Dropout sends scholars to prestigious universities
He dropped out of college in 1992 to start working, yet he now supports dozens of scholars who are enrolled in prestigious universities.
His alma mater acknowledged him one of its most outstanding alumni in 2013, while a state university conferred on him an honorary doctorate degree in 2016 for his business insights and various charitable activities.
Elmer Ngo, 46, is a co-owner and the president of Mileage Asia Corp., a company that provides high-quality roofs to Filipino families and played a crucial role in the rehabilitation of homes in Samar and Leyte which were destroyed by typhoon Yolanda in 2013. The company’s tagline is galvanizing the industry with Sumo GI sheets and roofing the nation with Cherrylume, referring to its two brands.
Ngo is funding the education of several poor students at private institutions such as St. Scholastica’s College, San Beda College, University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
On why he is supporting these scholars, Ngo says: “This is a part of my frustration, because I did not finish my course in the university. Now that I have my own business, I want to give something back to the nation.”
Mileage Asia, his company, imports, distributes and produces roofing materials such as galvanized iron sheets. It has a market share of nearly 70 percent in the CD income segment, the largest in the housing sector.
Ngo says he allows his scholars to choose the schools and courses they like, including prestigious private universities. His only condition is that the students should come from poor families. Some of these students were the first in their families to reach tertiary education. The tuition of some of Ngo’s scholars even exceeds those of his two children who are studying at Chiang Kai Shek College.
Ngo is also a supporter of sports, with Cherrylume being a major sponsor of the women’s volleyball team of the University of the East where he studied mechanical engineering. The Cherrylume Iron Lady Warriors are now a professional team playing in the Philippine Super Liga.
Ngo was in his third year as a mechanical engineering student at UE when he dropped out at the age of 22 in order to start working. “My father, who retired from his business early, said I had to begin working at that time,” says Ngo, who is the youngest of seven siblings. “I started working on May 1, 1992 as a dealer of GI sheets.”
The family felt a financial crunch when their mother died, and they had to resort to borrowing money to help finance the funeral expenses. Ngo says while they had several properties, they were not liquid at that time.
His father was into trading plywood, but retired from the business early. With liquidity running out, Ngo and his brother Erwin had to earn money on their own and established Mileage Asia Marketing Co. to distribute GI sheets produced by Tower Steel Corp. and later Apo Puyat Steel Corp., PhilSteel Holdings Corp., Rizal Steel and other companies. Ngo says the business has flourished because of diskarte and pakikisama—two Filipino concepts with no exact English translation.
After a few years of distributing and importing GI sheets, they decided to produce roofing materials on their own.
“We distributed a number of local and international brands which became popular in the provinces. But we felt we needed to introduce quality products in the roofing sector, so we took the opportunity to partner with companies from Japan and Australia,” says Ngo.
“We want to offer products that will benefit the people, particularly the CD market. When a Japanese company approached us in 2006 and invited us to become a dealer of Sumo, we grabbed the opportunity,” he says.
Another partner from Australia introduced the best roofing technology, while a company from China exemplified its production capacity at affordable cost. Armed with this technical know-how, Mileage Asia decided to put up manufacturing plants.
The company now employs 100 people in three production sites in Quezon City, Meycauayan and Davao City. Both Sumo and Cherrylume are known for their superior quality. Sumo is popular for roof, wall, mufflers, car body and appliances parts while the mid-priced Cherrylume GI sheet is now preferred because of its aluminum and zinc coating that toughens the roofing material.
“I can attest to our products. Houses with Cherrylume roof can last six to seven years without being painted. After being painted in the seventh year, it can last another 15 years,” says Ngo.
He says to protect the brands, Mileage Asia is selective of its dealers, distributors and hardware stores. “We don’t pick distributors who also sell low-quality products,” says Ngo. “Our price is competitive, but not too low. But quality-wise and longevity-wise, we guarantee that the product will last,” he says.
His three manufacturing plants now produce a total of 5,000 pieces of roofing materials a day. Mileage Asia also imports 5,000 to 6,000 metrics tons of materials a month, which he estimates translate into 100,000 pieces.
The International Organization for Migration, one of the largest groups that were involved in the rehabilitation of Samar and Leyte, tapped Mileage Asia in 2013 to supply roofing materials for homes that were flattened by typhoon Yolanda. “In my estimate, we supplied 60 percent of roofing materials to Tacloban, Samar and Leyte. Our plants in Quezon City and Meycauayan operated 24/7 that time to meet the requirements, and we supplied no less than 100,000 pieces,” he says.
From manufacturing, Ngo is now diversifying into other businesses. He teamed up with broadcast journalist Arnold Clavio to put up Kapihan ni Igan, now a popular restaurant in Pasig City, with an outlet being considered in Makati City soon. He is also a partner in Rich Global Production, an events company that holds beauty pageants. He also plans to put up a consulting company on conference and seminars, a coffee shop at a new hotel along Makati Ave. in Makati City, a medical-aesthetic clinic in Fort Bonifacio and a resort in Antique province.
He also is an investor in a foreign investment fund that helps companies grow. Moreover, Ngo is interested in teaming up with a foreign company to develop solar roofing for solar cars.
Outside work, Ngo is an active member of Rotary Club of Makati-Dasmariñas, where he participates in socio-civic activities. He supports the varsity teams of UE, as he himself was active in sports as a student. He plays golf regularly and finds time to jog around Ayala Heights in Quezon City where his family lives.
Ngo says some of his scholars were able to complete their education and are now working at an airline company and an advertising agency. “I will continue the scholarship program as long as I can,” he says.
UE awarded Ngo as one of its most outstanding alumni in 2013, although he did not complete his mechanical engineering course at the university. Ngo was the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony of Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 2016 when he was conferred Doctor of Humanities (honoris causa).
Looking back, Ngo says while he found success as a businessman without graduating from college, he still considers education as a key to success. “I believe that it still counts if you have knowledge and education,” the low-key businessman says.
Ngo, a street-smart entrepreneur, says his business strategy is a combination of diskarte and pakikisama, sprinkled with luck. “You should know how to play your cards. You should learn how to play, how to lose and how to win,” he says.
“Business is also like life, and its success depends on how you manage it. We need to find contentment. In being contented, you will be surprised once opportunity comes to you. I am now contented and good health is what I pray for,” says Ngo.