The University of Baguio bestowed Doctor of Humanities Honoris Causa on Palawan Pawnshop-Palawan Express Pera Padala president and chief executive Bobby Castro for his achievements in the fields of entrepreneurship and community service.
“To be honored, by an esteemed university in the Cordilleras for the work I have been doing in the field of entrepreneurship and community service gives me, my family, my company and my province of Palawan so much pride. This is an affirmation that our company’s vision, mission and values in providing financial services to the underprivileged sectors of our society is much appreciated,” said Castro who has led PPS-PEPP over the past 36 years.
“This is also a recognition of the work we do in trying to help uplift the lives of our people, through our support for education, sports development and environmental protection,” he said.
Castro transformed PPS-PEPP into the leading brand in the pawnshop and domestic money remittance industry with 3,554 company-owned branches and outlets, and 6,560 partner locations. The Palawan brand is present in all regions, all provinces, all cities and 1,177 out of 1,488 towns in the Philippines. The group employs 14,542 direct and 554 indirect associates, making it one of the biggest employers in the country.
Castro said the honorary degree is an affirmation of the company’s vision, mission and values in providing financial services to the underprivileged sectors of society. “This is also a recognition of the work we do in trying to help uplift the lives of our people, through our support for education, sports development and environmental protection," he said in a message to the 335 graduates of Batch 2021, university officials led by president, Engr. Javier Herminio Bautista, former president Dr. Reynaldo C. Bautista Sr. and former Baguio City Mayor Peter Rey Bautista.
Castro and his wife Angelita purchased Palawan Pawnshop in 1985 for P40,000. Before this, he ventured into small businesses such as selling wild Palawan honey, furniture making, selling baby diapers and toddler needs.
"These small businesses taught me valuable lessons, steeled me in facing difficulties and setbacks, and challenged me to achieve higher goals," said Castro who was involved in promoting social justice as a student of the University of the Philippines in the 1970s. He finished high school at the Philippine Science High School in Diliman where he met his wife.
Castro eventually got a degree in Business Education at the Palawan Teacher’s College (now Palawan State University), while working and being a father.
"I was not born into an entrepreneurial family,” said Castro, whose father served in the Philippine Air Force and his mother was a pharmacist who became a full time homemaker. “She died at a very young age of 41, leaving my dad with eight children of whom I was the eldest," he said.
Castro admitted that when he and his wife moved to Puerto Princesa and purchased Palawan Pawnshop, he had minimal experience in business and little knowledge in appraising jewelry. "What we had plenty of, was a burning passion to succeed which prodded us to pour all our energies into growing the business," he said.
Today, PPS-PEPP serves millions of Filipinos in all parts of the world. "We have partnered with 53 international remittance companies, a move that has enabled us to release funds sent by our OFWs and migrant Filipinos in many parts of the world to their families even in the remotest areas of the Philippines. I-Palawan mo na has now transformed into a verb which means to send money using Palawan Express," he said.
Castro shared valuable lessons with the students on how this happened. "First, set high but achievable goals," he said. "At the outset, we did not dream of becoming number one. To have done that would have been absurd and foolish. But we did have a goal – which was not to lose money. We had invested all our life’s possessions in the business and therefore it had to succeed. There couldn’t be any room for failure and so we worked hard."
The couple's goal was to put up branches in Palawan but as industry competition emerged, they decided to continue expansion in Negros Occidental, Iloilo, Panay and then Cebu, the headquarters of their biggest competitors. "Looking back, it was at this point that we started believing that we could become a worthy contender in the pawnshop and remittance industry," said Castro.
"Second, seek help but pay back all your obligations," said Castro, who recounted seeking help from relatives and friends to raise capital to operate the business. "But remember, a loan is a contract, a responsibility that one needs to pay up, kahit sa magulang o sa mga kamag anak. We at PPS have never reneged on all our financial obligations. That is why we are trusted by banks and our other creditors," he said.
Castro also cited the importance of good values in running a business. "Be honest and above board. Be fair and never take advantage of your fellowmen," he said.
He said PPS-PEPP takes good care of its employees. "Companies should know the value of their employees, or as we refer to them in PPS, our associates. Our success may be attributed to the total efforts of our workforce. For 36 years, we have developed a unique company culture that binds us tightly and propels us to continue moving forward. This strong company culture powers us to achieve more," he said.
"Fifth, respect your competitors," Castro said, adding that while PPS-PEPP exerts all efforts to outsell and outperform competitors, the Palawan Group has always treated them with respect, never badmouthing them, nor casting them in a bad light.
Castro said PPS-PEPP embraces new technology and adapts to the changing environment. "Technology helped us to expand at a very fast pace. How could we have managed this large business from our head office in provincial Puerto Princesa, if not for the early computerization of our operations? The move to computerize enabled us to grow by leaps and bounds," he said.
"The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated why we needed to drastically change the way we did things. We needed to adapt. We needed to be creative to survive and to flourish," said Castro.
He said PPS-PEPP gives back to the community part of its blessings. The group helped 357 scholars to graduate and currently assists 428 enrolled at Palawan State University and Western Philippines University. "I am very happy to announce that starting school year 2021-2022, our Palawan Pawnshop-Palawan Express Pera Padala Scholarship Program will include the selection of qualified scholars from the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras, for enrolment in the University of Baguio," he said.
PPS-PEPP also sponsors sports activities and leads the distribution of a million hard wood seedlings nationwide.
Castro said another important lesson is the value of the family. “The support of the family is vital for success in business. I am thankful to have an extremely wonderful family," he said."My wife and all our five children occupy strategic positions in our company. We work hard, we debate hard. I am particularly proud of our 5 children, what they have accomplished individually, what they contribute to the business, and the priceless gifts that they have given us -our 11 healthy and active grandchildren," he said.
He said that despite one's success, it is important to remain simple and humble, with feet planted firmly on the ground. "Humility is acknowledging that not one person, not even one family could have built our business to where it is now. It is acknowledging that all our associates have contributed in putting one brick at a time to build our large business. Constantly bearing this in mind, we are always grateful and appreciative of everyone’s support," he said.
"Tenth, never stop growing," said Castro, who emphasized the importance of technology and innovation in improving and expanding the business.
"Innovate. Introduce new products. Revolutionize the traditional products. Do not be afraid of the future," he said.