For Maria Francesca ‘Mica’ Tan, time is the most important currency. At 26 years old, she has accomplished a lot, having learned the ropes of stock investment and finance in her teens before establishing a private equity firm that acquires and manages companies in the Philippines and eight other countries.
Tan is the co-founder and chief executive of MFT Group, a dynamic private equity company composed of more than 300 professionals who work in 18 cities across nine countries. The firm has offices in Fort Bonifacio, Singapore, Hong Kong and New York.
“We believe that time is our currency,” Tan says in an interview at Manila House, a private membership club in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
MFT Group, the company named after Tan, has invested in and managed 20 ventures, mostly family legacy businesses. “Initially, the other founders and I decided to name it after me. We put more meaning into it. Now, it stands more for Moving Forward Together,” she says.
She became interested in stock market when she was 13. At 17, she and three of her older friends ventured into purchase order financing. With the help of their families, the company grew to become a private equity firm in 2014.
“We started here in BGC [Bonifacio Global City] in 2014, but the founders and I started working almost eight years ago. We bonded as a group. We started financing together, and it evolved into private equity. MFT now is a private equity group that buys into, invests in or co-manages mostly family legacy businesses,” she says.
MFT Group’s vision is to establish presence and profitable business models in 100 business areas worldwide by 2037.
As the CEO, Tan is the youngest in the boardroom. She does not mind being tagged as a millennial, although she is quick to add that she has learned a lot from her parents, mentors, five siblings, friends and industry peers.
“I think that millennials have been highlighted too much,” Tan says. “I would like to speak more about family businesses as a whole, which has three types of people from three generations—Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.”
MFT serves as a bridge among the three generations who run family legacy businesses. Her brother, Eric Tan is MFT’s chief operations officer. Her father is a cancer specialist, while her mother is into jewelry business.
Tan finished high school in Poveda and was admitted to Fordham University in New York. She, however, decided to forego her studies, because time is important. “After high school, the offices of my mentors became my college. I was supposed to take up Finance in Fordham University but I decided not to. Instead of New York being my campus, it was the world that became my campus. I reached out to different industry leaders and that’s how MFT came about. College to me is ongoing,” she says.
She focuses on expanding family businesses here and abroad. “I love work. I take it with me everyday. I hop to different offices. One day to us seems like two days. We practice that in the office. We have two cut-offs in a week. Monday to Wednesday is one week, and Thursday to Saturday is another week. Somehow, we get to control our perception of time,” she says.
MFT buys into different sectors such as finance, real estate, medical equipment, food and beverage, lifestyle and entertainment. “The private equity can come in to expand the business, to save the business or to take it global. That’s what private equity does. In the local market, I can say we are strategically focused on family legacy businesses. I don’t think that there are others who are. That’s what sets us apart.”
MFT buys into different companies with majority stake and “sometimes influential minority”.
“Then we restructure the corporate blueprint. Our main goal is to ensure that the next generation is prepared to take over. That is our main challenge. We work with the previous generation and the current, and we plant seeds. This will ensure that whatever revenue the previous generation made, the next generation will surpass it,” she says.
MFT has two divisions. The first is the shared services division that covers finance, marketing, legal and operations. Its second unit is the Tac-Ops which stands for tactical opportunities. The team, composed of different senior advisors or consultants, helps companies explore growth opportunities, including going global.
Among the strategic investments of MFT Group are Asian Invest Management Ltd. HK, an asset management company based in Hong Kong; hospital equipment supplier Meihao Corp.; Mondial Medical Technologies; MR Angel Credit Corp.; Trade Pro; Salad Stop Spain SL; La Lola Churreria; Tzun An Sek Corp.; Mimi & Bros.; California-based 2Puffs Distribution LLC; Upstart; FlySpaces; MFT Properties; MFT Entertainment; Accentik Inc.; Tambunting Pawnshop Online; and EM RAC Petro Corp.
It has operations in the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, the United States and Spain.
MFT helped Singaporean company Salad Stop to expand to Spain and Philippines-based La Lola Churreria to have presence in Vietnam. Tan, a pescetarian, advocates healthy food.
Tan says the MFT Group grew its assets portfolio to about P3.2 billion as of June this year. “Compared to last year, we grew it by about 47 percent. In terms of revenue, we outperformed 2017 by 57 percent,” she says.
Tan says MFT Group is “approached everyday by different companies of all sizes.”
“We have dealt with hundred-year-old companies, 40-year-old companies, 20-year-old companies. The challenges are very similar. We understand the dynamics of the boardroom. The son and the father arguing, or the mom and the dad arguing are things we are used to. And this helps us a lot. Because we have gone through what they are going through,” she says.
MFT Group comes in to help these family businesses grow.
“For many centuries, family businesses really are the backbone of economies. We believe that what we do is needed especially in the Philippines, where a lot of legacy businesses are trying to grow,” she says.