BIG RISKS, BIG RETURNS

BECOMING successful in business is a combination of factors—faith, hard work and taking risks.

These are some lessons entrepreneur Catherine Salimbangon learned along the way, alongside her husband, Elton Salimbangon, when they built the Salimbangon Group of Companies.

“Risk takers are winners,” said Catherine, an internationally accredited nurse and is co-founder of Organique, the couple’s flagship business, which they built from scratch in a foreign land.

The family’s holding company now has stakes in various industries like wellness and skincare through Organique Inc., construction through Giga Build Construction Corp. and real estate, which is the couple’s latest venture through Baystreet Development Corp.

Building all these was hardly a bed of roses, but their never-say-die attitude and optimism kept them moving forward. Catherine said they went through victories and temporary setbacks to get where they are today.

The couple initially moved abroad, bringing with them their children in the hope of building a brighter future for their family.

Catherine and Elton worked in different companies in the US and Canada for nine years.

“We moved there because we wanted to live the life of those in the movies in the US, where parents were hands-on when it came to raising their children. With our growing family, we thought it would be nice to spend quality time with our kids and growing our family without any house help. Fortunately, our experiences abroad molded our characters and entrepreneurial spirit, which then gave us the confidence to go into business,” said Catherine.

Among other ventures, Catherine said they ran a 100-bed nursing home in Fresno, California before establishing Organique Inc., the business that gave them a breakthrough and a comeback to the Philippines, particularly to Cebu.

Organique Inc. is the company behind Organique Acai Berry juice supplement, an organic product certified by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“My husband used to work for a nutraceutical manufacturing plant in California. At that time, Açai just started as a popular health food. In fact, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. (Mehmet) Oz were even saying that Açai is the No. 1 superfood. With something so amazing, we wanted to share it with our kababayans in the Philippines who didn’t have access to it. However, the raw açai itself is very bitter. So, he thought of making a product that will suit the Filipino taste because we wanted sustainability, not just a passing fad. It’s not just a drink, it’s a lifestyle,” Catherine said.

In 2010, the couple packed their bags and returned to the Philippines to introduce the brand. With the rise of the health-conscious market, the product was widely embraced by Filipinos, and the brand earned a spot in the top-tier shelves of health and beauty retailers in the country.

“We are very excited and proud to be able to compete in the global market as a 100 percent Filipino-owned company. We work hard to continuously innovate and improve so we can better serve the growing demands of the market. We always stay true to our values such as quality over quantity,” she said.

With Organique already running on its own, Catherine said they ventured into other businesses. At present, Catherine is dipping her toes into real estate and soon in hospitality.

What was your first job? 

Right after college, I worked in a hotel for eight months. This short stint gave me a glimpse of what it’s like working and operating a tourism-related business.

During the early part of my marriage, we were also given the opportunity of running a convenience store. It was our first business as a couple. It was a nice store because we sold imported chocolates. It didn’t last long though and closed it after three years.

Then we ventured into an immigration consultancy business. We left for Canada to take care of the company’s expansion programs.

Who inspired you to get into business?

My inspiration was and still is my father, Vitaliano Colina. He has always been someone I’ve looked up to, especially in the world of business. Despite having to stop his education in the fourth grade, he was able to make a name for himself in the world of commerce. This enabled him to learn and grow his small business, while at the same time, live out his passions in philanthropy. He taught me the value of tenacity and to never give up, especially in the face of your worst adversities.

Elton’s greatest inspiration, on the other hand, is his grandmother. He comes from a family of very influential, inspiring and hardworking individuals. Growing up, he has always had the drive to be better than his role models—to exceed expectations and pressures that came with being in such a dynamic family.

Some of his biggest inspirations are Carlos Yeung (his uncle), Andrew Tan and former senator Manuel Villar. It was through these individuals that he noticed a common trait: truly successful people are the most humble and most unassuming.

They also emit a positive energy to all those around them—inspiring people to think bigger and dream better. The humble history of these tycoons, who have gone from rags to riches, gave Elton the courage to believe he could do the same.

When did you realize this was what you were meant to do? 

I have always been an entrepreneur by heart. I remember when I was younger, I used to do buy-and-sell. I made bookmarks from cutting pictures of my friend’s storybook and sold them for P1.

I also sold jeans to my classmates. I brought with me a tape measure in school to get their sizes and hand them to the seamstress. I sold the jeans for P100. I pursued this passion because my father was so supportive of it.

In fact, one advice he gave was I should quit working (for a company) for two years and start building my own business. He said I should experience working for others so I would remain humble and for me to get to know how employees feel.

I heeded his advice and although it’s a worn out statement, it rings true for me.

Why did you pick this type of business or industry?

As a registered nurse in Canada and US, I learned that there are things we can do to prevent our diseases such as proper diet and exercise, as well as stress management and social support. And I noticed that when you meet healthy people who maintain a healthy lifestyle, they have this glow.

Not only do they look healthy, but they genuinely look beautiful. That’s when I realized that beauty and health were integrated, and that you cannot have true beauty without health. Wellness needs a holistic approach and a conscious lifestyle choice.

From health and wellness, we diversified our business and got into construction and real estate.

I believe these two industries present huge opportunities for business owners like us who want to grow their portfolio.

Elton handles the construction business while I manage the real estate. With the properties we acquired in Manila and Cebu, I think it would make sense to convert them into projects that would not only make us earn but provide homes to our fellow Filipinos.

Where did you get the training you needed to succeed?

I never stopped learning. In fact, with every business we embarked on, I strove to learn the industry by heart. Networking with people with shared passions is also helpful.

How many times did you fail before you succeeded?

There were several challenges that tested our patience, determination and faith. One of them was turning the 186 deficiencies of the nursing home we were running in the US to a zero-deficiency facility in one year. It was a turning point that brought positive change in our lives.

When we took over one of the nursing homes, we didn’t know that the previous owner was facing some issues. The authorities were eager to look for deficiencies.

We were able to implement all the corrective measures. With this experience, we are much braver and more optimistic that we can get through life’s challenges.