Among the most low-key, unassuming yet hardworking people I know are the daughters—the heiresses-apparent—of some of the country’s most powerful fathers. Meeting them makes my job a lot more interesting. They’re a lesson in modesty and how not to wear the mantle of power.
Decades ago, the advertising manager of our newspaper then (this was before PDI was established) brought me to the newly opened Food Court of SM Makati to meet for lunch Tessie Sy-Coson, Henry Sy’s daughter who was gradually being given more and more responsibilities running the expanding department store.
The media then didn’t even know what Tessie looked like. I sat down with our ad executive and two SM executives, one of them a pregnant, soft-spoken woman. Curiously, no formal introductions were made because our advertising boss presumed everybody knew each other. In the middle of lunch, I asked casually, when is Mrs. Coson coming down to join us? Turning red in the face, the SM male executive turned to the petite young woman beside him—the woman SM manager at the table—and said, “She is Tessie.” We all broke into embarrassed laughter. The sea didn’t part, so to speak, when she walked into her family’s SM; that was how unobtrusive her presence was. That was how I met Tessie Sy-Coson who, three decades later, would become one of the most powerful women in Asia.
My meeting Ramon Ang’s young daughter Cecile a few years ago wasn’t as embarrassing as that. There was proper and clear introduction, and we’ve hung out in various times after that, usually when I would get invited to their regular wine club dinners.
Like Tessie in the early years, Cecile, I notice, is becoming the go-to manager of her father, being relied on to perform tasks needed to be done in Ang’s growing number of acquisitions, from Diamond Hotel to San Miguel, Petron and now Philippine Airlines. Like with Tessie and Henry Sy, Cecile has that tight bond with the dad. She’s trusted with details, like many a Filipino daughter. It’s an interesting father-daughter dynamics.
The second to the eldest in a brood of eight, she has an older brother who, she says, is even closer to her father and who, young as he is, was able to put up his own cement manufacturing business because like the father, he is interested in cement. “That’s the tough job,” she once told us of her brother’s capacity for hard work and diligence in handling operations. She said that what she does is practically “fun” compared to what her brother does.
These daughters are really modest. If we were to totally believe her, we’d underestimate the fact that fresh from college at Ateneo, she revived the then stagnant Manila Diamond Hotel, thanks to her interest in food and wine. Early on, she showed entrepreneurial knack when she opened Royce Chocolates stores in the malls. She has just opened Diamond Hotel’s Cake Club at Bonifacio High Street at the Global City in Taguig. (It’s cheesecake ice cream is a must.)
She and her siblings grew up in a typical striving middle-class Filipino family where the children car-pooled to school and had to focus on homework and school. She’d be up at 4 a.m. to make it all the way to St. Jude high school in Manila and allow time for her other siblings to be dropped off. It wasn’t an ostentatious upbringing at all, it seemed.
Apart from an Auggie Cordero gown for her debut, Cecile, it became apparent to us, is not into designer brands. She doesn’t fuss about shopping and prefers to shop online for clothes and fashion. Instead of high-ticket designer bags, she uses tiny purses and pouches—even to work.
It’s apparent that Ramon Ang and his wife run a tight-knit brood. They like to keep their children close to them. In one casual conversation, we learned from Cecile that even if she was in European Studies at Ateneo and even after bagging a scholarship to Europe, she wasn’t allowed by her father to study abroad because, he said, her siblings were still so young and would miss the company, if not care, of the elder sister, which she is. Growing up, she was told by the dad, should be bonding time with the younger siblings. (Their youngest is a ‘tween.)
It seems it’s an all-for-one-and-one-for-all family. For instance, on her brother’s karting race the other weekend, the entire family was there to root for him. (The father is a die-hard racer.)
We asked her just what things she learned from her dad.
“It’s not enough that you value your family, you have to spend time with them,” she says of her dad’s dictum. “We grew up not being allowed to go out with friends on Sundays as that’s strictly for family. I also shared a room with my three sisters for over 20 years. It’s my parents’ way of making sure we grow up close.
“Give back. Even when I was young and we didn’t have much, my dad was always generous with people. My dad wouldn’t be where he is today without the help of so many people so he always reminds us to be generous and give as much as we can.”
How is Ramon Ang as a dad?
“Despite my dad’s busy schedule, for most of my life he has never failed to call or text-message me when I’m not yet home by 9 or 10 p.m. He won’t ask me to go home but he’ll want to know what I’m doing and whom I’m with. He is able to do this with all eight of us.”
That’s a hands-on dad, if you ask me. It’s easy or doable to be a hands-on businessman/manager/professional, but to be a hands-on parent? No book, no masteral course ever prepares you for that.
Hands-on fathering/parenting comes from the heart, a wise heart—the heart that acquires wisdom through time.