On Saturday, Ambassador Bienvenido R. Tantoco Sr. turned 91, a genuine blessing indeed.
But the even greater blessing is how, in his twilight years, the founder and chair of the Rustan Group of Companies—the foremost retail chain in the country—has chosen to focus on a cause that brings him back to the beginnings of his retail empire—the rehabilitation and redevelopment of Paco Market in Manila.
The Paco Market redevelopment involved the cleaning up of the nearby esteros, the reconstruction of the wet and dry goods sections. More interesting is the fact that there are even culture and art activities in the market now, including a jazz night. All these are due to the efforts of the never-say-die duo of Gina Lopez and interior designer Maja Olivarez-Co.
That Tantoco is able to reconnect to this generation of advocates is proof of the resilience of the man.
Sixty years ago, Tantoco and his wife Glecy started their retail store Rustan’s in San Marcelino, a stone’s throw away from Paco. Through sheer hard work and zeal for entrepreneurship, the accountant and his wife built the biggest high-end retail store chain in the country.
Tantoco, now a widower, has tapped his six children to run the various businesses, taking turns at their helm. They are Rico, who’s in the real estate development; Nedy, who now heads Rustan’s and Stores Specialists Inc.; Marilou, Menchu, whose side of the family is in charge of Starbucks chain; Marilen and Marites, who both help in the stores abroad.
Tantoco has 21 grandchildren, many of whom are also in the various family businesses, from luxury retail to supermarkets. He has 10 great grandchildren.
The former ambassador to the Holy See also founded the first hypermart retailing concept in the Philippines with the opening of Shopwise in 1998. He also founded the Sta. Elena Properties, Inc.
He headed the Philippine Italian Association for 10 years, and is a member of the International Group of Department Stores, a world body founded in Lugano, Switzerland, by eight European department stores in 1946, with the aim of sharing information and experience in retail.
From the Italian Government he received the Order of Merit of the Republic of Italy, the highest award given by the Republic of Italy to a none Italian.
The great honor came from his industry—in 2010 the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) gave him the President’s Award as “Father of Luxury Retailing.”
In this interview, grandson Anton T. Huang, executive vice president of SSI, talks about his grandfather.
How is your grandfather at 91?
It’s incredibly admirable the level of energy he has at 91. His zest for life is infectious. When most wane in their enthusiasm at that age, he continues to exude the same spirit of curiosity we’ve always known him to have.
From how much you know of him, what is his secret to longevity, you think?
Aside from possessing an innate youthful and spirited disposition, Lolo Benny has always been a lover of life. His interests are so vast and varied, and his quest to learn or experience things is unrelenting.
But more importantly, Lolo Benny has always been, first and foremost, a family man. His family is his inspiration. And he is fueled by his desire to continue on building what he has started and being able to share these with his family and the many who have been working with him all these years, whom he considers family as well.
Why is the Paco Market dear to him? It’s a stone’s throw away from where he and your Lola started Rustan’s in San Marcelino.
A man’s journey to success is never complete unless he is able to give back to the community where he started. That is the meaning of true legacy. This is true for Lolo Benny.
For him, the Paco Market is like coming full circle. It is also important to him because it gives him an unparalleled sense of fulfillment, giving back to where he started 60 years go.
How does your Lolo continue to help in the restoration of the Paco Market? What’s his involvement like?
The project is spearheaded by Gina Lopez. He has been providing continuous financial and moral support to Gina to see the project through.
What learnings have you picked up from your Lolo’s life? What about him continues to inspire you?
He has instilled in all of us the passion to provide for the future: the courage to embrace risks and own that sense of responsibility to improve people’s lives.
In other words, he espouses a sense of stewardship where it is clear that we are here to build upon what we have been given for future generations of our family and the people who serve and patronize us.
It has always been his fervent mission to give back to where or whom we have received so much in our lives.