“Choose to be the best”
Jean Henri Lhuillier ´92 has lived a life of innovation and service. He graduated Saint Mary’s as a business major with a minor in economics, and his business acumen has transformed the financial landscape in the Philippines, his home country. He is the president and CEO of Cebuana Lhuillier, part of the PJ Lhuillier Group of Companies that was started by his family. Jean Henri and his wife Beatriz have recently made a large donation to the School of Economics and Business Administration’s (SEBA) Responsible Investment Fund, which pools money for Saint Mary’s students to manage a real-life mutual fund, giving them invaluable lessons in investing with sound business practices and social responsibility. “I am a believer in corporate social value (CSV), creating economic value for your company in a way that also creates value for society,” said Jean Henri, who serves on the SEBA Advisory Board. “I have always believed in giving back – to my country and to my college. Managing the SEBA Responsible Investment Fund will teach students how to assess a company’s corporate social value in order to invest in viable, socially responsible companies.”
CSV has played an important role in Jean Henri’s success because he has always considered meeting people’s needs to be crucial to the direction of his business. The 25-year-old family business, which began with four pawnshops, is now the leading pawnshop chain in the Philippines, serving 30,000 customers daily with over 1,700 branches and around 6,000 employees. The business has expanded into a network of companies with a full range of financial services. “Pawnshops are looked at as the ‘poor man’s bank,’” explained Jean Henri. “Many people in the Philippines do not have a bank account, so we act as a small rural bank.” Some of the services they provide are money remittance (sending money from the U.S. back to the Philippines, for example), bill payment (similar to PayPal), electronic loading of money onto mobile phones (they serve 60 million mobile phones), ATM outlets and collections. Another part of their business of which Jean Henri is particularly proud is microinsurance. “We wanted to provide insurance policies that the masses could afford and understand,” he noted. “These are policies with a very low monthly payment, just one or two dollars, to insure against a small accident. Today we have 10 million clients all over the Philippines,” Jean Henri said proudly.
Lhuillier, Jean Henri came to Saint Mary’s from a Catholic boarding high school on the Peninsula. He liked the small feel of Saint Mary’s and that it was a school of the Christian Brothers, where his father also had been educated. Jean Henri’s best experience at the College was playing varsity tennis for two years, as well as making great friends. He also enjoyed taking different classes during Jan Term, especially the ones that had no relation to his business major, such as art and psychology. “Saint Mary’s was a safe educational environment with no distractions,” remembered Jean Henri. “I learned organization, which has carried over to my work habits. It was a beautiful place to go to college.” After graduating, he went to a school in Los Angeles to learn to identify and evaluate gemstones, an important part of the pawnshop business. He tried to start a business in America but did not devote all of his time to getting it off the ground, flying back and forth to the Philippines to attend to business there. “Failing early and failing big,” in Jean Henri’s words, taught him an important lesson: success comes from failure. He returned to Manila to concentrate on the family business, working in different departments to learn the scope of the business. He became vice president of Cebuana Lhuillier in 1998 and began transforming the pawnshop business into the financial empire it is today.
With success comes the responsibility to give back, and an important way that the Lhuilliers give back to their country is through the promotion of sports, which has always been a large focus for them. Beatriz, known as Bea, won a bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in taekwondo, and Jean Henri continues to be involved in sports. He is the president of the Amateur Softball Association of the Philippines, manager of the Philippine Davis Cup Team, and chairman of the board of the Philippine Tennis Association. Concurrently, he is the team manager of the International Premier Tennis League’s Manila Mavericks. Their company, Cebuana Lhuillier, also owns a professional basketball team, the Cebuana Gems, which is part of the Philippine Basketball Association Development League. “I have enjoyed playing sports my whole life, and I enjoy giving back to my country,” said Jean Henri.
Bea stays busy raising their four children — Stephan, 14, and Sebastien, 11, both of whom excel in tennis, soccer and music; Dominique, 7, involved with ballet and gymnastics; and Julien, 5, who is a golfer. Bea is also involved with the family foundation, Cebuana Lhuillier Foundation, which has funded disaster relief, feeding programs and educational scholarships. The foundation also has begun a project this year to help the thousands of Filipinos who have not graduated high school by opening the Alternative Community Learning Centers, where people can finish high school in their own time. Sixteen Cebuana Lhuillier centers opened this year, and they hope to have over 60 centers open by 2016.
As if Jean Henri was not busy enough, he also serves as the consul general to the Philippines for the Republic of San Marino, a microstate of 30,000 people surrounded by Italy. As consul general, he promotes trade and friendship between the people of the two countries and is also proud to have placed Filipino orphans with families in San Marino. Jean Henri comes from a long line of family members in service. His grandfather, Henry, was French consul to the Philippines, and his father, Philippe, was formerly the Philippine ambassador to Rome and is currently the Philippine ambassador to Portugal. This past year Jean Henri was knighted by the Republic of San Marino, receiving the rank of Official Knight of the Equestrian Order of Saint Agatha, due to his outstanding service in strengthening the ties between San Marino and the Philippines.
Jean Henri Lhuillier’s guiding principles have been “to believe in yourself, to choose to do what is right and to choose to be the best.” Saint Mary’s can be very proud of this alumnus and world business leader who chooses to give back in so many ways.