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Even before the birdie, bogey, par, and backswing became buzzwords for many Filipinos, Vicente Santos was already doing what he does best—creating and developing some of the best golf courses in the country today.
Santos is the other half in the Robles-Santos partnership which propelled Sta. Lucia Land Inc. to success over the past decades. If you must, he is one of the driving forces who helped the company achieve a “hole-in-one” win in the Philippine real estate scene.
Santos is the first cousin of Exequiel Robles, currently the president of Sta. Lucia Land whose vision and determination catapulted what was once a small real estate company to becoming one of the major players in the industry.
“It was our parents who started the Buen-Mar Realty—a small scale property developer founded in 1972 by Excy’s father, Buenaventura Robles and my mom Marcela Robles-Santos, together with their respective spouses Dominga Dumandan-Robles and Felipe G. Santos,” Santos said.
“Me and Excy were the eldest so we acted as representatives for both the Robles and Santos side when our parents unexpectedly passed away. I was around 14 years old when we were left behind to handle such a daunting task of running the family business,” added Santos, who serves as chair of Sta. Lucia Land.
Learning the ropes
Initially, it was Santos’ father who helped Robles run the business as he was still young and his heart wasn’t really into it yet, given his young age.
His father, who was a lawyer, helped Robles learn the ropes of the business, much like a guiding hand that gave them that much needed confidence to grow the business.
“So it was really a family affair—everyone was involved. Each one of us was given a task, a duty to fulfill and accomplish,” Santos related. While it was admittedly Robles’ vision that led the company to grow, Santos meanwhile sees himself as the “neutralizer” at Sta. Lucia Land.
The partnership between the two cousins was founded and built on proper coordination and deep cooperation, which Santos said is precisely the reason why the company grew and survived without any threat of breaking up.
“Unlike the other families who would often fight, we do the opposite. Issues cannot be avoided—no relationship is perfect but we try to make sure that at the end of the day, we resolve whatever issues we have,” Santos said.
Growing up, Santos’ father initially had apprehensions that the partnership would not work as there were a number of differences between both parties.
“I told my dad not to worry about us. It helped also that I constantly reminded him that we all grew up together thus we form that special bond that cannot be easily broken. My actual fear then was the third generation and not us,” Santos shared.
“In fact there wasn’t any instance or incident that made me consider breaking away from the group. So the partnership was that good. While it wasn’t perfect, there was mutual respect and this helped us a lot,” he added.
Santos however admitted that there were times in his life when he became a bit unsure if he could take the heat, as he claimed to be “less disciplined and dedicated” compared to Robles.
But things started to change when his father died and he got married. Having a family of his own, according to Santos, made him a better man—one who is responsible and ready to take on any challenge.
“When my cousin saw the change in me, he acknowledged that I was indeed ready for the job and thus, he gave his full confidence in me. And not wanting to crush or destroy that trust, I made sure I would work doubly hard to do my share to help the company achieve its goals,” Santos explained.
Creating a mark
And it must be the same blood that goes through their veins. Like Robles, whose vision is considered by many as a blessing to Sta. Lucia, Santos also showed his capacity to identify which projects would allow them to create a mark.
“My wisdom was born on the day I became a true player in the company. I knew that we all had to hold on together if only to ensure that we will be able to keep our elders’ legacy. Our parents would always remind us that we should really learn to love and care for our company since it’s ours and it’s the only thing that we have,” he shared.
While learning the ropes of the business and absorbing the wisdom that comes with it, Santos tried to find his own strengths as well. “Early on, I was tasked by our president to focus on building communities, meaning I was tasked to handle the homeowners’ association of every Sta. Lucia property. I took this job to heart and consider it my responsibility to build peaceful and fulfilled communities,” Santos said.
But for Santos, his greatest contribution to the company was the introduction of a new concept to the family business that allowed Sta. Lucia to grow even bigger. It was an innovation that very few devlopers dared to venture into at that time—the creation and incorporation of a golf course in a development.
“Golf wasn’t very popular then in the Philippines but I knew that it was something that would pique the interest of buyers and would help drive people to our developments. In real estate, innovation is always the key because this is what will help you survive. You can’t simply settle for what’s available. You need to move out of your comfort zone and create something that would interest the buyers,” Santos explained.
It was this move by Santos that allowed Sta. Lucia to further expand its portfolio. But this would not have been possible without the backing of Robles, whom Santos claimed has always been fair and just in the way he does things.
“He’s always been a kuya to all of us and he makes it a point to always be fair. The golf developments would not have taken off if not for his complete support and trust. While Sta. Lucia is known to many as a partner of Filipinos in fulfilling dreams, we are also trendsetters as we make it a point to assess our portfolio and from there, try to bring to the table something that’s fresh and new,” he said.
When Sta. Lucia started developing golf courses, some doubted the wisdom behind this strategy. But as fate would have it, golf courses became one of Sta. Lucia’s edge over other developers.
“We realized early on that to succeed, one must always be willing to compromise and learn how to respect the other person’s ideas. If Excy did not respect or gave importance to my suggestion to diversify and create golf courses, then all these would not have come to fruition,” Santos explained.
“Growing up, I was considered as the black sheep. But Excy saw beyond how other people see. He allowed me to thrive and gave me the chance to create my own legacy in the company through the golf courses that we’ve created,” he added.
This is why to this day, Santos said he continues to trust respect Robles’ vision for the company.
As the industry trendsetter, Sta. Lucia has grown beyond the mastery of residential developments. It has managed to set itself apart by becoming the country’s leading golf and country club developer.
The first golf course venture was the highly successful Royale Tagaytay Golf & Residential Estates in Tagaytay City. “This was soon followed by the company’s first major world-class golf and country club development—The Orchard Golf & Country Club in Dasmariñas, Cavite. This was where the company hosted one of the most prestigious international golf tournaments the country has ever seen, the 1995 Johnnie Walker Championship Tournament,” Santos recalled.
“It was also the same year when golf started to gain a foothold in the market following the arrival of a roster of golf legends such as Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Ernie Ells and Colin Montgomery,” he further said.
The creation of more golf courses soon followed, which included the Eagle Ridge Golf & Country Club, the first and the largest golf development of its kind in Asia. Boasting 72-hole championship golf courses in one club, it further cemented its prestige when it commissioned three golf masters, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Isao Aoki, plus foremost golf architect Andy Dye to design the courses.
It is also the only club of its kind to have three clubhouses to cater to the needs of its members, their families and guests.
“Seeing the commendable response from the people we proceeded to develop more world-class golf and country clubs around the country which included Ata Vista Golf & Country Club in Cebu; Rancho Palos Verdes Golf & Country Club in Davao City; and Caliraya Spring Golf & Country Club in Cavinti, Laguna, Lakewood in Cabanatuan City. The Summit Point Golf & Country Club in Lipa, Batangas, which showcases the ‘World 18’ concept, in which 18 of the world’s best hole will be simulated within the said golf course,” Santos explained.
The number of golf courses and country clubs under its portfolio only showed that Sta. Lucia Land has gone a really long way. It is thus no longer surprising to hear that it managed to survive more than four decades of operations despite the many challenges and economies cycles it has experienced.
“I am proud of what we have achieved, of where we managed to bring the company. What was once just an aspiration for our parents has now become a reality. That’s why to this day, we continue to work hard if only to fulfill a promise and to preserve a legacy,” Santos concluded.