Glecy Tantoco: ‘She created championship teams out of underdogs’

Her eldest grandson pays tribute to the pioneer and visionary on the occasion of her 100th birthday anniversary

Portrait of Gliceria ‘Glecy’ Tantoco at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart for the Mass celebrating her 100th birth anniversary last December 20 (Photo by

After Mass, Glecy Tantoco’s children and their spouses, and close friends, with Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown:  foreground, Marilen Tantoco; first row, from left, friends of the family Stephen and Reggie Young, Abdenbi Jaidi, Renato and Maritess Tantoco-Enriquez, Rico and Nena Tantoco, Marilou and Eddie Pineda; second row, from left, Fr. Moises Ciego, Fr. Roy Bellen, Archbishop Charles John Brown, Fr. Eric Castro, Menchu and Jun Lopez, Annie Lam.  Not in photo is Zenaida Tantoco

Third-generation Tantoco and their spouses: (first row, from left) Quito and Pam Lopez, Michael Huang, MJ Tantoco,  Junjun Lopez; (second row) Donnie Tantoco, James and Rica de Jesus, Anton Huang, Kathy Huang, Katrina Lobregat, Maricar Tiangco, Kathleen Pineda, Gippy Tantoco;  (third row) Fr. Moises Ciego, Fr. Roy Bellen, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Charles John Brown, Fr. Eric Castro, Paul Tiangco, Eman Pineda

(The author, the eldest grandson of the late Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. and Gliceria “Glecy” Tantoco delivered this remembrance after the Mass celebrating the 100th birth anniversary of Glecy Tantoco at the National Shrine of the Sacred Heart. Glecy Tantoco, who passed away in 1994 at only 70 years old, was the woman who founded Rustan’s in 1952 in San Marcelino. A loving wife to a corporate executive and the mother of six children, she started selling fine things from their home in San Marcelino until her home became the home of “Glecy’s beautiful things.” With a steadfast work ethic and a driving vision, she pioneered the luxury retail and lifestyle retail in the country. Rustan’s grew from a department store into a business empire with interests in global luxury brand, real estate development, food.)

Watch this video prepared for Glecy’s 100th birthday:

A very blessed morning to all of you. Thank you so very much for being here to pray for, to remember, to give our respect, to express our individual and collective gratitude and love for GRT on the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday. It’s so beautiful and wonderful to see us like this in a shrine dedicated to the sacred heart, as one community, one church, one corporate family to celebrate GRT. We are all beneficiaries of her extraordinary life.

Anton Huang, grandson of Glecy Tantoco and president of SSI Group, Inc., delivers remarks before the Mass.

I prayed for guidance when ZRT asked me to speak about GRT during this most special Mass. And then I realized something that I was not so aware of: To some extent we have drifted from GRT’s founding purpose for Rustans, and we can be a lot more aligned with her way, her core values. The world today is extremely different from what GRT faced, but still, more than ever, we need to connect our work, our character, our values with roots planted in Rustans by GRT. So the purpose of my talk right now is to help replant seeds of GRT in the soil of our mind, hearts, our persons.

We all know GRT spent almost every waking hour of her 70 years working. Her work ethic was super natural and super human. Perhaps that is why she produced more greatness in one relatively short lifetime, than others who lived much longer than she. She worked hard not only because she had discipline. She worked hard because she had purpose. She had a clear northstar and a higher purpose beyond making money, even beyond giving her family the most comfortable life and the best education.

What was her life purpose, not from what she said, but from the example of what she did? I think her purpose was to consistently and absolutely elevate the lives of the men and women who worked with her. She did not help her people by giving them hand-outs and freebies; she transformed the lives of people by giving them opportunities that at the end of the day were also humongous challenges. She challenged her people.

GRT was very demanding. But if you were humble, open-minded, and hungry, she would enter into your world, figure out your strengths, and leverage such strengths to the hilt. She did not really work with smartest and most talented people in the world, for the very reason that she felt they would be unteachable. She focused her coaching, her mentoring, and her transforming on the least talented and most teachable. And she would be the only one in the lives of such people to see the genius in them that everyone else missed. And she would cultivate that genius in that stretching, squeezing, demanding, inspiring, and nurturing GRT way.

She focused her coaching, her mentoring, and her transforming on the least talented and most teachable—and would see the genius in them that everyone else missed

She had a very special sense of someone’s hidden potential, especially among those who did not come from the best schools, or the best families, or the most ideal environment. She was the champion of the underdog. She created championship teams out of underdogs.

Beyond her employees, she brought this transformation and cultivation of the genius and creativity that existed in everyone to her small suppliers, many of whom were artisans. She helped her neighbors by inspiring them to make pastillas to be sold in her store; the genesis of Our Very Own was how she trained local artisans to produce the kind of quality that can be so good that it could be included not only in her store, but also the first and only Philippine fair to be staged in Bloomingdale’s New York.

Her purpose, her legacy are thousands and thousands of men and women who can say that they discovered power, skills and capabilities they did not know they had. They can say GRT had “a 10 X impact on my life, I became 10 X larger and more fruitful than I ever thought I could be.”

Working with purpose, with vision, with imagination in an almost entrepreneurial and artisanal way. Working with a purpose which can simply be called greatness that benefits many, greatness that transforms the lives of employees and artisans. I think we can plant this GRT seed more deeply and more intentionally in the soils of our hearts, minds, and souls. And if we are internally transformational, then we will be externally transformational . We will collectively retain/regain our title as the most innovative, most pioneering and transformative retailer in the country.

That’s the first one.

The second is how GRT had this beautiful, close, and constantly strong relationship with Our Lord.

Rustan’s is a legend when it comes to being the only company where the first core value is faith. Faith is a higher core value for us than others like integrity, innovation, excellence, service, and teamwork. Faith trumps all. We have retained habits that Lolo and Lola originated such as dedicating every store, every warehouse, every office, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mama Mary.

The only vacations I ever saw Lola Glecy take, the only rest she allowed herself to have, were her pilgrimages to Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of Lourdes. This was the only holiday she aspired to have. Every other kind of holiday or rest was a distraction from her work, from her calling.

When I traveled with her, the first thing she would do upon arrival in a city was to go to a church to pray. I don’t know what she was praying for, but I believe she was not asking for anything. She was expressing her thanks, receiving guidance, and making her work worth offering to our Lord. Perhaps that was why Lola worked so much. Work was her love language. Work is her love made visible to our lord. Lola’s example makes us examine both our relationship with God and our work. Are we working out of duty or desire, are we working due to compliance or real commitment?

Today, on the occasion of the Lola’s 100th, I wish to help connect Rustan’s more deeply to faith, and to our individual and collective relationship with God. It starts in the small daily things like praying in our meetings, not in a robotic, half-hearted way, but in a genuinely praising, trusting and surrendering way.

Lolo and Lola worked hard, but at the end of the day all they did was produce loaves and fish that they offered. The Lord received their offer and did his blessing of the multiplication of the fruits of their work.

Let us never be so proud to think that what we have accomplished is something we can claim as our own. Like Lolo and Lola, let us always remember to be humble, to be grateful, and to always know that until the very end of our life, learning and giving never stop. No matter how much we have learned and given, we can still do more learning and more giving—and yes, more serving. A life of faith is a life of service.

Like Lolo and Lola, let us always remember to be humble, to be grateful, and to always know that until the very end of our life, learning and giving never stop

Related to learning, the third seed about Lola was her insatiable curiosity.

She was so curious about her customers. She was like a sociologist who understood her customers not only as a demographic, or an average basket and a transaction, but also as human beings with a heart, mind, soul; with dreams, struggles, aspirations, loved ones, and physical, mental and emotional needs.

I remember I was with Lola Glecy on a buying trip in Europe. And she saw a bag. She asked me to get her a postcard. On that postcard she wrote a customer and said, “I am in Florence, and I saw this bag, I thought of you and I ordered it with you in mind.” That bag was sold even before it arrived in Manila.

She was also curious about other worlds that have nothing to do with retail, such as art and music. She was super inspired by her visit to the Hermitage and the experience of listening to operas and concerts in places like La Scala. Her curiosity made art, music part of her aesthetic development and her retail craft.

She and Lolo were the first to put an art gallery and workshop inside a department store, I believe ahead of any department store in the world. And then to round off the experience of enjoying art, she created a restaurant called La Fontanella.

She looked at St. Honore and decided to do the unthinkable, the crazy idea of putting the St. Honore experience in her store. She put fashion boutiques along a St. Honore-like power aisle which she called Designers Boulevard, and at the end of the most amazing high and stylish street inside a store, she created a place that was elegant. To enhance the “French experience,” she asked her kids to develop Le Bon Appetit, and also to create an apothecary called Le Drug.

And when you put it all together, she realized that what she was offering was an experience. And products and brands were just characters in the experience that she would create. Only now do we say retail is experience. For Lola it was always experience, that’s why in the ‘60s she said Rustans is where shopping is a pleasure. It is an experience of pleasure, and of joy.

How curious are we today? Are we overusing our intellect, and under utilizing our imagination? Are we becoming all about numbers and not about vision? Let us connect ourselves with GRT, her purpose which is greatness that benefits many, especially the underdogs in our midst. She was a woman of great faith, and she included and dedicated everything to our Lord daily. And she was a woman whose creative ingenuity, whose pioneering ideas that transformed Filipino retail came from her curiosity.

These are the seeds and roots that I wish we would all embrace. It’s the GRT way, and it will help us navigate and be fruitful in these most exciting and challenging times. Lola Glecy’s life teaches us that eternal life does not begin in heaven; it begins with the good deeds we do today whose impact lasts beyond our lifetime, up to 29 years or more after we are gone. Let us pursue greatness that benefits many, not by being custodians of the past, but by being brave and purposeful stewards of the future.

Happy birthday in heaven, Lola Glecy! Thank you for so many, many infinite reasons.

About author


The author is the eldest grandson of Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco and wife Gliceria or  Glecy, who founded Rustan's in 1952. He is the president of Rustan's.

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