Rustanīs Anton Huang: New Routes, Old Values
On the Cover
People are the key, not technology - this simple and central truism continues to shape Rustan's growth and expansion.

With almost five decades as one of the Philippines' biggest integrated retailing groups, RUSTAN's has become synonymous with world-class retailing and with the premier chain of upscale department stores that are scattered across the country's metropolitan centers.

Long before marketing was recognized as a key economic concept and tool in the Philippines, there already was Rustan's Marketing Corporation, one of the seven network companies that comprise the Rustan Group of Companies (RGOC).

Brands and companies wishing to make inroads into the upbeat Asia Pacific market find that Rustan’s is a major force and player to contend with in today's competitive environment of world marketing. With gross revenues of over P9 billion annually, RGOC owns, operates and has built and developed seven supermarkets, six department stores, five gourmet/deli cafes all over the metropolis. It is networked with 40 international freight intermediaries spanning 26 countries, and counts 2,500 foreign suppliers and business partners, group wide.

Anthony "Anton" Tantoco Huang, Jr. sits as Executive Vice President of three of the seven companies under RGOC, which evolved from the original Rustan's that was founded by Huang's grandparents, Benny and Glecy Tantoco fifty years ago. They are Store Specialists, Inc. (SSI), Rustan Marketing Corporation (RMK), and Rustan Marketing Specialists, Inc. (RMSI).

SSI is into specialty brand merchandising and boutique management, retailing well-known brand names such as Lacoste, Ferragamo, Anne Klein, Polo Ralph Lauren, Prada, Kenneth Cole, and Nine West among others. This company was created to provide the new generation of international brands unique access to the Philippine market.

RMK provides imported and export-quality goods, such as Max Factor, Nina Ricci, Denman, and Jack Nicklaus, to retailers all over the country like SM and Robinson's, as well as the Rustan's department stores.

A subsidiary of SSI, RMSI's successful formation was a result of an exclusive marketing venture with Marks and Spencer of UK. As the Philippine franchise-holder, the special co-venture allows Rustan's to market and promote M&S brand of international products. There are five M&S stores in the country to date, with ongoing plans to open six more.

The eldest child of Anthony Chen Huang, President of Comfood’s Inc. and Zenaida Rustia Tantoco, President of RMK and SSI, the young Huang entered the family business at the tender age of 15, starting out as a sales assistant for Store Specialists Inc. Today, armed with hands-on work experience and international standard educational background, the well-travelled young tycoon leads a team of over 900 employees as they continue to bring to the Filipino consumer the best brands that the world has to offer.

When Launch Asia brainstormed about the casting for this cover story, we were beset by varied viewpoints in getting to the pinnacle of things, yet we all agree on one thing: Anton Huang's gotta be here. As befits an interview, we shopped for trends, challenges, and opportunities revolving around today's global retailing with Huang. The enthusiastic retail guru gamely answered, and what we found out may surprise you, too.

Launch Asia (LA): How similar or different are you from your parents in terms of business style?

Anton Huang (AH): 'Retail is detail,' it has been said. This being the case, there's no way out of a hands-on management approach, which is basically the same approach my parents used and continue to use. To be able to service the needs of a constantly transforming Filipino market, one has to pay particular attention to consumer tastes, buyer attitudes, and market behaviors. At the same time, one has to make sure that one's people are equipped with know-how and technology, with systems and infrastructure, that can cope with such variable transformations.

LA: Handling a large chunk of RGOC's network companies, what would you consider to be the underlying inspiration behind Rustan's?

AH: Common goals and principles propel the RGOC forward, whether at the level of the mother corporation or its various daughter companies. My grandparents had this dream of making Filipino shoppers experience the best of what the world had to offer, and for the Philippines to one day become a global retailing capital. These fundamental intentions are still driving us forward, still motivating us as we negotiate peak after peak of growth and performance. And underlying both is essentially a simple but central truism: We are a business with heart because we are people in the business of people. We truly care about our customers. We truly believe they deserve the very best. If we've achieved an optimal level of service excellence and client satisfaction, it's because we've adhered to the crucial idea through all our years of existence.

LA: Have there been any changes in your corporate vision now that we have reached the 21st Century?

AH: You must realize it's difficult to have and maintain a vision, even for a corporation that's been around, like us, for quite a while. I mean that in the context of a developing country like the Philippines. The recent upheavals, both in politics and the economy, have had a tremendous effect on our sales and marketing directions, for example. What happens to your vision then? It would be stubborn and inflexible, and a surefire recipe for failure, to try to pursue a tack or approach doggedly even if the environment has changed dramatically.

Then again, though, the presence of an underlying vision will make sure that, no matter what happens in terms of the country's political scene, we stay focused on common objectives, we aspire toward a joint and shared goal. The nature of our business, after all, is apolitical. I'm not saying we are impervious to social and political trends. No organization is. But through the years, we've learned that, whatever the issues being currently bruited about, what doesn't change is our commitment to servicing our customers' needs.

LA: Asian merchants join the global retailing craze, but success will take more than just a brand or a good product. How do you adapt the current trends in your day-to-day operations?

AH: Well, growth and evolution are two of the most important elements of successful businesses today - and ours is no different. When we venture into new brands, new venues, new strategies, and new ideas, we do it proactively, open-mindedly, and confidently. For instance, one of the most important changes is the development of retailing as a science. New technology has been a major factor, certainly. Through the years, we've developed more advanced tools to predict and gauge the market, to improve sourcing and augment our network of suppliers and service providers, and to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the way we give support to our customers. But we've made sure that the art of retailing - the heart part of it, if you will - is still around. We still trust our instincts when it comes to determining what our clients want, and these instincts have been shaped by years and years of experience.

LA: Many foreign retailers come to Rustan's to forge alliances with and in order to penetrate the Philippine market. What are your guiding principles in deciding which are worth working for or what expansion is worth investing in?

AH: We must make sure that this expansion is consistent with our core values. We stand for the finest things in life, for integrity and nobility of purpose, for excellence, and for social responsibility and trust. These are what we stand for, and they have stood the test of time precisely because they invoke what's best and brightest in every one of us. And these values have paved, and continue to pave, our road to the future.

LA: What are some of the most important management lessons that you have learned?

AH: I've always believed that a people-centered approach always works. Our corporate thrust and culture revolve around our differences more than our similarities, because it is so often diversity that dictates direction. That makes excellent sense. I mean, if only from a sales and marketing point of view, target markets are mercurial. They are shiftless and capricious and adaptable, by dint of their variety. If you accept this and embrace it, you're on your way toward formulating action plans that underscore and point up people's unity in diversity rather than their dissension and dissimilarity. People are the key, not technology. Technology is a tool, while people are a resource and an asset. And as with any asset, the more we invest in them, the more our companies benefit from them.


Rustan's remains the country's most prestigious address of note of many of the world's most famous names and signatures - from Cartier to Mikimoto, Tiffany to Emenigildo, Zegna, Nina Ricci to Alfred Dunhill, Sonia Rykiel to Estee Lauder among other store-within-a-store concepts that it has pioneered.

Introduced the first customer loyalty program in the retail industry via its "Frequent Shopper Plus". Continues to earn the reputation of constant achievements and innovations in merchandising, sales, displays, and promotions.

RMK's nationwide connections have more than once proven their mass and selective marketing mettle. The firm has long been aware of marketing as a key economic concept and tool in the Philippines before it was finally recognized as such.

More than a family enterprise, each family member is imbued with a can-do, unrelenting and uncompromising standard of excellence in running the entire Rustan Grou


Retail is detail.

Target markets are capricious and adaptable. If you embrace this, you can formulate action plans that underscore people's unity in diversity rather than their dissension and dissimilarity.

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