A nurse by profession, Ely gave up her nursing cap to transform herself into a successful entrepreneur engaged in not one but two disparate ventures. "From January to June, I am a carpenter, July to December, I am a baker," she blithely describes herself. When she's wearing her carpenter hat, Ely is in the build-and-sell business. She buys land at rock-bottom prices, constructs houses on them, and then sells them at a handsome profit. When wearing an apron, Ely cooks and bakes only the good stuff: mouth-watering cheesecake, apple pie, chocolate cake, ensaymada, sans rival, lasagna, and paella, to name a few. But alas, only family and friends get to enjoy these because they are highly perishable. Shelf-life and storage problems discourage a kitchen whiz like Ely to produce in commercial quantity. The good news is that not all cakes spoil fast. Her fruit cakes taste better as they age.
When the fruitcake baking season starts at Cunningham Street in Parañaque City, where Ely runs her baking business, it must be July. For the next five months, workers at E.C. Festival Cakes are on their toes building up the fruitcake inventory. Once they have sufficient stock of the cakes, production activities slowly shift to baking and packing of food for the gods, those moist and chewy Christmas confections generously loaded with walnuts and dates. Making fruitcake and food for the gods is serious business that calls for a lot of expensive ingredients. E.C. Festival Cakes' products are no exception; they command a high price as most of the ingredients and packaging materials are imported.
Ely sells her cakes directly to supermarkets and groceries on consignment. In 1986, Mrs. Carreon's very first client, a premier upscale supermarket chain, challenged Ely to come up with a cheaper version of her fruitcake. With the same cake base, Ely came up with an equally good tasting but less pricey fruitcakes by using sultana raisins, local glazed fruits, and cashew nuts.
Thirty-five years ago, it was merely a thousand fruitcakes for the entire holiday season. But as the years passed, orders from supermarkets and grocery chains nationwide continued to increase manifold. Ely was at a loss when a single purchase order for 15,000 fruitcakes came her way in 2001. How was she going to fund such a big order? Luckily, one of her long-time suppliers came to her rescue. More orders soon followed. As the demand for her products continued to swell, Ely realized that it was time to secure additional capital to expand her production capabilities.
As fate would have it, in mid-2006, she got wind of the Industrial Guarantee and Loan Fund (IGLF), a program that lends to small and medium entrepreneurs. Looking back, Mrs. Carreon thinks the IGLF assistance came at the right time. Ely remembers no difficulty securing a Php 9 Million loan from one of IGLF's conduit banks. Her loan was approved and released in no time. With the proceeds, she was able to improve her work area: buy a new mixer; a new oven, a shrink packer; and a delivery van; and beef up her working capital. With pride, Ely asserts, "Because of the IGLF, E.C. Festival Cakes can now bake 3,000 fruitcakes a day!"
Aside from baking skills, Ely is adept at fund management. By juggling funds between her baking and carpentry activities, she was able to pay back what she owed IGLF long before it was due. She made good use of the excess cash she had back then. "That is the advantage of having two businesses," Ely explains. "They may be different in many ways, but they certainly complement each other when it comes to generating funds to pay off obligations."
After graduating from the University of the Philippines College of Business, Manny worked as an accountant at SGV & Co. He left in a few months to take a Master in Business Administration (MBA).
Back in school with no income of his own, Manny started a business supplying the seafood requirements of a couple of restaurants. It was while delivering seafood to a customer that he slipped and overturned a banyera full of fish. The incident was not only immortalized in a painting but also deeply ingrained in him. It taught him lessons in trying and failing and trying again.
In a few years, corporate employment beckoned anew. He joined the Private Development Corporation of the Philippines (PDCP) as a financial analyst. It was here he first heard about the Industrial Guarantee and Loan Fund (IGLF), a credit program supporting small businesses.
It was at the UP CBA while taking up a degree in finance when she met her future husband. They were married in 1975.
Like Manny, Cynthia also worked as a financial analyst but in another company, the Philippine Shares Corporation. She also served as treasurer and later president of the Aguilar family-owned Capitol Development Bank. Like Manny, she was elected lower house representative and later senator of the Republic.
Born to entrepreneurial families, both Manny and Cynthia naturally gravitated to business.
Manny applied for a PhP 70,000 IGLF loan through the Royal Savings Bank to augment his PhP 10,000 capital, well aware of the below-market interest rates it offered. The loan financed the acquisition of two reconditioned trucks to deliver gravel and sand to construction sites in nearby villages.
It was only a matter of time before the couple would make a leap from supplying real estate developers to building homes themselves. Ahead of his time, Manny offered low- to middle-cost house-and- lot packages, eschewing the then prevailing practice of selling lots on which to build homes later. Selling their first house-and- lot package was a turning point. The buyer was a seaman, an OFW.
The couple named their housing business after a hardwood—the mahogany. This was later changed to Camella, from camellia, a beautiful flower, for a more feminine touch. As Cynthia says, “Decisions involving homes are usually made by the women.”
Public service has also enhanced their commitment to the community. Under the Villars’ SIPAG, they implement projects on poverty reduction, environment protection, and profitable use of waste materials. These have been replicated in over 500 cities and municipalities nationwide.
The projects include skills and livelihood training on water hyacinth weaving, coconet weaving, organic fertilizer composting, blanket weaving, manufacturing chairs from waste plastic, and citronella oil extraction.
Another enduring commitment is to overseas workers, from whose ranks their very first home buyer comes.
SIPAG sponsors summits and conferences on venturing into business for families of overseas workers and for the OFWs themselves who are coming back for good. It also propagates the values of responsible social entrepreneurship and supports business start ups. SIPAG Awards are handed out yearly in recognition of the outstanding contribution of cooperatives and community associations to poverty reduction.
In 2014, Manny and Cynthia Villar were recognized as “Outstanding IGLF Entrepreneurs.”
Atching Myrna––as she is fondly called by her employees––says retirement can wait. She needs to be where the action is as both her Betis Crafts, Inc. (BCI) and the furniture trade as a whole go through difficult times.
It was in Barangay San Nicolas, Betis, Guagua where husband and wife team, Boy and Myrna Bituin, put up JB WOODCRAFT in 1972. For seed capital, the couple secured a PhP 10,000 loan from the defunct National Cottage Industries Development Authority (NACIDA), a government agency under the then Department of Commerce and Industry.
Myrna had to learn the business from scratch. She worked as a sales lady and later a cashier in a shoe store to go through college. After graduation, she taught literature for two years.
It was her husband who had full mastery of the furniture-making business. Boy took after his father, an excellent craftsman and an ace maker of billiard tables, bowling alleys, carosas, and baldosas.
Through the years, she learned the fine points of the trade from consultants, experts, plant visits, training, seminars, books, and magazines. It has been an unending learning process according to the BCI lady boss. “I love to be in the middle of things. Now, I know the business inside out. When one of my workers resigns, I can teach the next person in line how to do the job. Ito ay hanapbuhay ko, kailangan alam ko.”
She adds, “Going abroad is not a pleasure trip for me. It is time well spent visiting factories of clients, hardware stores, libraries, and bookstores trying to stay attuned with advances in the furniture industry.”
Myrna says it was a struggle getting to the top. BCI did not have the capability to meet volume orders at the outset. In the export business, one cannot commit what one cannot deliver.
Looking back, she claims, “The timing of IGLF was perfect. We were at that point when we had to modernize so we can produce in volume.”
To increase the firm’s productivity, BCI tapped the IGLF loan facility to buy commercial–grade wood copy-carving machines capable of carving and duplicating three-dimensional furniture components. By quickly and precisely duplicating almost any shape, these European-made machines revolutionized work at BCI. With the wood-carving duplicator machines, furniture parts are reproduced to exact specifications faster and in volume, giving woodcarvers more time to perfect the details of the carving and the finishing tasks.
“Swerte namin talaga!” she exclaims. “The IGLF was there to support budding exporters like us when financing was badly needed. Without IGLF, we may not have made it.” The PhP 11.7 million IGLF loan in October 2006 was a big help when the company was recovering from the aftermath of the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.
But there is no stopping her when it comes to BCI. She still works hard to this day because she delights in knowing she provides employment that will improve the lives of her workers. And this is why BCI employees call her Atching, Pampango for Ate.
Quite a few BCI employees have been with the firm for more than two decades. Their Atching Myrna regards them as partners, constantly reminding them, “BCI would not be here today if not for you. In the same way you need me, I need you. We are partners.”
It’s one big family at Betis Crafts. Myrna reminds her workers, “Pamilya kita kaya pwede kong sabihin sa iyo kung ano ang inaakala kong makakaganda sa pamilya mo.”
What is her gauge for success? She recalls being asked during the event’s pre-screening interview, “How can you tell that you are a successful entrepreneur?”
The compassionate BCI owner replies, “If my employee leaves the house in the morning and there is food for the family on the table, then I am successful. If my employee has medicine for a sick member of the family or is able to bring a sick family member to a doctor, then I am successful. And if all the children of my workers who are of school age are in school, and my employees are able to graduate their children, especially those in college, then truly I am very, very successful!”