My Lolo, the shepherd warrior

‘Whatever strength God gives you is not for your benefit …. The point of being whole with yourself is so that you can be whole for others’

Donnie Tantoco and his ‘Lolo’ in file photo: ‘He tries very hard not to break your spirit’ (Photo courtesy of Donnie Tantoco)

(Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. passed away July 6, 2021, shortly after he turned 100 years old. Last April 7, his 100th birthday, a rare milestone indeed, asked his eldest grandchild, Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco, the president of Rustan Commercial Corp. and the CEO of Royal Subic,  to give readers an intimate glimpse into the persona of the man, a pillar of Philippine retail. We are re-publishing it. These insights restore a feeling of hope in this time of uncertainty. He answers our questions.—Editor)

Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr.: ‘Father of PH Luxury Retail’ turns 100

What are the lessons you learned from your Lolo that impacted your life?

My Lolo does not believe that his way is always the best. It certainly worked for him. But he does not assume that it would also be relevant to me. He believes that there is a different kind of goodness and greatness in everyone. His role is to help me discover and harness for myself and others whatever gifts, and purpose that was instilled in me. It is not to impose his way, his will, and his rules on me. He does not believe in “one size fits all.”

He also believes that everyone has his/her share of flaws, and all of us are sinners in one way or another. He is one of the few persons I know who talks about others—behind their back, in the literal sense— much more in affirming rather than demeaning ways. He intuitively strives to create an environment that promotes nothing less than excellence on the one hand, but is also very encouraging on the other hand.

He criticizes with care. He wants you to be self-critical and learn even from pain, but he tries very hard not to break or scar your spirit

He criticizes with care. He wants you to be self-critical and learn even from pain, but he tries very hard not to break or scar your spirit.

His way of teaching is firsthand experience. Rather than tell you about a place and its culture, he will just bring you to that country. If there is a person he wants you to learn from, we will work together to create that opportunity to meet that person. If there is a book he wants you to read, he will read it at the same time as you. And share insights with you during coffee.

We would attend multiple conferences together, and what amazed me is how this wisest and most experienced man that I know personally would listen attentively for hours and write copious notes.

He also taught me to embrace serendipity. We don’t need to plan everything. Sometimes you just have to put yourself out there and embrace what happens. My Lolo actually encouraged me “to talk to strangers.” He listens more than he talks, so the lessons I teased out from being with him are in my own words.

In pre-ECQ days, Donnie Tantoco puts his visiting Lolo’s hand on his forehead— the traditional ‘mano’. (Photo from Donnie Tantoco)

Here are three of the things that I learned from him.

  1. The point of being WHOLE WITH YOURSELF is so THAT YOU CAN BE WHOLE FOR OTHERS. Everyone will have his/her own ritual for WELLNESS OR WHOLENESS.

My Lolo always woke up before the sun rises. From the small desk in his bathroom, he would pray, answer correspondence, and prepare and plan his day. He has an unbroken decades-long streak of regular exercise that continues to this day. He makes sure he blocks off enough time to have a leisurely bath and breakfast. At around 8:30 a.m., he no longer belongs to himself; he belongs and gives himself to the world. Having taken care of himself not just physically, but also emotionally and spiritually, he can then be present and intentionally be a gift to others, not just his family but also the employees that he leads.

I think his wholeness routine is one of the reasons he is a self-giving servant leader. He once said, “Donnie, the point of taking care of yourself is so that you can be a strong for others. Whatever strength God gives you every day is not for your own benefit.”

  1. IT’S OKAY TO DREAM FOR AS LONG AS YOU ACT ON YOUR DREAMS. He is fondly known as an action Jackson. For him words are cheap, and overthinking is a useless activity. Some action jacksons are focused on what is practical, feasible, and risk-free. My Lolo gets bored with such things. He promotes always paying attention to and taking care of the basics.

However, beyond that he wants to pursue big dreams and purpose-driven goals. Our goal is deliver “Greatness that benefits many.” He does not define greatness in profit, he defines it as the number of jobs we have created, people we have promoted, firsts and game changers we have helped introduced to our country. He once told me, “Donnie, I don’t know how many stores I want us to have. I don’t have a number. But one day we will hopefully be a community of 100,000 jobs with the highest growth, highest malasakit, and highest profit per employee.”

He said, “Donnie, never forget that we are a leader and not a follower. We use not just our minds but also our imagination to excite our market.” He taught me to always have the dreaming mindset and the action orientation of a pioneer. And don’t be afraid of failure, and don’t be disheartened when society judges you because you fell short. Act on it! Don’t just dream it!

Even amid the deepest of crises, my Lolo would always have a good conversation with me while savoring a cup of coffee

  1. HAVE FUN! The point of life is to LIVE WITH JOY. Yes there are things you have to do that are like mandatory black bread stuff. But you also have to consciously plan your day so that you can always have joyful moments. He said I should also pause to notice the many blessings that are there to be grateful for. My grandpa says being grateful keeps you humble. He said, “Donnie, remember pride is a sin. It leads to many things including vindictiveness. Don’t ever be a vindictive person.”

To keep me humble, he told me about the multiplication of the loaves. He said that all we do with all our power and might is provide the 5 loaves and the 2 fish. God will feed the 5000. The multiplication is from the power of God. To believe that the 5000 is our doing and our accomplishment is foolish arrogance. Lolo often reminded me that the most exciting, passion-filled parts of life can come from the most ordinary of activities and blessings that don’t cost any money. Even amid the most frenetic of days, amid the deepest of crises, my Lolo, who was my direct boss, would always have a good conversation with me while drinking and savoring a simple cup of coffee.

My Lolo is also the best in making our work fun. He is not a command-and-control type of person. Once we are aligned in direction, he gives you freedom and nearly full autonomy with responsibility. When he intervenes, it’s not to react to something wrong but to add octane, inspiration, and mojos to your work. He wants to give you more energy. The mindset of joy is something I learned from my Lolo.

He also does not like us to take ourselves too seriously. At 100, he is the wisest, most childlike person I know. He is a shepherd warrior, a servant leader, who has this innate kindness and sweetness. He has this constant energy of contentment, awe and joy. I think that comes from being humble, open-minded and childlike no matter how old and wise he becomes.

How would you like the country to remember your Lolo?

  1. As a good man who never sold out his values just to be successful.

  2. As someone who believed in the power of the Filipino. Our job is to unleash the creative power of an inspired and well-trained Filipino.

  3. He always saw what is positive and even fascinating in every circumstance and every person.

The Tantoco patriarch exercises in pre-pandemic days (Video courtesy of Tokie Tantoco)

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