The rice merchant cometh

Aug 24, 2020
Francine M. Marquez

One thing this seemingly perpetual quarantine has given people — besides the jolting thought that anyone can get fatally ill with COVID-19 — is the access to taste any cuisine. Thanks to delivery apps and its derring-do riders, we can eat our comfort chow any day we want.

But despite the food delivery overload, there will always be that continued hankering for the omnipresent Pinoy staple: Rice.

The value of this miniscule but hearty grain is something that Jose Maria Fernando Malveda knows very well, having been raised in a household where trading rice is the main business.

This article was initially published on the Daily Tribune website (https://tribune.net.ph/index.php/2020/08/23/the-rice-merchant-cometh/)

One thing this seemingly perpetual quarantine has given people — besides the jolting thought that anyone can get fatally ill with COVID-19 — is the access to taste any cuisine. Thanks to delivery apps and its derring-do riders, we can eat our comfort chow any day we want.

But despite the food delivery overload, there will always be that continued hankering for the omnipresent Pinoy staple: Rice.

The value of this miniscule but hearty grain is something that Jose Maria Fernando Malveda knows very well, having been raised in a household where trading rice is the main business.

Jofer, as friends and family call him, is the youngest of three children of Fernando “Erdie” Malveda, corporate president and chair of the board of Leads Agricultural Products Corporation. Jofer is the designated president of Leads International Corporation and is poised to take over Malveda Holdings in February 2021, save for Leads Environmental Health, where his sister Catherine Malveda-Baisas is the EVP. The eldest, Fernando Jr., passed away in 1995 due to an accident.

A millennial son to a baby boomer dad, Jofer recalls that as a kid still in his short pants, his father Erdie would bring him on road trips to visit farmers all the way to their rural homes and fields.

And even if he seemed more interested in toys he would also tag along, and the memory of his dad’s interactions with the farmers, and the pleasantness that the farmers would give back to the young Jopher, left an effect on him. He confessed that it probably made him more sociable and interested not just in farm life but also in what exactly his father does.

In 1997, his father founded the flagship company Leads Agri, which brought affordable farming technologies and innovative agri-business strategies to farmers across the country. Beyond business, it was also built as an advocacy to help Filipino farmers thrive.

With the challenges and complications of working for a family business, which Jofer is well aware of, the easygoing but sharp businessman gives this advice to budding executives who are being groomed to take over the family business:

Jofer, who was a guest in Daily Tribune’s “Spotlight” just a few days before the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus crisis as a pandemic and before the government declared a lockdown, surmised:

“Just look at it on a long-term basis. At the end of the day, the business is yours. As they say, if you commit a mistake, the family financially suffers. But if you work for somebody else, it’s their money, not yours. So working for one’s family business has its good and bad side. You learn from your dad, you learn from your family. I think it’s workable so long as you have your boundaries.

I’m not saying it’s easy — everywhere you go is hard, just as in any business. I know that in a few years, the business will be mine so why not learn it now.”

“Just like any family business, the succession should be clear-cut. We don’t interfere in each other’s business unless we ask each other for help.”

Meanwhile, Jofer’s side of the family’s agribusiness empire are envisioned to provide the supply chain for growers and farmers’ needs.

Leads Agri Chemicals mainly supplies fertilizers; Leads Agri Ventures is currently applying for secondary license for lending as it aims to provide zero interest loans for farmers; Leads Tech is all about machines like tractors, harvesters and driers.

But besides these enterprises, there’s an obvious pride in Jofer when he especially talks about Leads International, which carries Hiraya brown rice and a variety of interesting germinated rice.

“The thing is, people thought we were crazy when we started our direct selling approach because they say it’s actually cheap in the market. But when you add value to it, such as the Stabilized Brown Rice Technology we’re using through the Department of Science and Technology then you’d see the difference,” Jofer noted.

Through this technology, Hiraya Brown Rice is indeed a premium product that is the flagship product of Leads International. The company has a plant in Calauan, Laguna, which makes it a traceable source (compared to other brands that are a mix of various sources). Health buffs will appreciate Hiraya Brown Rice’s whole-grain, locally grown, low pesticide residue (they only use safe, green labeled chemicals), gluten-free, nutrient-dense and high in fiber benefits.

Hiraya’s Germinated Brown Rice, on the other hand, is a collaboration with Leads International’s Vietnamese partners. It puts an interesting and even more flavorful twist to healthy brown rice with Plain, Turmeric and Black Garlic variants.

True to their core, the Malvedas have always gone beyond the business for mere profits. Hiraya Brown Rice is also pivotal in the family’s vision of “bridging the farmer to the opportunities of tomorrow.” Perhaps, even the opportunities that are slowly but surely presenting itself during these dark pandemic times.

Visionary advice
To aspiring entrepreneurs, he recommends, “If you want to get into something profitable and you also get to help Filipino farmers
wag tayo sa call centers, minsan balik tayo sa probinsya natin marami namang pagkakakitaan. Siguro, it’s just about being properly informed and read about these things. Siguro minsan mababasa tayo ng pawis sa init ng araw pero ganun talaga.”

There’s something remarkably perceptive when Jofer talked about returning to one’s roots and appreciating the good earth. “Learn how to cultivate fresh and healthy produce that would always be an essential to families, cities and countries,” he shared. Responding to food security and empowering farmers are no-fail thrusts in growing business.

The business model itself relies on direct selling — the rising mode of survival nowadays.

Who knew that months after he shared his insights, the pragmatic business leader would be giving sage advice in the midst of a shocked business community caught unaware of the biggest health and financial crisis to hit the planet?

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