He survived a tumultuous period in China as a young boy; set up roots in the Philippines; worked hard to transcend poverty; built an iconic food manufacturing empire and shared his fortune by nourishing poor schoolchildren.
Business tycoon and philanthropist Ricardo Po Sr., founder of the Century Pacific Food group, indeed lived a full life. And on Oct. 11, he passed away at the age of 90, leaving behind a food empire that has outperformed during the COVID-19 pandemic and is ready to compete in the global meat alternative business.
“Dad moved on to his new life peacefully and surrounded by love,” his son, Christopher Po, said in a text message. “He was very blessed in all aspects of his life and now he is in an even better place. Dad will be missed, but we will always celebrate him.”
Succumbing to complications arising from surgery, his family was by his side throughout the ordeal until the Po patriarch returned to his Creator.
Po had lived an exemplary life, raising his family, building his company and perfecting his golf game, his family said.
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine ranked Po and his family as the 16th richest in the country with an estimated net worth of $1.45 billion.
Aside from flagship Century Pacific Food Inc. (CNPF), the family has interests in food retailing through Shakey’s Pizza Asia Ventures Inc. and property development through Arthaland Corp., both of which are publicly listed companies.
Born to a poor family in China, a conflict in his homeland separated Po and his mother from his father. From Guangzhou, he and his mother migrated to Manila in 1947 when Po was 15. He taught himself English by studying a Chinese-English dictionary and monetized this new skill by offering translation services to Chinese businessmen in Binondo.
He had wanted to be an engineer, and even enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas to major in industrial chemistry, but due to financial constraints, he was forced to drop out of college to earn a living.
He started his professional career as a journalist in 1950, working with a Chinese-language newspaper. He first covered the police beat and eventually Malacañang. Elpidio Quirino was the last president that he covered in the Palace beat.
As he started his own family, he left journalism to enter the advertising business, setting up Cathay Promotions Advertising Co. One of his clients then was Henry Sy Sr., who was just starting his shoe retailing business. The logo featuring the letters SM had been designed by one of Po’s artists in Cathay.
He also dabbled in stock brokerage, but lost his fortune during the 1973 stock market crash.
He founded CNPF in 1978, seeing the opportunity from tuna canning given the abundance of this marine resource. Since then, CNPF has grown to become one of the largest branded food companies in the Philippines. It has developed a roster of household names which include Century Tuna, Argentina, 555, Angel and Birch Tree. Recently, the group debuted into the meat
alternative business through UnMeat, which it is now grooming to be a global brand. CNPF became a public company in 2014.
Under his vision and leadership, the Century Pacific Group grew its interests from affordable food and beverages to family restaurant chains and sustainable real estate developments. In 2011, the Po family invested in upscale property developer Arthaland, a green developer that caters to the upscale residential and office property segment. In partnership with Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, the Po family acquired Shakey’s Pizza in 2016 and brought it to public hands in the same year.
His group has also embraced sustainability as part and parcel of business operations, with a framework anchored on people development and planet preservation. Earlier this year, CNPF ranked top three among Asia (excluding China) consumer staples companies in the Institutional Investor’s 2021 All-Asia Executive Team survey.
CNPF switched on last June a 5.2-megawatt solar plant in General Santos City that can generate an annual potential energy of 7.4 million kilowatt hours, effectively offsetting 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. With this project, CNPF’s General Santos facilities are now 60-percent powered by clean energy sources.
The company is also on its second year of being plastic neutral this 2021.
Po also left behind a legacy of compassion through the RSPo Foundation Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to alleviating hunger among vulnerable communities.
Having experienced poverty himself as a young boy, Po had a soft spot for the poor. In 2014, he landed on Forbes Asia magazine’s list of “notable” philanthropists in Asia-Pacific and was cited for his work at improving nutrition and alleviating hunger through a network of partners serving millions of meals per year to schoolchildren.
His flagship program, KAIN Po, was a feeding program that initially targeted to serve 300,000 free meals when it started in 2010. After five years, the program scaled up to 15 million meals by working primarily with the Department of Education and nongovernment organizations targeting the severely malnourished segment of the student population.
This support for in-school feeding programs stemmed from the research of the Department of Education-Health and Nutrition Center that undernutrition is one of the factors behind the high dropout rates of school-age children. With the intervention of the KAIN Po feeding program, participating students logged fewer absences and better school performances due to improved nutrition.
Po is survived by his wife, Angelita, and sons Ricardo Gabriel, Teodoro Alexander, Christopher and Leonardo Arthur. His sons have long been active in the management of various family businesses as part of the group’s succession planning.
He was a deeply devoted husband and a loving father not just to his children, but to the entire business group. Many within the Century Pacific Group fondly and respectfully call him “Tatay.”
“He achieved everything that he had set out to do. He lived a full and meaningful life. There is nothing more he could want. We will celebrate his memory by continuing his work and service. He wants us to do more good and help more people. He is now at peace and with the Lord,” said his son, Leo.
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