How true grit brought Reynaldo Carpio out of poverty and hardship, made him a millionaire and got him 10 graduate degrees.  

By Mira Soyza

rc2“Failure and defeat are not viable options when you want to overcome poverty,” shares Reynaldo Carpio, Ph.D., President and CEO of Grand Monaco Estate Developers, Inc. He recounts the most challenging period of his life with something akin to pride—a badge of honour worn by war veterans.

“There was never a moment that I wanted to give up. Despite the difficult times, I knew what my goals were and I was extremely focused and determined on achieving them—so I kept on trying,” says the 50-something Carpio.

We’ve heard countless of success stories of people who have made it all the way to the top despite whatever adversity life threw their way. And it makes us wonder what makes them different from the rest of us.

Carpio is the fifth child out of nine children which means his father who was a farmer and a market vendor in Cagayan had to work hard to put bread on the table and put them through school. Even at such a tender age, he would help out as much as possible—from waking up before dawn to help his father tend to the carabaos (water buffalos) to assisting his mother in setting up their stall at the market— he learnt the value of hard work and diligence early on.

I heard a TED talk by Angela Lee Duckworth about grit once. She spoke about how she quit her demanding job in management consulting for a teaching job. During her time there, she realised that her best-performing students were not always the ones with the highest IQ or the best social intelligence. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg were not the top performers in their class; some were school dropouts, some have failed more than once but the one thing they shared in common? Grit.

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‘Grit’ as described by Duckworth is the ability to be passionate and persevere to achieve long-term goals. Listening to snippets of Carpio’s life, it’s clear that the man hadn’t let any sticks or stones break him out of his big dreams or thirst for learning.

As a young boy, Carpio was a dreamer—he would look up at a passing plane as he did his morning chores and promised himself that someday he will make it big in this lifetime and travel on a plane. When young Carpio told his father of his plans to pursue Civil Engineering in Manilla, he was met with strong disapproval. Since his elder brothers who went to college never made it through, his disheartened father was not too hopeful about his chances and so stuck to his decision.

Chasing a dream

Fortunately, he that wills the end, wills the means. Determined to chase his dreams and prove his father wrong, 18-year-old Carpio took a loan from a relative and boarded an 18-hour bus ride to Manilla. As it turns out, his fight didn’t end there— enrolment into the university was the easiest part of the whole ordeal. The runaway teen now has to look for a means to support himself. Not wanting his parents to shoulder the financial burden, he started taking up odd jobs.

In the day, he was a rubber vulcaniser and sometimes a law firm messenger; at night he was an engineering undergraduate, attending classes with evidence of his long hard day at work staining his fingers. “My schoolmates used to tease me because my nails were blackened with grime from working as a vulcaniser; It made me feel like a second rate citizen. So I used to keep my hands hidden away in my pockets,” reminisces Carpio.

Some days he took on the role of a gas station attendant, a role which later helped him gain enough knowledge to land his development company gas station projects in Ortigas, Bulacan and Commonwealth. “I also lived below a flight of stairs in my aunt’s house during my first year in Manila. I felt indebted and wanted to make them feel that I was an asset instead of a liability. So I took the initiative to clean her parlour and help my uncle in his upholstery undertakings as my way of payment.”

Carpio’s brilliance and tenacity proved to serve him well; his achievements so far have been quite extraordinary. He completed his Civil Engineering course in four and a half years, six months earlier than scheduled. And by the time 1983 rolled around, Carpio was a fresh graduate with two degrees—adding on Geodetic to his academic qualification (he was to achieve eight more degrees later).

During the time, the Philippines was plagued by the news of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr’s assassination. There was uncertainty in the economy and firms were unwilling to hire an inexperienced engineer. A risk taker that he is, Carpio took his chances and applied for a job in a triple A company alongside other experienced engineers. His sheer audacity made a strong impression and landed him a six-month contract on allowance which turned into a full paying job in just two months and eventually a promotion about a year later.

“My experience in construction exposed me to the possibilities of opening up my own business. I was no stranger to taking chances no matter how little the success rate might be,” says Carpio.

rcIn 1987, he established a construction company, Grand Monaco Estate Developers, Inc which quickly gained a good reputation in the industry for its solid and dependable performance. In 2003, the company ventured into real estate and housing developments, and grew into an award-winning multimillion-peso real estate company that has produced and sold more than 2,000 houses in the upper low-cost and middle income categories with another 15 billion pesos worth of projects in the pipeline.

• APR: What are the unique characteristics (USP) of your projects compared with others?

RC: The company’s competitiveness —in an industry that includes conglomerates such as Sy, Ayala, Gokongwei and Ty—is driven by what GMEDI calls the 20-20 advantage – 20% higher quality and 20% lower price. The company also counts on its strong brand recall and good relationship with buyers and suppliers. What brings us even closer to the buyer, is our friendly payment schemes that even minimum wage individuals can afford, thus broadening our market base.

• APR: What is your vision for Grand Monaco?

RC: Grand Monaco dreams of turning into reality the Filipino’s dream of a stable, secure and prosperous life, obtained through hard work. Which is why our moto is ‘We Care to Care’.

• APR: Into every life a little rain must fall. What did you do to overcome challenges, especially the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997?

RC: I was just a small contractor then, building parts of houses and buildings up until the company achieved a Triple A status as a full-fledged contractor for malls and houses. When the regional crisis hit the country in 1997, I was already transitioning from a contractor to a developer. The crisis prompted me to barter with suppliers using land titles. But even when times were really bad, I still paid them from my own wallet. That had earned me their trust—as a result, throughout the years, the same set of suppliers stayed on because I honour my word.

• APR: What do you think led to your success today? Who was your biggest source of inspiration/role model?

RC: Poverty was the driving force for my success. The thought that kept me going was that I had to do something to get out of my current state of living. With that clear goal in mind, I strived to do everything I could to overcome poverty. Some people dream big and expect instant results, but that doesn’t happen. I did not hesitate to take menial jobs, however low-paying those might be. For me, what mattered was that I could earn money to support myself and then learn something in the process.

I believe that the people who work with me are the ones who keep me grounded and serves as my motivation to work harder. Because if I fail, people will suffer, so the alternative is to make it grow even bigger so I can help more people.

• APR: In your opinion, what is fuelling the continual growth of the Philippines’ real estate industry?

RC: The political cycle greatly impacts the economic cycle which in turn weighs heavily on the property cycle. While it is true that real estate business activities have been contributing to the sustained economic growth in recent years, there are political and economic forces at play.

• APR: Why is the Philippines attracting interest from its Asian neighbours despite the uncertainty in the global economy?

RC: The country has strong economic fundamentals coupled with an 800,000 housing backlog. This presents an enormous opportunity for any businessman.

• APR: What’s next for Dr Reynaldo Carpio?

RC: “Tutulungan kang Magkabahay” is Grand Monaco’s nationalistic mantra. It is not just a marketing slogan, but a declaration of commitment to provide Filipino families decent, affordable, and quality homes. In the next 10 years, we plan to build an additional 60,000 units of low-cost houses.


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