Alfred Yao lost his father very early in life, and so by the age of 12, he already started working since his mother’s earnings as a sidewalk vendor could not support their needs.
He recalled living with his uncle who hosted mahjong sessions. With that kind of environment, he learned how to be street-smart especially when it comes to business.
His uncle sent him to college at the Mapua Institute of Technology but Yao was not able to graduate due to frequent financial problems.
However, he worked hard and did jobs like working in a packaging company. It is through this that he learned the process of printing cellophane wrappers for goods such as candies and biscuits.
At the of 17, with the help of his mother, Yao opened a printing press business for packaging. He called it Solemar, named after his mother, Soledad.
“I wanted to have my business to change my life, to improve my life. The way I saw it, I couldn’t improve my life by working for someone else,” he said to Business Mirror.
Solemar offered services to different multinational companies—printing cellophane wrappers for biscuits, candies, paper, and later on flexible packaging.
The 90s Kids Favorite—Zest-O
In 1979, Yao learned about a new packaging technology called Doypack.
Doypack is a sealed plastic bag made of aluminum that is designed to stand upright. It is usually used for products that are powdered or for beverages that are ready-to-drink.
Yao thought that this kind of packaging would work well in the Philippines, and so he bought a machine which he intended to sell to companies that manufactured juice products.
However, not one of the companies bought the machine, so he decided to try the business on his own.
“Since I already bought the machine, I decided to manufacture my own juice drink. I asked a former client, who used to work for an American juice company, to help me with the orange juice concoction. Then, I had a friend, UST Fine Arts professor Mon Dellosa. I showed him the packaging and asked him to do the design for a juice drink.”
In one week, he came back with the design and put the name Zest-O. I asked what ‘Zest-O’ meant. Zest means the citrus peel in French and then he added an O to make the sound more rounded. It was meant to be pronounced Zest-O, but for Filipinos it became Zes-to,” he said to Phil Star.
With a capital of just 3,000, he was able to make the business a successful one. Now, Yao is widely known in the Philippines as the “Juice King”.
“I started this business with just 3,000 pesos — and I’m not ashamed of that. If you want to know how poor I was… look for the 10 poorest in a room of people, I was probably one of those 10. So, don’t lose hope,” he said to GoNegosyo.
Zest-O Throughout The Years
Alfredo Yao now is known to be one of the most admired businessmen in the Philippines today.
Two companies of his Zesto Group are the Zest-O-Corp. and Zest-Airways, now Air Asia Zest.
From being the CEO of Zest-O Corp, he also became the founder of other companies such as Philippine Business Bank, Asiawide Refreshments Corp, Summit Hotel and Resorts Specialists, Semexco Marketing, and SMI Development Corp.
Yao also has been given awards such as the 2005 Ernst and Young Master Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2014 MVP Grand Bossing Award and the Most Admired ASEAN Enterprise Award for Innovation.
As the years pass, Yao continues on providing innovative products through teaching his employees the value of creating quality goods.
“I always treat my employees as family. Just like a father, sometimes I get angry. But I tell them not to take it personally when I get mad. It only means I am concerned about their performance and that they can do better. I never stop teaching people and sharing my experience with them.”
And while he is reaping the fruits of his hard work, he also gives back through the Alfredo M. Yao Foundation that grants scholarships to less fortunate Filipinos.
“I didn’t graduate from college, but while I was studying, there were people who helped me make ends meet and establish my business. This is my way of returning the favor,” he said.
Featured Image Credit: Philippine Primer, Design Departments