Only a few people know that the largest bus transport company in the Philippines is based in Bacolod City and it started with one jeepney owned by Ricardo Yanson Sr. and his wife Olivia.
“My husband is a BS Fisheries graduate from the University of the Philippines. We got married in 1959. He is from Valladolid town [in Negros Occidental],” says Olivia, who graduated from Siliman University in Dumaguete City with a Nursing degree.
Ricardo had a 14-seater jeepney that plied the routes in Bacolod City and nearby towns in 1968. “My husband had one unit of Ceres jeepney before we got married,” Olivia, the 85-year-old co-founder of Vallacar Transit Inc., recalls.
Ricardo was fond of experimenting with motor vehicles and had a penchant for automotive body works. He tried his hands and skills in assembling more jeepneys while Olivia managed the warehouse and served as the collector of the daily “boundaries” from their drivers.
“We were poor. I had to quit my nursing job at a rural health unit in Dumaguete. I had to help my husband run the small business as ‘bodegera’ by day and ‘collector’ at night,” she says.
“Vallacar was originally owned by the family of my husband. Vallacar grew because Ricardo was active then, buying second-hand trucks from Manila and rebuilding them as transport units for VTI,” says Olivia.
Olivia says her brother Rodolfo Terillo Villaflores helped them in the early days.
“We started our small business by buying additional jeepneys, then it grew and grew. I helped my husband manage the spare parts. I collected money every day from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. from the drivers. They went out with the jeepneys in the morning and I collected the rentals at night. I remember we had 35 jeepney units,” says Olivia.
“We also ventured into trucking business...for the transport of sugarcane. In the early 70s, we had big trucks for sugarcane. At that time, Vallacar Transit Inc. needed new management,” she says. VTI became the flagship of the husband and wife tandem.
Olivia was efficient in managing the family’s finances. Whatever they saved was used to expand the business, especially in acquiring more vehicles.
“This is what I did just to save money for the business operation. There were times we ran short of money to buy milk for our children. So we had to strive harder,” Olivia says. “We invested blood and sweat to expand our business.”
In the 1970s, the Yanson couple diversified into a small bus line which plied the Bacolod City-Villadolid-La Carlota route or Val-La-Car for short. It was named Ceres Liner, after Ricardo’s younger sister.
By the 1980s, Ceres Liner was providing transport services to the whole Negros Island. With the expansion in mind and driven to succeed, the Yanson couple bought out rival companies and deployed more buses to other provinces and islands such as Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga City.
The expansion continued in the following decades, as Ceres Liner launched the Iloilo City-Metro Manila route through the Western Nautical Highway. The Yanson Group then established Ceres Transport to serve Metro Manila and the rest of Luzon, thereby completing its national expansion.
To support her husband, Olivia went beyond the capabilities of a nurse and performed functions outside her core skills like being assigned to manage the finances and ticketing function.
As the group grew, Olivia handled the administrative operations of the company, including the management of the group’s thousands of employees. She put in place systems to professionalize the operations and handled personnel services where she excelled the most in motivating and drawing out the best among their workers and making them vital partners in the growth of VTI.
Thanks to Olivia’s effective handling of personnel, many of them who are now past the retirement age, decided to still stay and help the company.
“I treat my employees as if they are part of our family. Sometimes I help them send their children to school and help them when they are sick. I had to help them in their healthcare and education too,” Olivia says.
This is the “mom and pop” story of the Yanson Group of Bus Companies. VTI, a company under the group, is now touted as the largest bus transport operator in the Philippines.
VTI was already earning a fortune annually when Ricardo died in 2015. Olivia, with the help of her six children, had to step up to run the family business.
At 85, Olivia reminds her children about the sacrifice and the hardship that they went through as a family before the success of their business split them into warring functions.
“You, my dear children, are the living stewards of the family business for the next generations,” she says.
After 52 years, VTI stands as the largest bus conglomerate in the Philippines transporting goods and about 700,000 passengers every day. It is the company behind Ceres Liner, Ceres Tours, Sugbo Transit and Sugbo Tours.
VTI has 15 terminals across Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. The Yanson Group, the parent company, operates 4,800 bus units run by 18,000 employees.
Aside from VTI, the Yanson Group also includes Rural Transit of Mindanao Inc. (Rural Transit, Rural Tours); Bachelor Express Inc. (Bachelor Express and Bachelor Tours); Southern Star Bus Transit Inc. (Southern Star); Ceres Transport Inc. (Ceres Transport); Gold Star Bus Transit Inc. (Gold Star); and Mindanao Star Bus Transport Inc. (Island City Express and Mindanao Star).
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