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AT THE HELM

Education a means to 'save the country'

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LANCE Gokongwei (above, right) readily admits that his two children, ages 13 and 15, are not as immersed in business as he was when he was a student.

As a child, Saturdays were spent in his father John Gokongwei Jr's (above, left) office, and summer holidays as well. "Everyone in the office was uncle or aunty. Essentially we played at work."

"I question if I should spend more time to expose my children to the business. There is interest on their part, but it's not as intense as it was when I was young."

The Gokongwei family philanthropy centres on the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation set up in 1992 by the elder Gokongwei and his brothers, Johnson, Henry and James, who donated "significant" portions of their shares in JG Summit. Its philanthropic mission is education, focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and on nurturing technical-vocational education. As at March 2018, the foundation is JG Summit's biggest shareholder with a share of nearly 28 per cent of capital.

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The senior Mr Gokongwei himself did not go to university. He began his philanthropic efforts at 30 when he donated 30,000 pesos to build a Jesuit high school in Cebu. In a publication marking the foundation's 25th year last year, Mr Gokongwei, the foundation's founder and chairman, wrote in a message: "... it is my belief that education is the only way to save this country. We need quality education to compete in this world."

Meanwhile, his son Lance is keenly aware of the privilege that wealth brings. "Wealth means freedom, the freedom not to worry about my kids' education or getting the best doctors. But that wealth comes with responsibility. I'm just a steward."

He says he and his wife seek to keep the children grounded. "It's a family trait I'm proud of. My family is known to be down-to-earth. We don't take pride in material possessions. I don't begrudge other people that, but it's not what we're about." W