MANILA, Philippines – More than just the brick and steel, it would be the heart and passion that built the empire.
Property developer Empire East Land Holdings Inc. has, without a doubt, successfully built over the past two decades a well thought-out portfolio catering largely to the growing and changing requirements of the middle-income segment. But while its success is evident in the number of structures it has built, it would be Empire East’s heart and passion that played a key role in filling what was then a gap in the housing sector and in helping more individuals and families realize their dream of owning a home they can call their own.
“Empire East was established in 1994. It started as an arm within Megaworld Corp., the purpose of which was to provide homes to a greater number of Filipinos. As you know very well, Megaworld caters more to the luxury and upper market and there is what we believe a huge untapped middle income sector. For many years developers would either go to the luxury market or socialized housing and this was because there were a lot of opportunities there and the mark ups are so much bigger,” recalled Empire East President Atty. Anthony Charlemagne Yu.
“But then we realized that if you look at the Philippine society, a lot of our people who do not have housing are in the middle sector,” Yu added.
Empire East was once part of tycoon Andrew Tan’s Megaworld Corp., but had branched out in 1994 as an independent company, and eventually listed at the Philippine Stock Exchange. Currently, Empire East specializes in the creation of residential communities for the middle-income market segment, and in the sale or lease of commercial and industrial spaces.
Yu related that the challenge then was how to provide those within the middle income segment the same luxury that they enjoyed at home, while they were still living with their parents, and how to meet their desired lifestyles given a limited budget. To achieve that feat, Empire East then decided to build residential communities that will have shared resources, facilities and amenities such as a swimming pool, a jogging path, garden, or even a clubhouse, and which they probably could not afford to have individually if they were to build their own, Yu further shared.
“Empire East’s goal was to reach a wider market base and to provide a comfortable home for every hardworking Filipino. We want to make luxury living affordable. We feel that there is a huge aspiration for the middle income sector and we want to be able to respond to this aspiration in order for them to get luxury living at an affordable price. We believe that we were one of the first developers who went into the middle income sector in a very big way and since then, all the other developers have followed suit,” Yu explained.
Over the years, Empire East has built landmark residential communities that have transformed the urban and suburban landscapes. It has likewise introduced new and innovative concepts such as township developments that seek to uplift the quality of living experience for residents.
And as with every endeavor, Empire East knows only too well that to succeed, it would entail more than just having a huge amount of resources, a business plan, and a vision. Driven to make a difference in the industry, Empire East carries with it a strong will and an unwavering passion to ensure that the company will be able to keep pace with the rapidly changing market demands.
“I would like to say, without having to brag, that we were the trailblazers. There were indeed other providers but not in such a big way and never in a way that had all the necessary elements in it. People are providing townhouses, for example, but never in such a big scale that can give the owners their own swimming pool, their own clubhouse, their own conference centers,” Yu explained.
And despite the growing number of players in this segment, Empire East continues to enjoy a lucrative share of the market, bask in the trust of buyers, and relish the respect of the entire industry. Currently, Empire East is one of the few industry players that have had the privilege to not only build, but also sustain a respectable track record in this highly competitive segment.
“The broad middle income market is the most difficult segment in terms of providing and meeting their needs. Here the margins are not as big as the luxury market and that’s the reason why I think most developers came into the middle income market last. It was only much later, when they saw how well we were doing, that other developers started coming in. When we first came in, there were no other major developers in the middle income market. We were ahead in that market and we have captured a huge segment of these market,” Yu related.
“We think that through the years we have managed to exceed our original targets. But we continue to innovate. We try to see what else we can do in order to make things better for our homebuyers. We can never rest on our laurels. Innovation is very important for us as the market keeps growing and it keeps on getting more sophisticated. We have to keep reinventing the wheel in order for us to respond to the needs and aspirations of the people. We would like to think that we sell communities, that we sell homes for people who have great aspirations and we are very hopeful that we are able to meet that aspirations up ahead,” Yu further said.
Facing the crisis
For a company whose early years of operation was already faced with immense challenges such as the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Empire East sure knew what it takes to build and protect a strong empire that the people can trust.
“Initially when we came in, we marketed our products just like everyone else, meaning when you come in and you want to buy, you have to give 30 percent downpayment and the remaining 70 percent is payable within a three year period. But we were struck by the Asian crisis. So from 1997 to around 2003, we were on our knees just like everyone else, and we were only on our third year of operation then,” Yu admitted.
“Asian crisis was hell. There was no credit to speak of and the banks did not want to talk to developers. Other developers were folding. It was really a very difficult time—all of us in the real estate suffered incredibly during those years,” he added.
Yet despite what could be a most devastating time for property developers, Empire East never faltered nor did it consider closing shop. Instead it made drastic adjustments and implemented new strategies to enable the company to thrive.
“Lifestyles had to be adjusted and drastic changes and measures had to be implemented. A lot of motivational talk had to be done and I had to make sure that everyone was in the loop and was aware of what the company was going through. I made sure the open door policy was followed. I also had to make sure that every resource that we had at that time would be spent for the construction and completion of every project, because this way we can prove to the people that we deserve their trust and confidence,” Yu shared.
“However, Empire East should always be remembered for one thing: and that’s how we were able to democratize opportunity for housing. For instance, we were the first to implement the zero downpayment policy, which many industry players then said was unworkable. Now, this practice is widely implemented. The full-page advertisement which we worked out with major dailies then—and now also being done by other players—had helped us project an image of strength at a time of weakness,” Yu further noted.
Currently, Empire East continues to enjoy the trust and respect not only of the Philippine real estate sector but also of the buyers to whom it has committed to serve. For every brick, cement and steel that it uses and for every structure that it builds, Empire East meanwhile creates a strong and sturdy foundation for Filipinos to build their dreams upon.
“We don’t need to get stars or models to endorse our developments but rather we go for fresh graduates, train them and make sure that everything is ok and give them that opportunity to succeed. Apart from improving the lives of our buyers, we also want to improve the lives our sellers. We would like to think that our group has been the training ground of some of the really successful agents or sales forces in the industry. Building an empire is a continuing effort and we have to give credit to where credit is due. Much of the success that the company now enjoys is because of the hard work our people have done, Empire East would not have been what it is today without them,” Yu said.
“But more than anything, it is our Chair’s fantastic vision that allowed us to grow. Mr. Tan is the kind of visionary whose vision does not stop and always has a vision for something. From an ordinary patch of land, he can envision something and this is why he managed to accomplish so many things. I remember one of the things he told me that I will never forget when I was a new president here, and I was very cautious. He told me, ‘Charlie do not be afraid because when you’re afraid it would paralyze you to inaction. Do not be afraid to commit mistakes, you will always commit mistakes but you just need to learn from it,’” he recalled.
“(Mr. Tan) said he has committed even more mistakes but he learned from it. He also said if you’re afraid to commit mistakes, you will never grow, Empire East will never grow. How many taipans will tell their people that? With that kind of statement, you feel more empowered, you feel that you can tell your people the same thing. And yes, we have we had mistakes, but we are not afraid of it for in fact we learned a lot from it and we continue to learn from it,” Yu said.
“It will always be a continuing effort and we’re happy and lucky that we have good people in the company and a good Chair, and that combination I think is the best for the team in order for us to pursue what we want to do and to serve the public. We sincerely believe that with what we have done we have contributed to nation building because we are not just building homes for the rich, we are really building homes for people who do not have homes,” Yu concluded.ADVT