Henry Gozon’s near-death experience

Felipe L. Gozon became Henry when he had a near-death experience as a naughty boy of seven.  Ever the risk taker, he doved into the Malabon river, swam backwards, hit his head onto the underside of a salambao, and bled profusely.  His hair had to be shaved so his friends could apply medicine and plaster.  He looked like “Henry” the cartoon character.  From that time on, Felipe’s nickname became Henry.

In 1975, Henry Gozon, now a dapper lawyer, witnessed a near-death experience of a corporate type.

Bob Stewart offered 30 percent of his money-losing RBS, the forerunner of GMA Network, to Henry Gozon, the American GI-turned-entrepreneur’s corporate lawyer.    Having just bought a house in Urdaneta, Henry had little savings to seize the offer.  He offered 20 percent instead to his brother-in-law, Menardo “Nards” Jimenez (who is married to Henry’s sister, Kay), and kept just 10 percent for himself.  Two years earlier, Bob Stewart and his wife, Loring, had offered a separate 30 percent to Gilberto “Bibit” Duavit, a personally friend of the Gozon family who happened to be also one of President Ferdinand Marcos’ presidential assistants.  As the Stewarts’s company lawyer, Gozon drafted the deed of assignment of the 30 percent assigned to Duavit.  It was no big deal.  At that time, RBS was losing money and thus was below book value.  The 30 percent had a nominal value of P1 but is an immense fortune today.

The three, Duavit, Jimenez, and Gozon then became majority owners of RBS (Channel 7). Gozon was elected chairman, Loring Stewart remained president, and Nards Jimenez, an accountant, became vice president for finance and treasurer. Former Manila Chronicle editor and ABS-CBN news editor Rod Reyes was appointed executive vice president and general manager.

At the helm, Rod Reyes fired remnants of the old management and recruited new blood, from ABS-CBN, which was padlocked by martial law, including Freddie Garcia, Tony Carangdang, Januario Jison, Freddie Infante, Graciano Gozun, Lito Balquiedra, Rolly Cruz, Ben Yunque, Jess de Leon, and Tony Seva.

RBS became GMA Radio Television Arts to emphasize its target market, Greater Manila, and adopted the slogan “Where You Belong”, probably as a come-on to the idled alumni of ABS-CBN.  In five months, GMA improved its standing, from No. 5 to No. 3.

Unfortunately, Rod Reyes quit abruptly.  Nards Jimenez took over as president, Loring Stewart became treasurer, and Gozon remained chair. They borrowed P8 million from PCIBank to buy a telecine machine, enabling GMA to broadcast in color, pay accounts payables, and acquire new canned programs that became instant hits.  Like Rich man, Poor Man, Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider, Captain and the Kings, 5th Avenue, CHIPs, The Best Sellers, Three’s Company, Knots Landing, and The Love Boat.

From 1975 to 2000 GMA consistently made money which was ploughed back into the station.  Paid-in capital was raised, from P25 million in 1976 to P2 billion by the 1980s.

In 1983, GMA showed its independent streak.  It gave full-time coverage to the assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. GMA also introduced the plain housewife and widow Cory Aquino in her first tv appearance.  GMA also broke the news of Cory’s challenging Marcos for the snap polls of February 1986.   The People Power installed Cory as president.  She gave the exiled Geny Lopez back his family’s businesses—ABS-CBN, Meralco, PCIB, and First Philippine Holdings, virtually for free. In six months, Geny took back many of GMA’s talents (the ex-ABS-CBN men) and made ABS-CBN No. 1.

GMA would remain in the doldrums, as a poor No. 2 to ABS-CBN, for the next 17 years.

In 2000, Gozon finally became unhappy with GMA7 playing second fiddle. He and BIbit Duavit engineered a coup of sorts.  The GMA board elected Gozon chairman, president and CEO, Bibit’s son Gilberto “Jimmy” R. Duavit, EVP and COO. “We were able to give the company a fresh start,” Gozon now relates with a touch of understatement.

The sage of GMA’s corporate ups and downs is narrated in blow by blow detail in Henry Gozon’s well-written autobiography,“Felipe L. Gozon: How GMA Network became No.1”, which is being launched Monday (Dec. 8) in Makati with top officials of the land and the most prominent names in society in attendance.

Written simply, without any balderdash and without any hint of braggadocio, the book summons a man’s innate goodness and sincerity, his values of family, love of God, love of family, love of education, the passion to excel in anything one does, the virtues of fairness and justice.

Henry is as much at home with his law books and TV ratings charts, as he is with his wife of 45 years, Tessie (he proposed to her, then 15, while on a scooter ride at Burnham Park), their children (Anna Teresa, 43, a UP law valedictorian and Harvard Law; Felipe Jr. or Philip, 36, also a Harvard lawyer; and Maritess, 35, a doctor), and grandchildren (with whom he spends his happiest moments).

Henry has been a topnotch aviation, tax and corporate lawyer.  It is in catapulting GMA Network, from being the cellar dweller and near death financially,  into what became—and still is—the Philippines’ leading TV station that he will be best remembered.

His autobiography devotes about 50 of the book’s 274 pages to GMA, how he got into what then was RBS to GMA Radio Television Arts, and to now GMA Network, Inc., the Kapuso network, the most profitable, most credible and largest (in audience share and ratings) broadcast company.

As CEO of GMA  Network from 2000 to today, Henry has brought in cumulative profits of  more than P22 billion to the company, making GMA one of the fastest-growing and hugely profitable listed companies.  

How did Henry do it?  Read the book.

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