Wilson Lim is founder of the Abenson Group of Companies (Abenson, ElectroWorld, Walter Mart Supermarket, Walter Mart Mall, distributorship of SB and Habitat furnitures, and Ascott BGC, among many others) that he and his team built from scratch. An unassuming businessman with a big heart, he shares his insights about growing businesses from core to adjacencies.
Q1: You have been successful in various companies you built (Abenson, Walter Mart, etc). What criteria do you consider before you invest or expand in a business?
A: I am always guided by our company’s vision of Bringing the Good Life to More Filipino Homes.
We study the industry and assess it based on the size of the market, the growth potential, the players in the industry and determine whether there are opportunities for new entrants.
An important criteria that I have for new businesses is that it should complement our core business.
I also assess our internal capabilities, whether we have the knowledge, people skills and capabilities to expand.
Q2: You launched Abenson in 1970 in Greenhills when it was still not a popular place then. What did you see in Greenhills then?
A: While Manila was the central business district in the 1970s, where many established companies were located, a new player like Abenson had to establish itself in emerging territories to thrive.
Greenhills was the gateway to San Juan, Mandaluyong and Quezon City. It was attractive because of the growth potential in the area with the presence of subdivisions, schools and hospitals.
Q3: Waltermart was originally intended as a ‘warehouse’ operation along E. Rodriquez QC, in fact, it had no aircon when it started in 1991. What made you change your mind and shift to supermarket and community mall?
A: Walter Mart E. Rodriguez was intended to be the head office and warehouse for Abenson. It was initially launched as an Appliance and Furniture warehouse store. Later on, we realized that to be able to attract a wider base of shoppers, we needed to offer what the market was looking for, which were groceries. That was when Walter Mart Supermarket was established.
Walter Mart was the first to introduce the Community Center concept where it housed all of our retail brands, as well as fast food chains, hardware stores and the like. These all evolved because we listen to and address the evolving needs of our consumers.
Q4: You built a cluster of over 10 Waltermart community malls in Calabarzon area. What motivated you to expand regionally?
A: Similar to how Abenson started in an emerging area, Walter Mart’s expansion in Calabarzon followed the same principle.
While Metro Manila was where the major players were concentrated, Calabarzon was particularly attractive due to the emerging industries, the established technoparks, the housing projects of major developers and the lower cost of land.
Of course, my primary motivation was aligned with our vision of bringing the good life to more Filipino homes. By opening Walter Mart in new areas, we contribute to the advancement of the communities by providing gainful employment to locals as well as offering quality products at value prices to our consumers.
Q5: You are a proponent of internally-generated funds. Your group is one of the most credible major groups that remain private. Recently, Waltermart had an alliance with SM. Do you intend to have more alliances or go public while you are still active as chairman?
A: I firmly believe in win-win partnerships, that is, for all stakeholders to mutually gain from the business relationship.
To continuously grow, we could either go public or partner with the industry leader. We chose to partner since collaborating with the best and the biggest operator in the industry will add value to our organization.
To this end, we have entered into a joint venture with the SM group. SM and our group share the same values and our partnership has enabled our group to learn the best practices in mall and supermarket operations.
We have also partnered with foreign companies in different industries since we believe that the synergies created will add value to our core business.
Q6: In hindsight, what are some decisions you would have changed as an entrepreneur?
A: I have been very conservative and in hindsight, the company could have been more aggressive in expanding at a faster rate. For many years, our expansion was based on internally generated funds. We did not maximize external sources of funds to invest in more properties when the prices of land were much lower that it is today.
Q7: Your children are now operating different businesses under your tutelage. How can a family business ensure harmony like yours?
A: My six children have been exposed to the retail business very early.
Many of them have graduated with MBA degrees and one of the key learning that we share is the importance of a Family Constitution. This serves as the roadmap that guides my family by defining our family vision, core values, goals and policies.
We all work hard to ensure the success of the business. More importantly, we all recognize that family is the most important blessing that we have so we work even harder to treat family with love and care.
Q8: What is your personal philosophy in business and in life?
A: I believe that we have all been created with a purpose. In everything that I do, I strive to give my best to enable me to live life with meaning.
My business philosophy has always been:
A Mind that Creates.
A Heart that Cares.
A Will that Excels.
A Team that Wins.
All for the glory of GOD.
Q9: Can you share some entries in your bucket list? What would you still want to accomplish in business and in life?
A: Foremost in my bucket list is to establish a foundation to share my family’s many blessings.
I consider myself very blessed to have a good wife, Jusy. She plays many roles as my wife, my business partner, mother to our six children and grandmother to our 17 grandchildren.
I want to inspire my grandkids to have the best education and excel in their own fields of expertise, so they too may create gainful employment for many.
Since we are in the business of electronics, I also want to continue to be technology-savvy even as I’m turning 70 years old soon.