MANILA, MAY 29, 2008
(STAR) By Mary Ann Ll. Reyes - The Green Cross and Zonrox brands are now undisputably among the biggest households names in the country, but their successes didn’t come easy.

Perseverance, hardwork, a lot of guts, and resiliency amidst adversity paved the way for these two brands to become the market leaders in their respective categories.

Their story however began many decades back.

In the 1920s, Co Ay Tian, then a very young boy, came to Manila from mainland China to work for his uncle Go Tam Co who was then engaged in the lumber and construction business.

Upon reaching the age of majority, Co Ay Tian went back to China, got married and had his first child Gonzalo Co. A few years later, Co Ay Tian returned to Manila leaving his wife and young child behind temporarily to try his luck and engaging in several businesses with his uncle as partner.

Co Ay Tian would later be joined by his wife and son Gonzalo in Manila. It was in 1952 when he established Gonzalo Laboratories, a sole proprietorship business engaged in the backyard operation of rubbing alcohol with a start-up capital of P15,000. Co Ay Tian named his company after Gonzalo, who was the only one of age then (around 35 years old). His second child, Anthony was around 12 years old at that time.

Gonzalo Laboratories then was a small affair, with a staff that included Co Ay Tian, Gonzalo, a driver, and three workers. Later on, they would be joined by Anthony who was studying at Letran and on his sparetime would be manually washing recycled bottles.

At that time, the company was producing around 5,000 to 6,000 bottles a month, using the most ingenuous of systems to manufacture alcohol, including using a felt hat as filter. Green Cross was then a relatively unknown brand, fighting the likes of giants Jai Alai of La Tondeña and Starco of Standard.

It was in 1971 when Co Ay Tian’s entire brood consisting of Anthony, Joseph, and Mary became of age that the former decided to convert the sole proprietorship into a corporation – Gonzalo Laboratories Inc. (GLI). It was also around that time when the company decided to establish another brand Zonrox in an industry that was lorded over by imported products, particularly Clorox (virtually the “generic” name for the cleaning liquid in the same way that toothpaste was known as Colgate).

Upon Gonzalo’s exit from GLI in Dec. 1986, it was Anthony who would take over in managing the business but Gonzalo stayed on as chairman until 1997 with one qualifying share.

Anthony recalls that before working full time with GLI, he worked with Go Lam Co upon graduation. “My father was a contractor so I decided to follow his footsteps, taking up civil engineering. After working with my grand uncle, my father invited me to work again with GLI, which was then moving out from its backyard operations to a new plant in Parañaque,” he said.

During the 50th anniversary of the company, Anthony said he mentioned two people who helped his father during the company’s difficult times. “My father would frequently call Ang Guan and Jackson Horn to borrow money. He would also borrow from Merced Drug and Pascual Drug who were our clients,” he said.

The financial difficulties would persist for many years. The competition remained very strong and both Green Cross and Zonrox were struggling players.

The turning point, he recalls, came when younger brother Joseph introduced the “new look” for the two brands, changing the label, the container, and going into massive promotion. “We then had Tia Dely for radio and Helen Vela for television as our endorsers for Green Cross,” Anthony said.

Even in the early ‘90s, Zonrox remained a struggling brand. About 95 percent of revenues were still coming from Green Cross and the remainder from Zonrox. According to Anthony, it had to take a lot of imagination and educating the public to introduce new uses for Zonrox.

While saddened by Gonzalo’s exit from the business, Anthony muses that it also posed a big challenge for the rest of the family. “We all became very active in the business. We put in 100 percent of our effort, maybe even more,” he pointed out.

The younger generation was also being introduced into the business. “Eventually, our children and my nieces and nephews would take over the business so why not start them young,” he said.

And because the organization was being run, not by one person but by several well-educated and highly motivated people, it became a professionally managed company, and each member of the family was able to contribute everything they could to make Green Cross Inc. a force to reckon with.

The long years of struggling have finally paid of. Green Cross and Zonrox are industry leaders, and each brand now has several products and variants. People have began to appreciate the many uses for Zonrox, which has dislodged Clorox as the “generic” name for the product. Green Cross alcohol and Louis & Pearl products are now being exported to other countries in the region. Zonrox now has a separate plant (unlike before when it occupied a small corner in the Green Cross compound). The two factories are now fully automated and utilized world-class technology and processes. The company now has between 300 to 400 employees as well as several brands, including Dell Fabric Conditioner.

Gonzalo Laboratories, now Green Cross Inc., has definitely come a long way.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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