It was just after the war when then President Elpidio Quirino issued a call to all the young men of the Philippines to go to Mindanao and seek their fortune upon its virgin shores. Even then Mindanao was already known as the ‘land of promise’ – the last bastion of wilderness where adventure-minded Filipino can go and test their mettle against the best, or rather the worst, that Mother Nature can dish out.
In answer to this call, thousands of able-bodied men from Pangasinan, Ilocos, Bacolod, Pampanga, Bicol and all the points of Luzon and the Visayas rushed south to try their luck. And though most of them would break when faced with the bleak reality of the wilds of Mindanao, there were also a number of hardy souls who stuck it out, persevered and eventually made a name for themselves.
Among those who heeded the call was Antonio O. Floirendo, Sr. filled with an almost missionary-like zeal to create a better life for himself and his family, he worked himself haggard against a host of difficulties that faced him.
“Life during those times was hard. Unlike today when all conveniences of technology are literally at your fingertips, back then we had to be both physically and mentally fit,” says Floirendo.
It was an existence that most kids today would find alien. A contradiction of everything they have grown to accept as reality. This being a period just after the Second World War, much of those that we now take for granted were scarce. Electricity, clean water, good roads – these were stuff of dreams.
But despite the trials, or maybe because of them, men like Antonio O. Floirendo became all the stronger. “In a world where the weak are often left behind, I learned to be tough early in life. If I didn’t then I know I wouldn’t be able to help all those who depended on me,” he explains.
With this in mind, the young Antonio slowly, but methodically built up his dream. Showing a vision far beyond what other men of like age displayed, he planned each step like a general would plan a campaign. Carefully marshalling his resources, he plotted his course carefully in order to achieve the maximum effect.
His first step was to secure a proclamation from Pres. Quirino, granting him the title to some one thousand hectares of unproductive swampland, which he planned to cultivate into an abaca plantation. But many scoffed at the idea. To them, the very thought of even trying to cultivate the marshes of Davao del Norte seemed a task more fitted to Hercules than to a mere mortal. But despite the difficulties and trials, Mr. Floirendo was able to pull it off. And in only a few years after the first tree was felled and the swamps filled, the Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. – the enterprise that rose out of the murky waters of Panabo – became the largest abaca producer in the world.
Though trained as a Mining Engineer, Mr. Floirendo chose to go into agriculture because he saw its vast potentials. ‘In mining you have to dig for gold. This is not only more difficult, it may also be harmful to the environment if it is not done properly. But in agriculture, in farming, you do not have to dig. The gold comes out of the ground in the form of bananas, or abaca or other plants and fruits.”
The year 1965 saw the entry of synthetic nylon ropes into the market signaling the death knell for all large-scale abaca-processing ventures. And while this development was met with panic by some and was ignored by others, Mr. Floirendo was one of the few who met the challenge forthrightly and decisively.
Responding to these chances, he shifted his operations to bananas. With the help of foreign capital, Tadeco began phasing out its abacas by 1968. By 1971, the company was already exporting its produce to the Japanese market. From then on, Tadeco has continued to expand, hiring more people from the community and bringing prosperity to the entire region. Soon after, other banana plantations began to sprout – further pushing Davao del Norte into the forefront of the Philippines’ foreign exchange revenue efforts.
However, unlike in fairy tales where all stories can be lumped under the “happily ever after” ending, the saga of Antonio O. Floirendo and Tadeco isn’t as cut and dried as that. Interspersed with the many years of bounty were periods of hard times. Especially during those early years when the Philippines was just starting to build a reputation as a banana exporter, Tadeco had to struggle. The strict quality control standards set by the buyers entailed numerous adjustments that had to be made.
In the end, Tadeco was able to show that, like its founder, it was made of sterner stuff, and that no amount of obstacles could divert it from its path and its destiny. Its survival was a testament to the will of Mr. Floirendo and the dedication of men and women who worked in the company. “I believe in the saying that when the going gets tough, the tough goes out of his way to help the weak,” says Mr. Floirendo. “In this way they both become stronger and together they can outlast any storm. This is what we have tried to do in Tadeco. This enterprise is not built on individual effort, this is a community effort.”
Because of his holistic approach to management, Tadeco became and has remained the leader in the banana industry, with many of its innovations becoming the standard in the industry. Its pioneering efforts stretches far beyond the bound of productivity, but more importantly into the realm of social responsibility. Says Mr. Floirendo, “It was my dream to build a company that will improve the lives of the people. In this, I think I have been quite successful with Tadeco.”
For its efforts at improving the lives of its employees and their families, Tadeco has been elevated to the Hall of Fame for its Family Welfare Program, aside from being named as one of the top 25 Healthiest Workplaces in the Philippines. One of its flagship community relations projects, the Tadeco Livelihood and Training Center, has also been a consistent winner in the many trade fairs and exhibits it has joined.
But more than these, for Antonio O. Floirendo Sr., the most important accolade comes from the people who work in Tadeco. Entire families who would otherwise have struggled to make a living and enjoy a comfortable life in Tadeco.
“Many of the younger workers in Tadeco now are children of those who were with me in the beginning,” says Floirendo. “It is good to see that they also believe in what we have started, because in the end, all these are for them. And together, we can assure the future of our children, and our children’s children.”