June 14, 2020 – Rose Tolentino
A Beautiful Sunset
Last March, to mark the 37th year of the Ever Bilena company, its owner and founder, Dioceldo Sy, chartered a luxurious cruise through Manila Bay. His daughter, Denice, explains that his father has always likened the company’s history as “tough sailing that eventually turned into a beautiful voyage.”
And indeed, Dioceldo Sy’s journey - from humble beginnings as a messenger-clerk for his grandfather’s pomade business - to the deck of a yacht filled with friends and family, at the helm of one of the Philippines’ most venerable and well-loved homegrown brands - is nothing short of magnificent.
“From just nail polish, we now carry a full cosmetics line, bath & body care, fragrances & hair styling products,” says Mr. Sy. “No foreign brand has this kind of range.”
And yet on that warm March day, amidst the famously idyllic sunset of Manila Bay, Mr. Sy could not suspect that the business world would be hit by a storm not seen in recent history. For the next few months, much like his fellow CEOs, his top priority would be to ensure his company - and nearly 2,000 employees - stay afloat.
A Lockdown on Looks
“Quality products at affordable prices,” has always been an Ever Bilena byline for business. But with the Covid-19 pandemic quarantine shuttering the local economy - there was no buying at any price, anywhere.
“We sustained heavy damage to both our top and bottomline,” shares the embattled CEO, “the March to May lockdown was effectively 75 days of practically no sales.”
He later paints a bleaker picture.
“The malls are hit even harder. Other businesses have closed, 30…maybe 40% of people are out of a job. Even the government is running out of cash (to help the needy).”
Yet despite this reality, as early as end March, Dioceldo had already resolved to help his salaried employees - the “true reason why I went into this business.” In a touching letter shared through his social media pages, Mr. Sy assured his Ever Bilena family that full wages would be paid for the month of March to “provide relief during these uncertain times.”
He also wished that his employees “stay safe and healthy, and sacrifice luxuries, for now,” confident that after the pandemic, Ever Bilena would “emerge stronger than ever.”
Before he sought shelter, Mr. Sy urged everyone to pray for frontliners, as he himself mobilized donation drives for Pasig City General and Philippine General Hospitals, and partnered with Lazada and the Philippine Red Cross for their relief efforts - signing off with a “we will get through this” attitude.
What CEOs Do During Quarantine
Stuck at home during the first few weeks, Mr. Sy rediscovered his passion for cooking.
“I can’t go out since I’m over 60,” he jokes, “so I get people to buy (ingredients) for what I want to cook.”
Depending on his mood, he prepares meals for his family (particularly his adorable first grandson who’s just turned 1- Jake Dean Munoz-Sy). And under his careful hands, beef and fish and other viands became hearty ribeye dinners complete with pan-fried foie gras, or Nero seafood pasta with Vongole clams, or Prawns with spicy cream gata, alavar sauce or garlic aligue (crab fat), drizzled with olive oil and wansuy. The choices seem to reflect his Chinese-Filipino lineage, as well as his cosmopolitan attitudes.
“Everyone loved it…though I did gain a few pounds.” He says good-naturedly. “But I missed going to the office,” he confesses, “daily cooking, bonding with my family, and 8 to 10 hours of watching Netflix became my 8 to 10 hour ‘office work’ for 6 to 7 weeks.”
And for a CEO who very much enjoys going to the office and being in the thick of things, Mr. Sy eventually had to show up.
“When it became possible to go to work - I was the first one there.”
On May 7 - a full week before most of his staff would report in, he took on his role as leader. “Most say they were relieved when ‘Boss Deo’ was on-hand running efficiently ahead of everyone.
Ever Better - A Beauty Industry Make-over
When news of the extended quarantine arrived, things became grim. Boss Deo’s decision to front his employees’ salaries was, while admirably noble, also costing the company to lose very much needed cashflow.
But “I learned from two mentors – Mr John Gokongwei and Mr Henry Sy - the value of doing things out-of-the-box,” he recalls, “It was something I already did in my younger years but was nourished by them. This, with God’s Guidance - helped me see the value of learning to have the correct timing - what to do and what not to do at the exact moment.”
This is perhaps the reasoning for Ever Bilena’s creation of the “Hello Glow Special Business Package” plan.
Under this program, employees would be shipped a product selection worth over 9,000php which they could then re-sell for themselves - pocketing 100% of the profits.
“Give a man to fish and they’re fed for a day. Teach them how to fish and they’re fed for a lifetime,” says Mr. Sy, who laments that the program might “cause him to lose an employee, but the country would’ve gained an entrepreneur.”
It’s a scheme that’s a model for sustainable adaptation.
“The reality of life is, maybe we’re three months from things being normalized. Transportation isn’t (that) available. Employees (who still have work) are finding it hard to go to work.” But he looks to the bright side. “But with this new business model, we have a hybrid.”
He cites a fusion of traditional and e-commerce as the way towards the future - and looks to his daughter, Denice Sy - as someone who can make this corporate, home-based, home-grown model - an ever better reality.
“I also wish perhaps they have a seat in congress for young entrepreneurs’ associations - so that they will have a voice. There should be someone who can address their needs.” Shares Boss Deo, who firmly believes the way to national progress is through equitable, sustainable economic growth. “Right now we could use better voices in government - to better the usage of EDSA, for example.” Very much with a heart for the masses, Mr. Dioceldo Sy rails at the plight of workers who have to spend two to six hours commuting daily.
“First, 75 days quarantine, then now in the GCQ we have a two-lane EDSA and not enough public transportation? Something needs to be done.”
And while he ponders the road to recovery, his sights are also set on something many Filipinos miss - basketball.
Hopes (and Hoops) for the Future
“Have you seen the TV lately?” He asks. “It sucks!”
He chuckles a hearty laugh, one that has weathered many storms, and continued right through to calmer seas.
“It’s all news, all covid, all depressing stuff. Now basketball - is a national past-time, almost a religion. It returning on TV would be a big relief to people. It’s a sign of normalcy, and gives people hope.” Being a owner of the Philippine Basketball Association’s Blackwater Elite - he has communicated his sentiments to the league, who have sent to the Office of the President, their request for closed practices and closed games for broadcast across the country.
“Even Netflix gets boring. People want something different. They want more of the old same.”
It’s a line that sears itself into this writer’s imagination, for here is a man whose Ever Bilena company proclaims “Where Beauty Begins” - fighting to ensure it never ends.
And there is beauty in that.
For those interested in joining the Hello Glow Squad, message : Hello Glow Squad
REAL PEOPLE, REAL STORIES. WE COVER PERSONALITIES WHO ARE WORTHY OF MAKING THE HEADLINES. PROFILES, LIFESTYLE, CULTURE, ARTS, LITERATURE, ENTERTAINMENT—TELLING STORIES THAT MAKE US FEEL AND CELEBRATE LIFE. WE ARE ALIKE. FOR STORY PITCHES, PERSONAL ESSAY, LITERARY, AND ART SUBMISSIONS: EDITORIAL@ALIKE.COM.PH
FOR BRANDING AND MARKETING, VIDEO PRODUCTION, AND SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT — COLLABORATE WITH US: MEDIA@ALIKE.COM.PH