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Great Leaders in Our Midst
TOFIL column published in Philippine Star
MR. LEONARDO S. SARAO, SR.
TOFIL Awardee for Entrepreneurship, 1991
by Michelle D. Santos
“Never make any promises that you can’t keep and never cheat your client.”
- Mr. Leonardo S. Sarao, Sarao Motors, Inc.
Post-World War II Manila was a ravaged city pockmarked with rubbles of once-stately buildings and gracious homes. Yet, enlivened by the resilient spirit of its citizens, it was slowly rebuilt. Businesses, driven close by the war, threw open their doors. People once again walked the streets without fear of being accosted by the kempeitai. And everywhere, American G.I.s were being hailed as heroes.
It was at this time of transition, of heady liberation, that a former cochero or calesa driver,
Sarao was born on
His also worked as a cochero, or as a driver of a horse-pulled calesa (two-wheeled rig), before the war.
Liberation found Sarao employed in an auto bus body-building and repair shop owned by his ninong,
The popularity of this new form of transport quickly gained ground, spurring the growth new industry of assembling jeeps. At the Mata motor shop, Sarao learned the ins and outs of the trade. He worked as a lathe operator, upholsterer, painter, welder, designer and even as a chrome fitter. Later, he and his younger brothers started assembling jeeps on their own, gaining customers through word of mouth.
In the ‘50’s, passenger jeepney assembly shops can be found jowl to cheek with each other. However, the rudimentary mode of vehicle assembly common then put Sarao off. He had an idea that he believed could drastically improve production. He knew that with such a ready and rapidly growing market, anybody who could put in place an efficient system to supply the demand stand to really make it big.
Sarao borrowed P700 for his start-up capital and, with his brothers,
This system paid off. Sarao Motors It churned out a steady volume of jeepneys, enabling them to stake their claim on the market.
When the supply of US surplus jeeps eventually ran out, the Saraos shifted to German and Japanese engines. Bigger but simpler in design than their American counterparts, the brothers thus re-fashioned a wider body to fit these in. They also lengthened the body to double the seating capacity. Finally, they added the back railing and top railings for cargo.
In 1962, he incorporated the company which became known as Sarao Motors, Inc. Sarao had its heyday in the ‘60s to the ‘80s when it climbed to the top 1,000 corporations in the
Despite the success of his venture, Sarao – fondly called
It was thus understandable that he almost broke down when he announced to his staff in October 2000 that they were stopping production. The worsening socio-economic conditions coupled with unfavorable government regulations had severely hobbled the company. Nonetheless, the Sarao management reconsidered; Sarao Motors re-opened several months after, re-organized and downsized.
Sarao extended his famed brand of generosity to everyone, including purchasers of jeepneys. He devised a payment structure that allowed people of limited budgets to own jeepneys.
His experiences along the way impressed the value of hard work on Sarao. Thus, aside from pakikipag-kapwa, he instilled in his children a healthy appreciation of old fashioned labor.
It is also quite ironic that for someone whose highest educational attainment was Grade 6, Sarao was regularly invited to speak before business clubs and institutions, including the renowned Asian Institute of Management.
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