Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Ambassador Tantoco

Birthday Greetings to Ambassador Tantoco

From Simon Susman, IGDS Board Member & former IGDS President, Woolworths Holdings, South Africa

Learnings from the Founder of Luxury Retail in The Philippines

Creating a Business

In 1970, Rustan’s expanded into the supermarket business, this time bringing then unheard-of products like Kikkoman soy sauce, Chupa Chups lollipops, and Lay’s potato chips to grocery store shelves. The company was also the first to put up an in-store cafe and bakery, offer appliances and home items in the dry goods section, offer organic products, imported lamb meat, wine and chocolate, hold a midnight sale, offer gift certificates, and create a customer loyalty program.

In 1988, however, the Tantocos came out with a plan to offer even more high-end goodies. Store Specialists Inc. was thus set up to acquire, manage, and develop the group’s franchises of these upscale brands through individual boutiques. The new subsidiary’s success over the years has defied the general belief that no high-end market exists in the Philippines. Mrs. Tantoco’s eye for potential bestsellers has also been inherited by succeeding generations. Nearly 10 years later,Rustan’s made another hit, when Rustan’s Coffee Corporation received the license to establish and propagate the Starbucks chain of coffee shops in the country. It has since been credited with the rise of a new coffee culture and specialty industry in the Philippines.

In 1998, Amb. Tantoco brought in the concept of big box retail, finding inspiration in two large-scale international grocery chains: Target in the US and France’s Carrefour, whose breadth of in-store offerings appealed to a new demographic of working moms on a time crunch.

A Family Business with Values

With an approach less constricting and more conducive to learning, Amb. Tantoco helped the business grow out of his wife’s suitcases into the retail group that it is today. Within that structure, he lets people be who they are: entrepreneurial and human. “People who work with us become members of the family. You cannot rule by fear. You have to gain the love of your people. That is what we’ve done from the first day of Rustan’s”, he said.

For all his leadership savvy, Rustan’s Chairman Emeritus is foremost a good listener. He would diligently take down notes in every conference he attends. He is also a great teacher, but at the same time a perpetual student. A pioneering visionary, he leads and innovates. He hates boring, mediocre, and sameness. Retail is about passion, and how can you be passionate about something that’s mediocre!

He has brought up his family in the business as early as he could. He and his wife would bring their children along with them on their travels, teaching them how to do paperwork and choose merchandise along the way. As young as 10 years old, the children wrapped gifts, managed the package claim counters, and helped sell items at the store. His values are based on integrity, excellence, and empathy; he believes that the prize for which the company competes is the loyalty of both customer and employee.

Amb. Tantoco has entrusted his businesses to his children and grandchildren, who will see to the company’s future while preserving key points in his legacy. Today, the Rustan’s Group is a having interests in department store retail, luxury boutiques, duty free, real estate, and coffee.

Recognitions and Achievements

Mr. Tantoco has received various decorations for his achievements in business and diplomacy. While serving as the Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican in the 1980s, he was knighted under several orders of chivalry: Grand Cross, Order of Pius IX; Order of St. Gregory the Great; Grand Cross, Sovereign Military Order of Malta; Republic of Portugal Order of Merit, Commander rank; and Republic of Italy Order of Merit; Commander rank. Back home, Mr. Tantoco received an honorary doctorate in the humanities from his alma mater, Jose Rizal University, in 2002. The National Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Foundation recognized his patriarchal appeal by naming him Ulirang Ama (Model Father) in 2003, while his home province gave him its Ama ng Bulacan (Father of Bulacan) award in 2005. The award is given to a person who is native born or has roots in Bulacan, and who best represents what a true blooded Bulakeno is – industrious, chivalrous, patriotic and one who is proud of his Bulacan heritage and believes in giving back to his native province. Most recently, He was honored by the Philippine Retailers Association and the Department of Trade and Industry, with their 6th President’s Award, for being the ‘Father of Luxury Retailing.’

A Dedicated IGDS Member

In 1993, under Amb. Tantoco’s leadership, Rustan’s joined IGDS and since then has been representing The Philippines exclusively in our association.

Taking part in many events, hosting IGDS CEO meetings in Manila as well as supporting our organization with passion and friendship, Rustan’s epitomizes the spirit of our organization of togetherness and helping each other.

Who says old people can’t joke or fool around? A hearty laugh does so much wonder for the spirits.

Ambassador Tantoco