A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PHILIPPINES’ OLDEST BUSINESS HOUSE
Ayala in 2014 celebrated its 180th year. How it evolved into one of the largest Philippine conglomerates — with businesses ranging from real estate, financial services, and telecommunications to investments in water, electronics, automotive, business process outsourcing, power, and transport infrastructure — is the longest narrative in the country’s business history.
The story began in 1834 in what was Las Islas Filipinas. At a time Manila’s business houses were engaged mainly in executing customers’ orders for buying and selling of commodities for a fee, landowner and entrepreneur Domingo Roxas and his young industrial partner Antonio de Ayala created a company that would engage in agribusiness. They built a distillery to derive greater value from cane sugar. It was at first small and crude but It represented a Philippine step from the purely agricultural to the little-unexplored realm of industry.
When it had grown and become well known, the distillery exported various products to Europe and garnered awards and recognition for their quality. This showed that an enterprise in the rural and remote Philippines could compete in the international arena and win. Its bestselling brand, Ginebra San Miguel, remains today.
When a Spanish royal decree established El Banco Español-Filipino de Isabela II, Southeast Asia’s first private commercial bank, Antonio de Ayala was appointed director representing the Manila business community. Thus began the Ayala involvement in banking. Banco Español-Filipino — which issued the first Philippine paper currency — later became Bank of the Philippine Islands.
De Ayala and Margarita got married. One of their sons-in-law was the multitalented Jacobo Zobel: businessman, numismatist, archaeologist, writer; mayor of Manila at age 30; he read and spoke 11 languages, including Arabic and Etruscan. While engaged in the family business and serving on the Banco Español-Filipino board, he introduced the first streetcar system in Manila.
After the turn of the 20th century, the tramcar service was sold to an American company that renamed it Manila Electric Railway and Light Co., or MERALCO. The distillery was also sold, to businessman Carlos Palanca; at the time, it had 3,000 employees, including Filipino and French scientists. It had become a de facto incubator of the country’s chemical industry.
INTO MODERN TIMES
A decision attributed to Roxas’ son Jose Bonifacio was the purchase of land in San Pedro de Makati that extended all the way to the banks of the Pasig River. The property was deemed to have little value and had undergone a series of ownership changes when the company bought it for P52,800 in 1851.
Many decades later, between the two world wars and amid a global economic depression, Ayala began efforts at real estate development. These were admittedly unremarkable. Parts of the Hacienda Makati were parceled to develop subdivisions of the kind that was common at the time. Some other parts were later sold at very low prices or donated to charity.
When the family’s assets were apportioned in 1914, the Makati property went to siblings Jacobo, Alfonso, and Mercedes Zobel de Ayala. They and their successors would bring Ayala to what it is today.
Mercedes’ husband, Col. Joseph McMicking, provided a new vision for Ayala, and for developing what remained of the Makati property. The venture was uncertain and at first difficult. When success came, it signified an unprecedented leap in the evolution of Philippine real estate development. From it emerged the Philippines’ fist modern Central Business District.
Ayala moved further from being a family business to being more corporate in character. After a century, it began to employ professional managers. It incorporated in 1968 and became publicly listed in 1976.
With professional teams, Colonel McMicking and his successors in management — Jacobo’s son Enrique Zobel and Alfonso’s son Jaime Zobel— steered Ayala to great success in the 20th century. Today, Jaime Augusto and Fernando Zobel de Ayala share leadership of a modern conglomerate involved in diverse industries and with a much broader impact on the life of the nation.
Ayala has found that the entrepreneurial spirit that has driven it for 18 decades is shared by many Filipinos, including merchants in its malls, retailers of Globe products, overseas workers’ families that bank with BPI, residents’ cooperatives in Manila Water’s distribution zone, and micro-entrepreneurs who benefit from BanKO’s microfinance services. As Ayala continues its expansion and diversification, it keeps an enthusiastic eye for the many thousands of people who will begin and build their own businesses through the ones it creates.
“By emphasizing a social purpose, we achieve a more complete form of doing business and generate a cycle of prosperity,” says the chairman and chief executive officer, Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala.
“We have always believed that the development of every individual foregrounds the development of the whole,” adds his brother Fernando, president and chief operating officer.
Ayala’s reputation for integrity, product and service quality, financial strength and prudence, and high professionalism has made it a partner of choice for major international corporations and the employer of choice for many of the best and brightest talents. The respect and trust it enjoys is deemed to have been earned by few other businesses in the Philippines, and these are the core values that it treasures the most.
The conglomerate’s leadership, with Jaime Zobel de Ayala as chairman emeritus, constantly promotes these values, including a deep commitment to the Philippine development and to the Filipino.
Guided by this commitment and these core values, Ayala’s long narrative of growth continues with very real promise.
For more on Ayala's history, visit www.ayala180.com.
Our special anniversary publication, Inside Ayala >180, is available for download as a PDF, or as an iPad app from the AppStore.