mother was a teacher. Subsequently, his reputation for quality work and professionalism spread and got him big contracts.
She recalls how their parents calmly dealt with the polio ailment of her brother Eric—who later successfully followed in his father’s footsteps.
“No matter the circumstances, my father had a strong will. He showed us that if there’s a will, there’s a way. Coming from a humble family, he made something of himself,” says Josie.
With “Que Sera Sera” (Whatever Will Be, Will Be) as his favorite song, Cruz bravely confronted challenges. Josie grew up seeing his father suffer the headaches of the business such as snags in projects, delays, politics, bad partnership and losing propositions.
“He never dwelt on what went wrong. He believed that something positive would come out of it,” says Josie.
She also acknowledges her father for supporting her career shift from investment banking to fashion.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my parents. At first, my father could not understand my exit from Wall Street. When he saw that I was having a hard time with production in the Philippines, he built a small factory. It’s a family company. His colleagues teased him that he went from engineering to undergarments.”
Cruz unselfishly shared his resources with those in need. He taught his children that wealth was a means to an end, which is to have the ability to help people’s lives.
Past his accomplishments, Cruz died with unfulfilled hopes for the country. He envisioned islands connected by transportation, infrastructure and communication. He also dreamed that cities would follow a master plan that included zones for industries, residence, commerce and agriculture, a planned population growth with provisions for water and power utilities.
Cruz also batted for the hiring of Filipino contractors, instead of foreigners, since Filipinos have world-class skills anyway.
Still, the children have maintained their father’s ideals. When Josie has problems at work, one of her favorite expressions is, “Deal with it.”
Philip acquired his dad’s analytical mind and business savvy.
“He always taught these to us because he lived by them,” says Philip.