Maverick entrepreneur carries on dad’s dream property venture – INQUIRER.net
John Oliver Tio
When dozens of foreclosed lots of Tivoli Royale Subdivision in Quezon City were put up for auction by Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp. last year, John Oliver Tio immediately bid for them; and he bid to win.
The 34-year-old did so not only because he strongly believed that he would pocket hefty gains down the road from the increase in the value of the lots. More importantly, Tio felt he owed it to his late father to do so.
After all, his late father Cresencio spearheaded the development of the gated subdivision as well as the Tivoli Royale Country Club within it.
The elder Tio was originally into rice trading and was one of the biggest players in the industry in the early 1990s. He was prompted to expand into real estate development—even if it was unfamiliar territory for him—by the low interest rates then and the demand for new and exciting property projects among the ranks of the up-and-coming middle class.
Tio, however, was in for a rude awakening in the aftermath of the Asian currency crisis, which dried up demand and left him saddled with billions of pesos in debt.
He was able to complete the Tivoli Royale Country Club by 1997 but the planned community failed to take off, in part because there was hardly any other development in that part of Quezon City on Commonwealth Ave. near the Ever Gotesco mall.
His ambitious plan to sell membership shares likewise failed to get off the ground. Indeed, out of the 1,500 shares that the elder Tio had planned on selling, only around 160 actually signed up to become members.
What followed was a series of complicated financial transactions designed to pare down debt and immediately lighten up on unproductive assets that were draining their financial resources.
Fortunately for the family, they still had their other businesses to rely on: rice milling as well as shipping and trucking lines that were put up to enable them to better deliver their rice and other key agricultural products, such as salt, all over the country.
While they were cutting down on the excess fat, they were able to keep some money flowing into Tivoli by converting it into an events place throughout the 2000s. Traffic was building up in the area and there was a renewed need for space for celebrations and to mark memorable occasions as the economy recovered from the crisis.
At this point, the elder Tio, who also found himself slapped with multiple cases stemming from the failed real estate project, had completely let go of the reins of the company to focus his attention on his main businesses, leaving the day-to-day management of the severely challenged real estate business to professional hands.
It has been some 15 years since the worst crisis hit the Tio family and it believes the worst is over with some P2.5 billion of debt repaid, although it is not completely out of the woods yet, with the younger Tio still paying for a number of foreclosed properties.
His perseverance is paying off though as the property cycle has turned yet again such that the Tivoli Royale Subdivision that had been valued at just about P50,000 a square meter four years ago is now valued at P120,000 with the developments that the company had quietly put in, including the refurbishment of the country club facilities to the tune of P300 million.
The refreshed Tivoli Royale Country Club now has extensive facilities that include family pools, a gym and fitness center, bowling alley and a game center for billiards, darts and arcade games.
Plus, to address the needs for beauty and skin-care concerns, it houses Club MD+ founded by Dr. Michelle Manuel as well as a full service nail spa and hair salon.
The fully renovated country club was reintroduced to the public last May 18 and the sales, unlike before, have been brisk.
With these positive developments, Tio has decided to turn aggressive once more and has laid out ambitious plans for the Tivoli Royale Subdivision that does not look anymore like how it did during the time of his father, who passed in 2017.
“We are reinventing the country club lifestyle,” says Tio, who sits as Tivoli Royale president and chair. “There is much potential here.”
When in 1995 it was difficult to find takers of its properties, today, it is able to sell eight lots in a month, with each lot selling for approximately P30 million because of the large cuts that are ideal for those looking for a more serene place within busy Quezon City.
From the original footprint of eight hectares, the Tivole Royale Subdivision that is now home to a number of celebrity A-listers, has expanded to 21 hectares, with Tio buying neighboring properties in anticipation of more demand from the growing middle-class Filipinos.
“The timing is much better now,” says Tio, who has learned from the bitter lessons of the past by being prudent with borrowings and studying all possible risks first before diving headlong into major expansion projects.
These include the other businesses of the family: a biomass power plant in Mindoro, salt farms for distribution through the country’s largest supermarket chains, as well as the 200 trucks that ply the country, bringing important agricultural goods such as their own salt and rice. They also have an ice plant as well as cold storage facilities, all related to the agriculture business that is the foundation of the family’s operations.
Then there are Tio’s own businesses, the first one of which—Meridian Shipping—he established not long after he graduated at 20 years old.
“My dad was very strict, even with money. For two to three years, I was just earning minimum wage. I could not survive on that. So I put up my own business,” says Tio, who supervised the motor pool, ordering spare parts to keep his father’s company’s vehicles running.
The relationships he had established there enabled him to secure his first two trucks on credit from his suppliers. And since they knew his word was gold, they risked the assets. He started with three trucks at just 23 years old and borrowed against them. And from there, he also bought his first ships, secondhand vessels that he also got through credit and trust that he would be able to pay them back.
“For the first four or five years, I just reinvested whatever earnings I was getting to expand the business,” Tio says, who is soon to bring in his ninth secondhand ship from Japan.
“Lakas lang ng loob. Yan lang ang puhunan (Boldness, that’s the only capital) and hard work,” said Tio, who is still young enough. And he is still single to devote a lot of his waking hours to his businesses, with the weekends mostly reserved for Tivoli Royale, which is also busiest during the weekends when families bond over a good meal or through sports facilities and other relaxing activities.
He is keenly aware that they face an uphill battle as the delays and the legal tussles had tarnished the Tivoli Royale name, but Tio is confident that the consistent brand-building activities will bear fruit, especially as the country club and its quality facilities and outlets are there for all to enjoy from day one of their membership.
He is taking the small victories as they come and they all fire up his enthusiasm over real estate development that is now the focus of his considerable skills as an entrepreneur who strikes when the opportunities are hot, just as they are now even with the specter of accelerating inflation that has made more Filipino families more vigilant about their spending.
Indeed, challenges are ever-present but Tio believes that having overcome what he feels to be the most formidable of these, he will be able to take on anything that life and business will throw at him, and emerge victorious. INQ
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