Rommel Juan, the President of the innovative food company in the Philippines which serves traditional Filipinos wrapped in banana leaves is indeed a success story. Rommel who has an entrepreneur for a father learned how to run a business at an early age. In 1996, a year after he graduated college, he and his brother as well as a friend started the Binalot Fiesta Foods with only 50,000 pesos (around $900) as their initial investment. The business soon became a success and was selling 500 meals a day! However, a year later the economy crisis hit the Philippines and their business was also affected. As a businessmen, he and the rest of the Binalot board decided to branch out to grow the business. Thus, in 2004 Binalot Fiesta Foods opened for franchising.
Today, Binalot has over 41 branches in the Philippines serving 200 meals each day. As the head of the corporation, he is more than the CEO of the company, he is an inspirational CEO sharing with us some of his life’s and business’ secrets.
This is his story:
AMS: Tell us about yourself. Your education, training and where you are currently involved in.
Rommel: I’m Rommel Tambunting Juan and a graduate of the De LaSalle University in Manila, Philippines. I majored in Marketing Management then I eventually finished my Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship at the Asian Institute Management, Philippines in 2005.
I am currently the CEO and the President of the Binalot Fiesta Foods. I started Binalot Fiesta Foods shortly after college together with my brother and a friend. Initially, we did it just for fun but sooner or later, we realized that the business was going very well so, we started to be more serious about managing it. A few years later, we realized that we were employing more people that we could have ever imagined. We were then responsible for almost 200 jobs and families were starting to depend on us.
I’m also happily married to Christine Gonzales Juan, a preschool director of the Sun Valley Paranaque for Sacred Heart School Sun Valley and also a proud father to three beautiful girls aged 11, 8 and 5.
I come from an entrepreneurial family where talking about business was never taboo during dinnertime or any other time during family bonding. My father used to make us repaint school chairs for my Mom’s elementary school in Malabon, Metro Manila and even picked up used nails, then straightened them and sold them back to my father whenever he had any construction being done, just to teach us the value of money. These are some of the things which I plan to do with my kids as well.
Coming from an entrepreneurial family we were all encouraged to put up our own businesses. And the nicest thing about it was, I was able to get free mentorship from everyone in the family and then I was able to get the right critiques as well as the right encouragement. My brother has his own Truck Body Manufacturing business, my older sister has an after school enrichment program she franchises and my younger sister has her own Social Media consultancy business.
It was no doubt, I had to be in at least one business.
AMS: Tell us about how you started your business “Binalot” and its mission?
Rommel: We started Binalot right after college when we realized that the food scene was getting a bit boring with the usual hamburger, hotdog, siopao, siomai and pizza fast food fare.
We conceptualized Binalot with the idea of going back to the basics of Filipino food, then we reintroduced the traditional Filipino food and packaged it in a modern fast food setting. In Filipino, Binalot means to “wrap”. The whole idea of Binalot was inspired from my childhood memories when my Mom used to wrap our food in banana leaves during family picnics. Thus, all Binalot products are wrapped in banana leaves.
We also decided to do utilize natural products for packaging, because we aim to be the preferred choice in Filipino fast food fare which also promotes the environment.
Our packaging is natural, organic and biodegradable. Through this idea, we started to champion the use of biodegradable packaging especially since the typhoon Ondoy wrecked Manila a few years back. We wanted to make sure that we contribute to the “go-green” campaigns in our own little ways, so we do not want to see what happened during the typhoon Ondoy. (Editor’s note: As of this writing, another typhoon hit the Philippines and has recently caused tremendous flooding throughout the Luzon islands)
We even went further and started promoting eco bags, washable utensils as opposed to disposables in our stores and we even use e-bikes for deliveries.
Despite all of these initiatives, the very heart of Binalot is our advocacy. Our corporate social responsibility program called DAHON (LEAF) or Dangal at Hanapbuhay para sa Nayon (Respect and Work for the Nation). Through this advocacy, we are able to support thirty families in Nagcarlan, Laguna, a town about three hours south of Manila. Part of our programs was adopting the whole community to supply us with our banana leaves that we use for our packaging. By doing so, we help these families earn a living. Just recently, we had also branched out to Zambales where we support Aeta communities and a community of women in Legaspi Albay.
AMS: What is your vision of this business?
Rommel: The formal vision which we articulated and posted on our office wall is:
To be the preferred Filipino quick service restaurant in the Philippines which promotes Filipino culture and sustains the environment
That encapsulates it all. As the founder, CEO and the President of the company, I want to grow this brand all over the Philippines. I also want Binalot to be a place where Balikbayans (Filipinos living abroad) would bring their friends to try and eat authentic Filipino food.
AMS: Who or what inspired you to be who you are? Have you always been involved in similar ventures?
Rommel: My father inspired me to go into business and trained me in the disciplines of business such as integrity, credibility, responsibility and discipline. These characteristics were engrained in us at an early age.
My father used to say, “Madali naman yumaman, magbenta ka lang ng drugs, (it is easy to get rich, just sell drugs) but where will that get you?”
He taught us about the importance of good old fashioned hard work. He never showed us that work was hard. He showed us that work was fun and enjoyable.
My mother on the other hand, instilled in us the proper values. She is a very religious and a caring person. She made sure that our moral values were always intact.
AMS: What are some of the greatest achievement that you’ve had?
Rommel: With Binalot we’ve been awarded many times for our CSR program.
We won the Centenniel prize for the UPS out of the box small business competition, the Anvil award from the PR association, the best retailer award from the Phil Retailer Association, a special citation from Entrepreneur Magazine , the BID challenge and the Intel Aim Corporate Responsibility awars (IACRA).
All has made us proud to be part of Binalot and its advocacies. I have seen and proved to myself that if you give, it comes back a thousand fold.
On a more personal side, my greatest achievement is my family. The small successes and achievements of my kids make me happy and realizing together with my wife, our plans for our family are slowly coming to life.
AMS: Who are/were your motivators?
Rommel: Of course my parents and my siblings and a few other people encouraged me while growing up such as my aunt, Chit Juan of Echo-store fame. They all inspired me to achieve and succeed in whatever endeavor I choose to pursue.
But when I met my wife, she even encouraged me more. In fact, she became my compass in things that I wanted to achieve in life.
My kids also continue to inspire me because the things I do now are really for their future.
Also I cannot fail to mention the people of Binalot, who are our true Gems. They are selfless and dedicated to the company. They are the secrets to Binalot’s success.
AMS: If you were to tell us what are the most important skills that you need in order to be successful in life- what are they?
Rommel: A positive attitude is really important. This will help you get through some rough spots in life which will mold and strengthen your character.
You have to be passionate. I cannot stress enough that you have to enjoy what you’re doing in order for you to succeed.
You have to be morally balanced. So that everything you do is guided by the Lord. And be continually blessed.
AMS: What are your next goals for yourself?
Rommel: I want to learn how to play guitar again and learn how to speak Mandarin. I know it is never too late to improve yourself. The good thing is now that my kids are old enough and we can learn these things together.
AMS: What is your definition of success?
Rommel: Success is finding contentment and happiness in life and in all your endeavors.
You don’t have to have a lot of millions in the bank.
Family is number one on my list. I tend to judge people’s successes by looking at their family lives, and not their material gains.
I always say, that business is like a rubber ball. If it falls, it bounces back. But family is like a crystal ball, if it falls, it shatters.
I think business is really a tool to improve your family life, your employees’ lives and to help the community around you.
It makes no sense to keep working and planning for the future and forget the present.
And of course, putting God at the center of everything you do.
About the Author: Alpha Miguel-Sanford, is the founder and editor of Aspire.Motivate.Succeed, a personal development website, with the vision of educating and inspiring individuals in their pursuit of happiness and success. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow and like her on Facebook Page AMSDaily and be friends with her on Twitter @identitysolved.