Rey Carpio arrives for the interview well-dressed, and well-groomed. He has expensive cars waiting at the garage. He is the leader of a rapidly growing multimillion-peso real estate company.
This is a far cry from the barrio lad whose dream of a better life led him to take his chances in the gritty streets of Manila. “My parents were farmers. When I was still in grade school, I had to wake up before dawn to tend to our carabaos. After school I took care of our pigs, and learned how to operate a rice mill. Despite that, I managed to graduate with honors at our elementary school in Kalinga.”
In high school, Rey was a small fish in the big pond that was the Cagayan National High School. His classmates teased him about ethnicity; his English teacher traumatized him in class to the point that he was unable to face an audience without fears. “It took me two years to adjust. My bad experience with public speaking had a good effect, though—it made me take engineering. I thought that would exempt me from communication.” He realized soon enough that he still needed to sharpen his communication skills, and he eventually enrolled in a speech class under Wilma Cruz-Tapalla—and ended up as president of the local Toastmasters Club.
It was this same hunger to learn that brought him to Manila in the ‘80s. “My father discouraged me from going. ‘I’ll just buy you a carabao!’ he said.” The young Rey left the province with only the bus fare in his pocket.
When he got to Manila, he survived through sheer wit and determination. “My aunt took me in, and I set up my sleeping quarters under their stairs.
She had a parlor, and I learned how to do manicures. There was also a dressmaking shop, so I learned how to sew. I worked in the public market, carting off refuse. Since I had friends there, I asked for items they were going to throw away, such as meat bones or shrimp heads. I made a meal out of those, which I shared with the beauticians at the parlor.”
“My aunt’s husband had an upholstery store. I would apprentice there and help with the deliveries, too,” he recalls.
He studied for his engineering degree at the Technological Institute of the Philippines, taking odd jobs for his sustenance. “Among the jobs I held were gasoline boy, vulcanizing shop assistant, and a messenger for a law firm. One of the duties I had as a messenger was to represent the company in court, to move for a rescheduling of a hearing. My aunt would lend me a coat, and I would recite memorized lines to the judge!”
All the hard work paid off. Rey graduated one semester early, and took the board exams immediately afterwards. “I took another exam, for Geodetics Engineers,” he smiles. He passed both licensure exams that same year, and then came another challenge – job hunting. “That year I graduated, 1983 was a turbulent time in Philippine politics and it affected the job market. Everybody was looking for employees with work experience.”
Out of the 150 recipients of his resume, 5 responded, 3 asked for an interview, and only one hired him.
He spent two years with that company, then worked with his uncle who was in the contracting business. “While I was working on a project in Ayala Alabang, a retiree came up to me and asked if I could build her house as well.” This was the start of a new venture for him. Over time, his Monte Carlo company garnered many clients.
The Asian financial crash of the ‘90s caused his business to go belly up. “Clients were unable to pay. Others paid me in kind, with land titles. My suppliers came running after me, and my checks started to bounce. I had 37 cases filed against me in court,” he shakes his head.
Ever the trouper, though, he convinced his suppliers to back him up on housing projects utilizing the land titles given him. Buyers snapped them up, and soon he and his company, now named Grand Monaco, was back in the game.
Rey Carpio is on top of his game. His property development company now one of the more recognizable in its class, what with his own face, and that of his son’s, adorning billboards at major thoroughfares. “I was initially looking for a celebrity endorser. But they cost so much that I decided to have my photographs there instead.” This plan proved to be brilliant, because his own likeness on the promotional materials showed the public that his company had nothing to hide. “It gives them more reassurance,” he notes.
He believes in giving back. He is currently active with the Rotary Club, and is supporting many CSR causes, such as the Precious Heritage Foundation. “We build relationships with the communities where our projects are located. Somehow, in my own little way, I am spreading the good news in our nation. One day, when I face our Creator, He will open the transcript of my life, and I can tell Him I had done my homework.”
To see all of Grand Monaco's projects, click here.