A Mindanao reporter’s magical success

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 20 October) – “It’s a magical spell.”

That was how a carpenter-turned-radio journalist, and now a successful businessman, described in jest how he built a media empire from literal scratch.

RAGS TO RICHES. Elmer Catulpos talks to a customer of his newly opened pharmacy chain. He claims that his sheer guts, high optimism and prayers, are the magical spells that turned him from a radio reporter to being an owner of a media empire. MindaNews photo by Rommel G. Rebollido
RAGS TO RICHES. Elmer Catulpos talks to a customer of his newly opened pharmacy chain. He claims that his sheer guts, high optimism and prayers, are the magical spells that turned him from a radio reporter to being an owner of a media empire. MindaNews photo by Rommel G. Rebollido

“My company owes it to high optimism, sheer guts and a full load of prayers,” remarked a smiling Elmer V. Catulpos, president and chief executive officer of Brigada Group of Companies in General Santos City.

Stepping out of his elevator-equipped three-storey mansion, the 38-year-old businessman who started to earn his millions when he was 28, would sit alongside the swimming pool and reminisce the wretched situation he and his family were in some three decades ago in Tambulig, a mountain town in Zamboanga del Sur.

Catulpos grew up as a child in Upper Ludyong, a very remote village where one has to walk three hours and cross two streams from the Tambulig town proper. “My father would carry me on his shoulders whenever the water level is high,” Catulpos remembered.

As a playful child, Catulpos ran around with the other kids, wearing nothing but soiled and tattered oversized clothes of their father which he alternately used with his siblings. Catulpos was the second child in a brood of five.

“That was the good life I would know then in my innocence of what luxury is, but, I have seen how my father persevered to give us better life – spiritually and physically,” he pointed out.

“My father was a hardworking man. I saw him work until 10 in the evening. But he simply lacks the entrepreneurial skills that would get us out of poverty,” he said.

That famous idea that for one who is down at the bottom, there is no other way to go but up, worked quite well for Catulpos, who never went to a prestigious business school, spending most of his teen years learning the craft of his father – furniture making.

Back in 2005, out of a regular job, a furniture shop he tried to put up was destroyed and with a meager pay he gets from a contractual job with a local radio station, Catulpos tried every means he can to provide for his family.

He became an insurance agent, went treasure hunting, joined in multi-level network marketing schemes, tried buy and sell. All proved futile.

He even ran for office as a barangay official to have a regular paying job but lost, until he thought of selling a two-page lottery tipster.

Armed with determination, courage and a borrowed P1,000, Catulpos embarked on his lowly venture which he called “Tolendoy,” a flyer the size of a bond paper that would contain entertainment articles and tips on how to win the Philippine Lottery.

On the first day of selling the Tolendoy Health Tips, Catulpos earned P10 for two copies sold. This, however, failed to dampen his spirit and went on to print the issue for the second day, the third day and until the earnings showed encouraging results by the second week.

As the tips started to sell hot, he was accused of promoting illegal gambling by some of his media colleagues, whom he believed were threatened by his simple publication.

“There were those who passed judgment on what I did and even predicted that the business will not last longer than six months. I took the negative comments as exciting challenges,” he said.

To confront the assault, Catulpos registered his small business, secured a business permit from city hall and turned Tolendoy into a tabloid, thus the birth of the daily tabloid Brigada News Philippines on October 18, 2005.

The emergence of Brigada was more of a circumstance than planned and the risk Mr. Catulpos took proved rewarding. Brigada was derived from the radio program he hosted, “Brigada sa Super Radyo.”

Brigada flourished and expanded its editorial and printing facilities in General Santos to Davao City and Cagayan de Oro City. This allowed Brigada to circulate even in remote villages in Northern and Southern Mindanao, becoming the most read newspaper in Mindanao.

With the newspaper, came a network of Brigada News FM stations spread all over the country. There are now 25 stations operating and more are expected to be on-air in the coming months, he said. Brigada also operates a television station in General Santos City, catering mainly to local content.

To support the operations of the Brigada broadcast facilities, Catulpos put up the Brigada Healthline Corporation, a health and food supplement distribution business that is also now making waves in the industry.

“Unlike other networks, Brigada need not rely much on advertisers. Our distribution business makes us quite independent in our journalistic roles,” he quipped.

Just recently, Catulpos embarked on a chain of pharmacies, initially opening four branches in General Santos City, including a drive-thru pharmacy – a first in Mindanao if not in the Philippines.

He also owns and operates two security agencies and a resort-restaurant in General Santos.

What used to be a small livelihood just to make both ends meet is actually turning into a venture that is now making people from every end of the country meet – in communication, health products and public service.

With the backlash of technology on traditional media, Catulpos said he still plans on expanding newspaper operations from Mindanao to Luzon and Visayas as well as put up more radio stations in other areas.

Asked why all these amid the technology-driven uncertainty in traditional media, his short response, “We dream of becoming the biggest marketing media network in the country. We know our game and we are confident with our capabilities.”

Talk about sheer guts, high optimism and full load of prayers as magical spells.

And if the new company logo with the globe in it has anything to signify, who knows someday in the future a Mindanao-born media outfit will give those big networks a run for their money. (Rommel G. Rebollido for MindaNews)