EY ASEAN ENTREPRENEURIAL EXCELLENCE AWARD: DENNIS UY

Furthering a philanthropic vision

Dennis Uy's Udenna Group has made an impact on the Philippine economy and society through job creation and charity-driven ventures.

WHEN it comes to entrepreneurship, it always helps to have the backing of one's family. And what better foundation is there than a family of successful entrepreneurs?

"Entrepreneurship has always been in my blood. From an early age, I was exposed to my parents and grandparents who were all entrepreneurs," says Dennis Uy, founder, chairman and president of Udenna Corporation, a holding company based in Davao City, the Philippines.

His grandparents ran a shop selling bread and fishing equipment, while his parents had a small business in copra trading.

"I decided then that I will someday manage my own business, manage my own time, make my own decisions."

Mr Uy has done just that with Udenna Corporation, established in 2002 and now the parent company of the Udenna Group.

The group's portfolio has seven business pillars to date in a variety of fields, including Phoenix Petroleum for distribution and retail of petroleum products, telecommunications arm Dito Telecommunity Corporation and PH Resorts Group Holdings, which covers tourism and gaming.

"Initially, the first business pillars were really to create synergies and vertical integration with existing businesses," Mr Uy tells The Business Times. "Then, we ventured out into other businesses where we believe we can become one of the top players within a few years of entering them."

Aside from fulfilling a childhood dream to be his own boss and continuing his family's entrepreneurial tradition, Mr Uy was motivated to create a legacy that would outlast him and stand the test of time.

His vision of using Udenna to improve the lives of his countrymen is evident in the group's later expansion into infrastructure development and education, for example.

Mr Uy chose a tough industry to start with when he set up Phoenix Petroleum, Udenna's first unit, and he readily admits that it was a risky move.

"I've always thought of myself as having more balls than brains. I always try to disrupt and challenge the incumbent.

"But of course, not to the point of being careless or reckless. Starting a small oil company was one of those huge risks... Looking back, all I have are my guts and commitment," he says.

Trust from those he worked with was also crucial; Cebu Pacific, his company's first major client, was just spreading its wings to operate as a full-fledged low-cost carrier in 2005 when it agreed to work with Phoenix Petroleum.

The partnership is now in its 15th year and still going strong.

"They gave us our first big break and it all started with that. Apart from people's trust, I wouldn't be where I am today."

The greatest lesson he has learned through his career has been to "stay hungry and stay humble."

"Hunger will give you the ability to persevere until success is met," Mr Uy says. "Humble people are grounded. They do not let their success get into their heads and they never assume that they have arrived.

"Most importantly, they gracefully handle rejections, mistakes and failures - which entrepreneurs, including myself, have a long list of."

Mr Uy has used Udenna to further his philanthropic vision through business arms like Udenna Infrastructure Corporation.

The infrastructure development vertical works on transport solutions such as a monorail project in Cebu and railways, expressways, sea ports and airports in other major Philippine cities.

Meanwhile, Enderun Colleges, which Udenna acquired in 2017, leads the group's educational initiatives, offering bachelor's degrees and non-degree courses in international hospitality management and business administration.

It is developing a new campus in Davao City that will deliver bachelor's degrees, senior high and certificate programmes by 2021-2022, providing more opportunities for Filipinos to access education that meets international standards, Mr Uy says.

"Leveraging our industry partnerships and connections, we want to continue producing students equipped with priceless, real-world experiences from intensive work internships, and are ready for success in the local and global workplace."

Mr Uy is also chairman of two charitable foundations, the Phoenix Philippines Foundation and Udenna Foundation.

The Phoenix Philippines Foundation focuses on education, environmental protection, improving the health and well-being of Filipinos, and extending relief to the needy and underprivileged.

Aside from initiatives like building libraries and organising blood donation drives, the foundation also runs the Pinoy Tsuper Hero initiative, a nationwide search for drivers who make a difference in their community, exemplify discipline on the road and protect the environment.

As for the Udenna Foundation, one of its notable projects was in Marawi City, a war-ravaged area in Mindanao. Along with other organisations, it helped to fund surgical operations, supplies and equipment in a three-day surgical mission that performed a total of 120 minor operations for the city's residents.

Udenna's logistics arm came in handy during the same mission, as a Chelsea Logistics subsidiary supported the transport of medical supplies and equipment from one leg of the mission to another.

"That event made us realise how much impact the synergy of companies under the Udenna Group can make," Mr Uy notes.

He adds: "Building an enduring organisation entails that we take care of the people and communities that our businesses impact.

"As we grow our business footprint and ensure long-term profitability, we have to shift our focus towards sustainable value creation."

For his efforts, Mr Uy has received the EY Asean Entrepreneurial Excellence Award 2019, a honorary award that is presented on board the EOY platform and recognises successful South-east Asian businesses that contribute to the economy and community in the region.

"From the setting up of Dencio's Kamayan to the founding of Udenna Corporation, which today manages a highly successful portfolio of multiple business interests that span a variety of industries, Dennis' entrepreneurial story is truly outstanding," said Max Loh, Singapore managing partner at Ernst & Young.

"His impact extends beyond job creation through his portfolio of companies to charity-driven ventures through the Udenna Foundation and Phoenix Philippines Foundation, bringing to life how successful corporates can contribute to the society and help build a better working world - and in his case, in the Philippines."