Joseph Calata, 33, one of the youngest billionaires in the Philippines, was in New Zealand to explore opportunities for technology transfer and joint business ventures.
AUCKLAND – They say that some of the biggest and most successful companies in the world started off as small ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses. After graduating from university Joseph Calata set about growing his mom-and-pop family business into a 2.7 billion peso conglomerate. Calata Corporation was listed on the Philippine stock exchange in 2012, making Calata, 33, the country’s youngest CEO of a publicly listed company. He is also one of the youngest billionaires in the Philippines.
Joseph Calata is the chief executive officer and chairman of Calata Corporation, the Philippines’ biggest combined seller of agro-chemicals, fertilizers, seeds, feeds and veterinary medicines. It also runs poultry farming and piggery operations. “At the moment we have joint ventures with Argentina and China,” Calata told Filipino Migrant News (FMN) in this exclusive interview. “Let’s see if New Zealand is our next partner.”
Calata visited New Zealand two years ago through the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative, a programme managed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation for the New Zealand Government. He met with New Zealand agribusiness leaders in Auckland, Christchurch and Hamilton, as well as with business groups and government agencies.
During his 10-day visit what impressed Calata most about New Zealand was the level of technology used in agriculture and the fact that it is intensive farming. “They are investing a lot in research, for example, in the grass, like the agri seeds. I found that most of the companies here are very efficient, very modernized. They do things right; they don’t cut corners.”
Agriculture accounts for about 12 percent of the Philippines’ gross domestic product. Calata believes the agribusiness sector has a key role to play in his country’s aspirations for growth and prosperity.
“However, through the years it seems that the agri-sector has been neglected by the country and has not been viewed as a promising field of business,” he says. He is an advocate for using technology and science to increase productivity in the sector.
Calata, the second oldest of four siblings, was raised in the province of Bulacan. His parents had a small-scale poultry supply business, which was successful enough to support him through a good education. In 2001 he graduated from De La Salle University in Manila, one of the country’s top universities, after majoring in management of financial institutions.
After graduating he set about growing the ‘mom-and-pop’ family business. He bought the company’s first computer and accounting software. “I knew that while we were making a good living there was a lot of potential that remained untapped. The solution for me was fairly obvious – we needed to automate.
“I’m not a computer person, so I had to learn everything on the fly. I went through inputting every product, every transaction. As our efforts progressed the programme revealed the operational and financial inconsistencies.”
His efforts initially met resistance from customers, but he persisted. The following year he hired the company’s first salesman and its revenue began to grow. “Other agribusiness companies began to copy my model,” he says. “Before then, people had a very traditional view of agribusiness. There was nothing glamorous or slick about it.”
The company’s latest initiative is a chain of retail stores called ‘AGRI’, which offer farmers a wide variety of agricultural products from feeds to agrichemicals. The company currently has more than 100 stores in Luzon (the largest island in the Philippines) and recently unveiled plans to open 1000 retail outlets nationwide.
Calata Corporation has installed soil-testing facilities in its store outlets and allows farmers to use them for free, so they can decide which type of fertiliser they need. “This soil testing facility can give lots of savings to farmers, since not all farmers have access to this type of technology. Farmers tend to buy fertilisers they don’t need.”
He believes that his New Zealand trip will generate fresh ideas and linkages to further modernise his country’s agricultural sector.
THE SEEDS OF SUCCESS
Joseph Calata’s success secrets are basic textbook theories – hard work, passion and perseverance. After speaking with this young dynamo I would add ‘vision’ to the mix of characteristics that are ingrained in the DNA of this billionaire.
“Dream and be willing to put in the hard work”
is Calata’s motto, which he says is “very effective if you combine it with perseverance”.
Besides the hard yakka he said his phenomenal success in agribusiness was due to “the modernisation of my companies”.
“Actually, one of the secrets is also, when there is a good opportunity I’m willing to explore it. I tend to grab it even if people think it’s not gonna work. If I feel there is potential in the project I will study it in depth. Then I’ll move things along, even if the resources are not yet there. I’ll make sure that I can get the resources from somewhere else just to make this opportunity happen. I’ll just do it. I tackle the problems along the way.
“I think it’s the passion that helps me to build a good business. I saw the potential of agriculture and the opportunity came, so I grabbed it.”
He admits that he is a forward-thinker; a man with vision. “I don’t want our businesses to remain stagnant year after year.”
By Mel Fernandez