Nothing is impossible for anyone who is willing to learn.
This line best describes how Primary Structures Corporation’s Chief Executive Officer William Christopher U. Liu, Jr. steered his father’s once loosing construction business into today’s most reliable brands in the country’s real estate industry.
Mr. Liu has always been an eager student who always excels in school. He attended school at the Sacred Heart School for Boys in Cebu from elementary to high school and later at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in Metro Manila where he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering in 1981. His hard work in school was evident as he placed 7th in the Civil Engineering Board Exams.
“Education is a value I cherish,” Liu affirms and later on proceeded to obtained his Master’s degree in Business Management from the Asian Institute of Management in 1985 even while he was working.
Hoping to carve his own niche in the business world, Liu tried his hand at various entrepreneurial ventures such as rattan pole trading and agribusiness. He had to come back to Cebu, however after his father was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1985. He had no choice but to assume control of his father’s failing business. Mr. Liu was forced to start from scratch after one of the only two employees of the small-town construction firm died six months after he assume management of the company.
An eager learner that he is, Liu started by reexamining the organization’s services, values, resources as well as the industry in Cebu.
He remembered how the industry players were trying to win projects by offering their services low.
“Everyone in the industry was building as cheaply as possible. I said that is not the way we should do things. We are professional builders, and when we do something, the work is off to sell itself.”
This is when Liu decided to make the company’s unwritten motto “Build to Last”, putting emphasis on the quality of the products and services they would offer to the market. Fast forward to today, this has now become the very core of their company’s brand and image.
It was in 1986 that Liu incorporated the company into Primary Structures Corporation and two years later in 1988, they had their first big break. The project was to build a large factory in Mactan within four months for a Japanese electronics manufacturerTaiyo Yuden. He recalled willingly accepting the challenge, realizing that the project would endow his company with industrial-commercial construction capability.
From that first locator grew the Mactan Export Processing Zone (MEPZ), which, in the next ten years included over 100 companies. Out of the 100 or so companies in the export processing zone, 75 percent were built by Primary Structures.
Without a sales and marketing department, Mr. Liu attests that they gained clients through word of monthbecause of the quality of output they delivered in every project. By focusing on quality, it has not been difficult for Primary Structures to grow their client base through the referrals made by their former and current patrons.
Come the 1990s,Liu saw much opportunity in real estate and formed Commonwealth Estate Inc. for residential real estate, and Primary Properties Inc. for industrial-commercial real estate. Concrete Solutions Inc. was also created to provide quality concrete and building materials to various customers. After only two years in operation, Concrete Solutions obtained an ISO 9000-2000 certification, the first ISO-certified concrete plant outside of Metro Manila.
When the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997, Primary Structures remained stable because of its strong financial standing. Instead of slowing down, the company, through its various major subsidiaries,bought out troubled subdivision developers, built quality homes, office spaces, and factory buildings, and leased these out to eager tenants.
Being very observant and sensitive to the trends, Liu seized more opportunities in the emerging business process outsourcing industry and began building BPO buildings in IT parks. To date, they have built buildings devoted to outsourcing companies across the country.
Liu’s passion for learning has helped him make well-educated decisions as he responds to the continuously changing trends in the market.
“When we choose projects, we don’t think about profitability. It’s really more about being able to learn from them,” he says.
Learning = Success
Having his passion to learn as the basic for all the success that he has achieved for his company, Liu has passed on this value to his employees as he wants his people to take every experience as a learning journey and make intelligent decisions to contribute to the company’s growth.
So, when working on a project, Mr. Liu and his team approaches it like a case study, and hold pre-and post-project analyses.
“We document and archive the lessons we have learned,” he shares. “Everything is a learning process.”
The company’s employees all exhibit this enthusiasm for learning. In fact, members of the management team obtained their graduate degrees while working in the company. Even Primary Structures’ construction workers receive education through the Department of Education-approved Bunkhouse Literacy Development (BUILD) program, which is a nonformal education program that enables the workers to advance to higher educational levels and eventually receive a diploma. Over 200 workers since have graduated from this program, mostly men in their 30s and 40s who had only finished elementary level of formal schooling.
The firm also has the Expanded Tertiary Education Equivalency and Accreditation Program (ETEAAP) that is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education. The program is an educational assessment scheme that recognizes an employee’s knowledge, skills, and prior learning that enables an employee to gain a university diploma once he passes the assessment test. With these and other programs (such as the Speak English program), Primary Structures has improved the competencies of its blue-collar employees.
With a more educated and well learned workforce, the company under the leadership of Mr. Liu is poised for more growth and success. Liu has also focused on training his employees further to take up skills vertically and horizontally across the organization and is looking to expand into other cities and provinces in order to contribute to the knowledge and work base of the communities his company will be entering into.
Through the years of successful management of Mr. Liu, Primary Group of Builders, a name that was turned into a family corporation and grew to become a powerhouse conglomerate with an umbrella of trusted companies in the field of construction, real estate, health& lifestyle, logistics and human capital. Each company strives to create value and positive impact on people’s lives, business, and the society that will last through generations.