News & Events

A Good Man with a Good Heart: A Conversation with Philippe 'Cebuana' Lhuillier

When Filipinos hear the name Lhuillier, the first thing that comes to their minds is the well-known pawnshop or I should say, one of the most popular and oldest pawnshops that had been helping us with our financial needs since the ‘30s. But for Filipinos living in Italy, Lhullier is more than just the name of the popular pawnshop; Lhuillier reminds them of a person who served them as an ambassador for more than a decade—years that went beyond the borders of politics, touching lives by building a good and healthy relationship with Filipinos overseas.

Graduating from his management course at the De La Salle University in 1968, Philippe Jones Lhuillier started as a businessman looking after the empire that his father, Henry Lhuillier had founded. Agencia Cebuana, the pawnshop that was soon to be the Cebuana Lhuillier in the late ‘80s, was passed on to his care.

Today, after decades of successful business, Cebuana has grown to over 1,400 branches nationwide. The preferred cash solutions provider of Filipinos was again passed on to Philippe’s sons, Jean Henri and Andre, when Philippe was appointed as Philippine Ambassador to Italy in 1999.

Reminiscing the past years, Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier remembers that he takes pleasure in dealing with customers whom he believes must be treated like a family. “I myself was at the counter. I was the appraiser, and I enjoyed talking to them and helping them in the best way I could,” he says. His key objective was to give assistance. “I believe this is a way of helping people who will need money in a short period of time,” he added.

While he had been an entrepreneur for the longest time before he decided to join the government, he asserts that being in politics and being in business is not at all different, contrary to what others say. For him, dealing with Filipinos in Italy was just like dealing with customers in his pawnshop. “I love talking to people and sharing ideas with them,” he said.

In retrospect, it must be his love of country and the same burning passion to serve, help and be involved in people’s lives in a good way which made his memories of almost 11 years of service truly worthwhile. “The years went by so fast but I enjoyed every minute of it,” the former ambassador said with a smile as if remembering his childhood days.

Although more than a year had already passed since his term ended, he still keeps in his heart the memories of his experience at the embassy with the Filipinos.

“They would come to my room whenever they wished to see me following a first come, first served order,” he said. “But they didn’t come to see me just for problems. Some of them dropped by my office to talk about positive developments as well.” In fact, he didn’t even have security guards with him in his office. He said he believes that the Filipino people should be trusted all the time.

Another thing he remembered was going down to where the customers were at 2:45pm every day to help one Filipino a day. “When I go home, I would be proud to tell my wife what I’ve done. That was my goal every day.”

“I want them to feel happy every time they go to the embassy.”

It was his answer to my question about his greatest achievement as an ambassador that seemed to evoke his biggest smile. “My greatest achievement was loving them, caring for them and listening to them because I believe that these are the things they needed,” he said.

According to Philippe Lhuillier, he would have 25 to 40 visitors coming to his room every day. “I would listen to them, hold their hand, and even take pictures with them . . . their problems weren’t as big as we think.”
 
More than financial help, Ambassador Philippe Lhuillier observed that what our beloved and much missed Outstanding Filipinos Worldwide (OFW [the revised term coined by the Balikbayan Magazine to OFW]) need more is more training.

“If they will learn, they can have business over there [abroad] and after some period, they can continue doing the business here [Philippines].” That is why he calls on the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) to send teachers abroad to train Filipinos because what usually happens is after finishing a course with TESDA, they want to leave the Philippines immediately. “When they come back, they are old already. So the best time to train them is while they are there,” he explains.

True enough, he himself is a living testimony to the importance of training. Just like many others, he considers his early years in service quite important as he represents the Philippines as the Permanent Representative to the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme.

“I decided to be a student to the deputy general of FAO to learn really what FAO was all about. And at the same time, I was working with the embassy. From people to the career people, and to the consul general. I was there to learn,” the Ambassador said.

And as part of this advocacy, the embassy, under his term, opened computer classes for free. With this, he was able to produce 3,000 graduates to date.

His primary objective was to give people education so they could earn more in the future. To his surprise, more than satisfying the intellectual hunger of his students, the program actually helped alleviate their homesickness.

In December 2000, he founded the Philippe J. Lhuillier Foundation, Inc., a non-stock, non-profit charitable organization, as the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of his company. “The focus of our foundation is really how to help give and return to people,” Ambassador Lhuillier said.

To date, the Foundation boasts
of 220 scholars who are mostly graduating with honors. Eighty  scholars are expected to come in this year as part of the Foundation’s 10th anniversary celebration.

LOVING HIS COUNTRY FROM AFAR

Although he was not pure Filipino for having a father from Paris, France and a mother from Cebu City, Philippines, he showed no bias in expressing his love towards the two races which run through his veins, like the other Filipinos staying in Italy.

“With the long time I stayed in Italy, I observed that these Filipinos love their country so much . . . In fact, when they die, they want their bodies to be buried at home. I don’t know anyone of my 11 years who doesn’t want to be brought back home.”

As he sees it, it is love for the country and tourism that leads to the success of a country. And so he believes that we must cultivate these feelings to establish a stronger tourism industry.

“I have been insisting to the Department of Tourism to come up with a CD about the Philippines that shows not only the beaches but also the city and all around. The Filipinos here in Italy can show this CD to their bosses . . . It will be one way to show them what the Philippines really is,” he says.

“Our overseas Filipinos are our direct contact. They live with them. They serve them food. But these are the things that I’ve pushed, but was quite unsuccessful,” he says.

Truly, there is so much more that needs to be done— more time and more effort. But Lhullier is not worried as he remembers his late dad’s words, “As long as you don’t lose the golden egg that I gave you, you will survive.” – by Jamie Marie Elona   

(www.balikbayanmagazine.com)

 

Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop has been the leading pawnshop chain in the Philippines with over 1,500 branches across the country—from Aparri to Tawi-Tawi. For 25 years now, Cebuana has been true to its slogan “Walang Kapantay Magpahalaga” through the incomparable services that the company offers to its customers- this includes — pawning, local and international remittance, insurance, bills payment, e-load, collection, and foreign exchange. Founded in 1987 by the current Philippine envoy to Portugal, Ambassador Philippe Jones Lhuillier, Cebuana Lhuillier is currently managed by its President and CEO, Jean Henri Lhuillier.