Philippine tycoons

Billionaire sneaker guy James Go: The perks of being chair emeritus

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Billionaire sneaker guy James Go: The perks of being chair emeritus

SNEAKER GUY. Filipino billionaire JG Summit Holdings chairman James Go (2nd from left) gives guest of honor President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (3rd from right) a tour of JG Summit Olefins Corporation’s (JGSOC) newly expanded petrochemicals complex with JG Summit Holdings CEO Lance Gokongwei (extreme left), Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual (4th from right), and other JGSOC officers, on January 19, 2024, in Batangas City.

Presidential Communications Office

Filipino billionaire James Go, chair emeritus of several Gokongwei Group companies, is definitely a sneaker guy – even in black-tie events.

There are a few perks to being the chair emeritus of an organization. Since the position is mainly honorary and is awarded due to the person’s worthy contributions, there’s minimal work involved because it’s really the president/CEO who calls the shots. 

The chair emeritus normally provides guidance, advice, and mentors the younger generation of leaders. He or she also gets invited to important ceremonial gatherings, especially when VIPs are expected to attend. 

For Filipino billionaire James Go, 83, chair emeritus of the Gokongwei Group’s Universal Robina Corporation, Robinsons Land Corporation, and JG Summit Olefins Corporation, there’s one perk in being chair emeritus that he treasures: he gets to wear comfortable rubber shoes, regardless of whether it’s a formal or informal event. 

During the inauguration of JG Summit Olefins Corporation’s expanded petrochemical manufacturing facility in Batangas City last January 19, Go was wearing sneakers in the event, the lone VIP to do so among the most prominent VIPs, as this photo (below) from JG Summit president/CEO Lance Gokongwei’s Facebook shows. 

SNEAKER GUY. JG Summit Olefins Corporation chair emeritus James Go (2nd from left) with JG Summit Olefins president/CEO Arnel Santos (extreme left), President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (center), Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual (2nd from right), and JG Summit Holdings president/CEO Lance Gokongwei (extreme right) at the inauguration of the JG Summit Olefins Corporation’s expanded petrochemical manufacturing facility in Batangas City on January 19, 2024. Screenshot/Lance Gokongwei FB

A week later, or on January 26, in the “Setting of the Cornerstone” evening event for the Gokongweis’ ambitious “The Jewel” property project on EDSA corner Pioneer Street in Mandaluyong City, where the dress code was “black tie” and where most guests were wearing formal, Go was wearing a Barong Tagalog, accented by red, blue, and yellow embroidery, along with his favorite footwear – sneakers, as this photo taken by Rappler shows. The other VIPs in the event would probably have loved to be in Go’s shoes!

LAUNCH. Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) officials led by its CEO Lance Gokongwei (center), RLC senior vice president Jericho Go (extreme left), Mandaluyong City Mayor Ben Abalos (2nd from left), Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos (2nd from right), and RLC chairman emeritus James Go (extreme right) lead the ceremonial toast for the cornerstone laying of ‘The Jewel’ office towers and Forum Robinsons mall along EDSA on January 26, 2024. Photo by Isagani de Castro, Jr./Rappler

Gokongweis dream big, launch ‘The Jewel’ to match Marina Bay Sands, Twin Towers, Taipei 101

Gokongweis dream big, launch ‘The Jewel’ to match Marina Bay Sands, Twin Towers, Taipei 101

His sneakers aren’t even the more popular ones in the Philippines like Nike, Adidas, Converse, or Under Armour. 

His favorite appears to be the lesser-known and less expensive US brand, New Balance, which is based in Boston, Massachusetts. Affinity could be the reason for this. Go is one of the few Filipinos with a Bachelor of Science and masters degree in chemical engineering from one of the best technological schools in the world, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT, which reportedly has an acceptance rate of only 4%. 

The New Balance logo is also apparent in this JG Summit photo of the launch of the Gokongwei Group’s master brand on August 24, 2022, which also marked the 30th anniversary of the Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF), one of the biggest donors to scholarships in the country.

Go was wearing neon green and black New Balance sneakers. Note that retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban was also in comfortable sneakers. 

NEON GREEN. James Go (third from right) chairman of JG Summit Holdings, wears neon green and black New Balance sneakers at the launch of the Gokongwei Group’s master brand on August 24, 2022. Others on the photo are Antonio Go, Gokongwei Brothers Foundation trustee (extreme left); former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban (2nd from left), JG Summit Holdings independent director; Robina Gokongwei Pe, president and CEO of Robinsons Retail Holdings (third from left); Lance Y. Gokongwei (center), president and CEO of JG Summit Holdings; Wilfrido Sanchez (second from right), Gokongwei Brothers Foundation trustee; and Renato de Guzman (extreme right), JG Summit Holdings independent director. Gokongwei Group

Go’s brother, the late industrialist John Gokongwei Jr., also liked sneakers and sometimes wore rubber shoes in ceremonial events with VIPs, as this old photo (below) during the launch of the John Gokongwei Innovation Center at the DLSU Laguna Campus back in January 2019 shows. 

BROTHERS ALIKE. Brothers James Go (fifth from left), Gokongwei Brothers Foundation (GBF) president, and the late John Gokongwei Jr. (fourth from right) wear sneakers at the launch of the Gokongwei Innovation Center at the De La Salle University Laguna Campus in January 2019. Also in photo are Gerardo Amisola (extreme left), DLSU trustee; Cesar Purisima (2nd from left), DLSU trustee; Lisa Gokongwei-Cheng (3rd from left), GBF General Manager; Tony Go (4th from left), GBF trustee; Elizabeth Gokongwei (5th from right), GBF trustee; Br. Bernard Oca FSC (3rd from right), DLSU chancellor; Lance Gokongwei (2nd from right), GBF secretary; and Robert Coyiuto Jr. (extreme right). JG Summit

In the Philippines, shoes are more associated with another rich Filipino family, the Sys, not the Gokongweis. The late patriarch Henry Sy ventured into the business of selling surplus boots after World War 2, and opened the first Shoe Mart store in 1958 along Carriedo in Manila. The Sys and the Gokongweis, however, compete strongly in the retail business of shoes and other clothing via their malls.

Aside from petrochemicals and real estate, the JG Summit conglomerate, one of the Philippines’ biggest employers with over 70,000 personnel combined, also includes Cebu Air Incorporated, Luzon International Premier Airport Development, among others. It also has minority stakes in power distributor Manila Electric Company and telecommunications giant PLDT Incorporated. –


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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.