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How Jose Antonio became one of Forbes’ richest

/ 03:09 AM November 30, 2016
Antonio, at 30th anniversary celebration, acknowledges the “first man who believed in me—Mr. Henry Sy.” —JILSON TIU

Antonio, at 30th anniversary celebration, acknowledges the “first man who believed in me—Mr. Henry Sy.” —JILSON TIU

To celebrate what has turned out to be a milestone year for him, Jose E.B. Antonio, chairperson and CEO of Century Properties Group and special envoy to the US, hosted a grand party at the Makati Shangri-La.

The affair drew a power mix of guests from business, A-List society, the younger affluent set, most of whom are close friends of his sons, Jigger, Marco, Robbie and Carlo, who are also top executives of his real estate development company.

Behind these men is wife and mother, Gilda, who also has a formidable social network.

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A series of videos showed Century Properties’ evolution and how it weathered challenges along the way.

In an interview with Inquirer Lifestyle, Antonio said the 1989 coup attempt, the power crisis in the early ’90s and the Asian financial crisis in 1997 put a damper on business.

“The lesson: Even in the best of times, one must always be conscious that there can be a black swan on the pond,” he said.

Then there was a video of President-elect Donald Trump expressing his pleasure in working with Century Properties. The footage was taken four years ago when Century Properties inked a licensing deal for the naming of the $150-million Trump Tower Manila.

Jose Antonio’s father Ramon Antonio Jr., Ramon III, Ellen Antonio, Connie Unson

Jose Antonio’s father Ramon Antonio Jr., Ramon III, Ellen Antonio, Connie Unson

Before he sang, actor and Century Properties brand ambassador Piolo Pascual said how happy he is living at Gramercy Residences, the country’s second tallest building, at 72 stories, at Century City, Poblacion, Makati. Pascual added that, for his son, Iñigo, he also acquired a condominium at Acqua Private Residences in Mandaluyong City.

Self-made businessman

The event marked the start of a new decade in Antonio’s life and for the 30-year-old publicly listed Century Properties Group. Antonio is worth $195 million and is ranked No. 40 among the top 50 richest Filipinos by Forbes magazine.

Asked how he became a self-made businessman, Antonio replied, “There was no manual or reference book. You have to follow your instincts, look at the best practices of people who have been successful; see what they did correctly or incorrectly. That will guide you in your journey.”

Greggy Araneta and Chavit Singson

Greggy Araneta and Chavit Singson

Antonio looks up to magnate Warren Buffet who made his millions through successful partnerships and investments. He also admires techies Mark Zuckerberg for his game-changing Facebook, and Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, founders of the online marketplace and homestay network Airbnb.

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“They disrupted the industries to give clients a better product. Their new ideas changed people’s lives,” he said.

Ann and Rene Puno, Mexican Ambassador Julio Camarena

Ann and Rene Puno, Mexican Ambassador Julio Camarena

For his part, Antonio shook up the real estate market by selling an aspirational lifestyle to Filipinos and playing to their penchant for celebrities and branded names. Other developers have followed the marketing tack of promoting the amenities and the ambiance of their residential condominium projects.

Antonio then created a demand for luxury residential condominiums, starting with Essensa East Forbes in 1997. The twin-tower property in Fort Bonifacio was designed by foreign architectural firm Pei, Cobb and Freed & Partners, led by prominent architect I.M. Pei.

Century Properties also distinguishes itself with unique concepts. One of the biggest sellers is the mid-price range project Azure Urban Resort Residences in Parañaque. It consists of a cluster of condominiums around a beach resort.

Hans Sy —PHOTOS BY JILSON TIU

Hans Sy —PHOTOS BY JILSON TIU

“The people are happy to have a manmade beach inside this development. No need to travel outside Metro Manila,” said Antonio, underscoring the importance of customer experience.

Marco Antonio

Marco Antonio

“A condo has four walls. What about the experience? A nice lobby, well-maintained surroundings, a good gym—all come into fusion when you live in one of our developments.”

Ching Cruz

Ching Cruz

Century Properties has since collaborated with branded names for its residential projects, such as Versace Home for the interiors of Milano Residences, Studio Daniel Libeskind and Armani/Casa for Century Spire, Philippe Starck for Acqua Private Residences, and hotel heiress Paris Hilton, who is designing the clubhouse of Azure Urban Resort Residences.

No conflict of interest

Antonio recently made news in the American press upon his appointment as special envoy to the US, this in spite of Century Properties’ business ties to the Trump Organization.

Robbie Antonio (standing) welcomes guests Robert Coyiuto and Washington Sycip.

Robbie Antonio (standing) welcomes guests Robert Coyiuto and Washington Sycip.

The New York Times wrote that Century Properties paid $5 million licensing rights for Trump Tower Manila in Century City. The NYTimes pointed out that President-elect Trump had no involvement at all with the project except to lend his name.

Bloomberg News reported that Antonio didn’t speak with Trump when the envoy visited New York after the US elections. However, he mentioned that he saw Trump meeting his appointees.

Antonio told Inquirer Lifestyle that he doesn’t see any conflicts of interest as a business partner and as a diplomat.

The power couple: Jose and Gilda Antonio

The power couple: Jose and Gilda Antonio

“Is it a crime that I know the president-elect? Is it odd that we have done business with his family?”

Antonio explained that Century Properties has been dealing with the Trump Organization for many years and before Trump’s plans of getting into politics. He added that the Trumps “recognize the sensitivity of the actions of the Trump Organization.”

Tessie Sy-Coson

Tessie Sy-Coson

With units ranging from 60 to 400 square meters (and at over P300,000 per square meter) the 257-unit Trump Tower Manila is 94 percent sold with a total sales value of P6.13 billion. The branded luxury residential projects have been tapping the overseas market and affluent Filipinos.

Jigger Antonio

Jigger Antonio

While there seems to be a glut in condominiums, Antonio sees other opportunities. He cited that there is still a housing shortage in the affordable market, and office buildings enjoy 90-percent occupancy. The company is branching into tourism with upcoming resorts in Batulao, Batangas, and San Vicente, Palawan. —CONTRIBUTED

Lior and Maymay Lichtenstein

Lior and Maymay Lichtenstein

Jackie Antonio, Wendy Puyat, Blue Carreon

Jackie Antonio, Wendy Puyat, Blue Carreon

Gilda Antonio leads her children and guests of honor in the blowing of the birthday cake of her husband, Jose, during last Thursday’s anniversary celebration. There are 100 candles—70 to signify his age, 30 to represent Century Properties’ age.

Gilda Antonio leads her children and guests of honor in the blowing of the birthday cake of her husband, Jose, during last Thursday’s anniversary celebration. There are 100 candles—70 to signify his age, 30 to represent Century Properties’ age.

Rico Hizon

Rico Hizon

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TAGS: A-List society, Acqua Private Residences, Century City, Century Properties, Century Properties Group, Gramercy Residences, Iñigo Pacual, Jose E. B. Antonio, Makati Shangri-La, Mandaluyong City, Mark Zuckerberg, Piolo Pascual, Trump Tower Manila, Warren Buffet
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