The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Victor “Vic” Consunji says in jest.
He was recalling his university days as a civil engineering student back in UP Diliman when he wanted to go out on dates with the pretty ladies.
Vic, 45, is the firstborn of engineering tycoon Isidro “Sid” Consunji, 73, who, in turn, is the eldest son of the late David “DM” Consunji, touted as the father of Philippine construction.
“Ah, like father, like son, huh?” I quip. Vic laughs.
In the book The DMCI Group Story, Sid confesses that he chose to study in UP because he wanted to meet the “pretty girls in miniskirts.”
Indeed, Sid sheepishly says he and Vic are the same in this aspect.
“He likes beautiful girls!” Sid says, conceding perhaps that Vic, whom he fondly calls “Bugoy,” is his father’s son, almost notoriously known as a ladies’ man.
But the Consunji father and son have so much more in common than an eye for beauty.
‘You should always give back to society because society gave you a good life and education,’ David Consunji told his son Isidro, who in turn says: ‘I don’t know what my son Victor learned from me, but I taught him always to be kind.’
Both are civil engineering graduates from UP Diliman; both are members of the prestigious Beta Epsilon fraternity; both are active in sports; both enjoy drinking — Macallan 18 for Sid and gin or vodka for Vic; both are adventurous and daring; both enjoy solving problems; both love to travel.
And, more importantly, both have a passion to build and are skillfully running their respective businesses with an engineer’s mind. Sid is chairman, president and CEO of mammoth diversified conglomerate DMCI Holdings Inc., while Vic is founder and CEO of Victor Consunji Development Corp., a real estate developer that builds contemporary and future-ready homes.
The Consunji legacy of building, however, did not start with Sid. It all started with his father, DM, a civil engineering graduate, also from UP Diliman, who founded DMCI, a construction company that grew to become the conglomerate that it is now.
DMCI is behind some of the most iconic structures in the country: the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the Church of the Holy Sacrifice, and the Philippine International Convention Center.
But Sid, being his usual modest self, likes to say his father’s most difficult project was raising him.
The business community, however, would surely disagree with this because Sid is very much respected, even by those outside the real estate and construction industries.
Needless to say, the Consunji legacy continues with Sid and Vic.
There’s a pattern of sorts for the Consunji boys — Sid and Vic, like their fathers before them, studied civil engineering at UP Diliman and were exposed at an early age to the real world of construction and building.
Sid had to spend a lot of time with his father in the project sites, which were dusty, dirty, and noisy.
He was even brought to Saudi Arabia when his father got a contract to build a dozen bridges.
Vic had the same exposure, also in the construction sites, and at times, he even tagged along with his grandfather to a mine site, “walking that dark tunnel at the age of seven,” Vic recalls.
Victor Consunji says: ‘I have stood on the shoulders of giants. I learned from the values and lessons I learned as a child.’
The result of this life of immersion are adults who are well aware of how things work in the real world with people from all walks of life, perhaps in stark contrast to the safety of their relatively privileged homes.
Thus, Consunji men are those who aren’t afraid to build — not just buildings, homes, and bridges, but more importantly, their own lives on their own terms — but cognizant of the lessons from the older generations, the people who helped them and the communities that welcomed them.
“I get to celebrate some of the success because I know I have stood on the shoulders of giants,” Vic says. “I learned from the values and the exposure I received as a child and the stories and lessons I learned from those who came before me.”
“It would be a travesty to say I did everything on my own,” he adds.
The Consunji legacy
In this sense, David “DM” Consunji’s legacy may not be just about building edifices or structures but also about teaching his own to build their own lives, whether in construction or otherwise — with quality, integrity and fairness — as the Consunji brand of building is known for.
Giving back to society
Sid says of his father, DM: “My father taught me to be fair, to know yourself and to learn from your failures.”
DM also used to tell Sid: “You should always give back to society because society gave you a good life and education.”
And what did Sid teach Vic?
“I don’t know if I taught him that,” Sid says. “I don’t know what he learned from me, but I taught him to always be kind. I also taught him that there is always a better way of doing things. One has to look for that unique selling proposition.”
Did Vic, indeed, pick up these lessons from his dad?
In fact, he did, and he also learned so much more.
Vic says Sid taught him lessons about independence.
While the Consunji clan is one of the richest in the Philippines, Vic says his father made sure that he did not feel that he was born with a silver spoon.
Recalling his university days, Vic says, “My dad, great guy that he is, is the hardest person in the world to get an allowance out of. It’s a very quick lesson on independence.”
He says that while his father sent him to the best schools, Sid would not fund his social life or when he wanted to go on dates with the ladies.
“So if I wanted to make lakwatsa, that was a different thing. The more social life I wanted to have, the more successful I had to be because that sure wasn’t going to be funded by my dad,” Vic says in between laughs.
Turning serious, Vic says Sid exposed him to the real world.
“My father is a practical man, grounded and humble. He didn’t shower me with material things. He didn’t spoil me and shelter me from the difficulties of life. What he did do was to expose me to a bigger world at a very young age, where, through firsthand experience observing him work with the people around him, I learned the potential of the ‘impossible idea,’” Vic says.
It was his father, he says, who opened his eyes to a greater world, both socially and professionally.
“He showed me through example how to work with financial institutions, government bodies, navigate laws and regulations, understand risks and rewards. But no matter what tools I learned to use to further my ideas, the singular most important lesson was that you need to work with people to make anything happen,” Vic says.
Thus, Vic says Sid always reminded him to be mindful of other people.
“He always tells me, ‘Understand the people around you.’ Understand what drives them. Craft a solution, or an idea, that people will want to support, not because they’re told to do it, but because they believe it with you. Identify shared principles and values,” Vic says.
“His biggest lesson to me was, it might have been ‘my’ idea, but in the end, this is a shared success, ‘our’ success with others. So people matter. He said that’s how you take the impossible idea to become the ‘I’m possible’ idea,” Vic adds.
On their own
Vic, of course, is also his own man.
While he shares his grandfather’s and father’s passion for building, he also ventured out on his own and set up his real estate development company. Sid let him be.
“As a child, I showed a very strong propensity for building things. I pulled everything apart and put everything back together like in a Frankenstein sort of way. I like putting things not meant for each other and blending and weaving them together,” he says.
This interest he also got from father Sid, who as a child loved doing the same thing. “My favorite was an Erector Set,” Sid says, referring to the US brand of metal toy construction set.
His son Connor, on the other hand, seems to enjoy playing with insects, animals and creatures.
Would he do the same with Connor and allow him to venture out on his own, construction or otherwise?
“If he says he’s not into construction, I would ship him off to Timbuktu,” Vic says.
He is kidding, of course. Turning serious, Vic says right now, Connor has his own interests and is free to pursue them in the end.
“I’m not going to say he has to be in my industry and follow in my footsteps,” Vic says.
But by default, Vic also brings him to construction sites and meetings with engineers — as his father did with him.
“In the end, his success is in his hands,” says Vic.
This may well be called “the Consunji way.”
His father Sid instilled in him the necessary values to succeed in life, but it was really up to him to make it out there in the great big world.
In many ways, the apple indeed did not fall far from the tree, but at the same time, in the case of Victor, the fruit has found its way far, far into undulating hills and elsewhere to distant lands.
“He is better than me. He is creative, daring and focused,” Sid says of Vic.
And what did Vic get from his father?
“Well, this is quite easy. I have his horribly corny sense of humor. And his charming good looks,” says Vic.