100 years ago, on February 6, 1923, Alfonso T. Yuchengco was born the only boy to a household that had been waiting for his arrival. His father, Enrique Yuchengco, had established himself as one of the most successful Chinese- Filipino businessmen of his time, and in the tradition of their time, he had been hoping for a male heir that would take on the family enterprise. Whenever Enrique’s wife Maria Hao Tay gave birth to a girl, the baby lived (the couple had three daughters). But when she gave birth to a boy, which she did three times, the baby died. When Alfonso was born, they dressed him as a girl and addressed him as a girl until he was six years old to “cheat” the fates.
It would not be long before young Alfonso would prove himself, first at the De La Salle College, and then at the Far Eastern University, during the bountiful years under the American Commonwealth. Besides being a stellar student, Alfonso would also surround himself with firm and loyal friendships that he would nurture
After the hard-scrabble years of the Second World War, father and son emerged with the bonds of succession strengthened, and a surer path to success ahead.
They resumed their work on their family businesses, despite the major devastation of the War. Alfonso, in his twenties, quickly picked up on his education, passing the CPA (Certified Public Accountancy) Board Exams and moving on the graduate school.
The death of Enrique Yuchengco in the early 1950s would give Alfonso full rein over the family enterprise. He swiftly broadened the scale of their businesses and saw further horizons that would take him into banking, construction, mining, manufacturing, real estate, education, oil exploration, and education.
By the 1960s, AY—the initials by which he had widely been known—had become an industrialist in full. He was still a young man, but he had already consolidated his various interests in a holding company that bore his name. With the Yuchengco Group of Companies, he built a foundation for further growth and embarked on a bright legacy that would stretch out beyond his own lifetime.
He was not yet 40, but he had become, by all definitions, a patriarch: he led a far-reaching organization and was responsible for the many generations of Filipinos he and his enterprises would serve.
A LOVE OF COUNTRY
AY was proud of his roots, which lay equally in his Chinese heritage as well as his identity as a native Filipino. He also held our national hero, Dr. Jose P. Rizal, in high esteem. In fact, two of the flagship companies of the Yuchengco Group are named in honor of Rizal: Malayan Insurance and Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation. In the 1970s, he found himself deeply engaged in society as a political activist.
His immense success, it seemed, translated itself into a profound love of country.
AY’s powerful ability to build and nurture friendships would also provide a blueprint for relationships in which he stood not just for his individual self, but for the nation. From the 1980s onward, he served the government in multiple other capacities as ambassador, adviser, and civic leader, drawing upon a career like no other— informed by practical experience, steeped in a deep knowledge of the world, and empowered by the resources he had built up over decades.
A LIFE OF GENEROSITY
As Ambassador to China, Japan, and then the UN, AY employed his vast charm to entertain and cultivate deep friendships with other nations, and drew upon his wealth to provide overseas Filipinos with much-needed support.
To the thousands of beneficiaries of the AY Foundation, to which his companies were required to make periodic contributions, AY was a proud sponsor and father. His generosity was very much felt in his private life as well; stories abound of how he personally and meticulously provided aid to friends, colleagues, and everyday citizens alike, neglecting to accept credit or acknowledgment.
AN ENDURING LEGACY
AY gave off himself to culture, as well, by establishing a theater and a museum in his corporate headquarters, where he was a frequent patron and visitor of shows, plays, and exhibits. Today, the Yuchengco Museum stands as an enduring and continuously engaged symbol of his dual heritage. There are two immense Botong Francisco renditions of his father and mother, along with a gallery laden with the works of Filipino masters. There is, of course, a special section on Rizal.
In every part of his social and cultural spheres, AY was known for his personal touch: he remains warmly well-remembered by children and grandchildren, family and friends, for his quick wit and his wicked sense of humor. No one was spared from his attention to human detail—whether he was hosting weekly family lunches or presiding over a board meeting.
At the heart of this, of course, was his deep understanding of humanity.
It is this uncommon and vital understanding of humanity that helped the young Alfonso Yuchengco set how Filipinos needed to be fulfilled in all of life’s concerns, from beginning to end.
In this manner, his businesses covered financial well-being, education, and social development; his civic pursuits addressed cultural and social needs.
Today, one hundred years after his birth, this deep understanding continues—AY’s name carries on, not just in the institutions he created and led, but also in the people he continues to lead and serve, through every aspect of his legacy.