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Digital emperor

Ambitious ‘techie’ wants his brand to be in every Filipino’s hand

In 2009, Maynard Ngu, Cherry Mobile CEO, dared to compete with global giants of the mobile phone industry. At the time, international brands ruled in the country.

But the cost of owning one of these heavyweights was too prohibitive for Juan de la Cruz. Luckily, a young entrepreneur saw a handsome business opportunity. Taking the challenge by the horns, he launched his “proudly Filipino” brand, Cherry Mobile.

Affordable, accessible

Ngu recalls: “We just adapted to the market, and we developed and changed according to the market. Then, the typical smartphone was P25,000, and so we wanted to provide a handset that was more affordable and accessible to the masses. And so, we evolved from there.”

Through the years, Cherry Mobile has enjoyed the loyal following of the Filipino masses, who, like their counterparts across the globe, hanker for stylish, state-of-the-art smartphones, which aren’t painful to the pocket.


The nine-year-old company has received awards and accolades that helped strengthened its market position. A year after rolling out, Cherry Mobile was recognized as 2010 “IT Company of the Year” by the Cyber Press Awards. In 2013, Yugatech gave it the prestigious award for being the “Top Selling Mobile Phone Brand.”

Ngu beams at this track record, saying: “At the end of the day, my vision [for my company]is that everyone will have a Cherry Mobile in their hands. We want them to enjoy the Cherry Mobile experience because Cherry Mobile will always be everybody’s everyday device.’”

The brand has further cemented its status as the local leader in innovation, partnering with big phone manufacturers and tech industry icons such as Intel, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Qualcomm and MediaTek. Today, it also maintains a presence around Southeast Asia, including countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. It is distributed in Papua New Guinea, Tunisia and lately, in parts of South America. The brand is also registered in Europe. “It’s all very exciting, and we’re eager to do more in the coming years, expanding our reach and creating more life-changing products,” the gadget maverick says.

After launching Cherry Mobile with four units, more powerful handsets continued to be developed. A significant gamechanger for the company was the Cherry Mobile Flare, introduced in 2012. It proved to be one of the best-selling smartphones in the market then. Following up on its success, Cherry Mobile added several other smartphones to the Flare Series, which dominated the affordable smartphone segment.

From producing handsets, Ngu also ventured into the telecom business, offering Cherry Prepaid SIM, in partnership with Globe Telecoms through MVNO (Mobile Virtual Network Operator).

With its reputation firmly in place, Cherry Mobile is sailing toward wider horizons. As Ngu explains: “We’re doing not only handsets because handsets are just a medium of mobility, but we’re also trying to build an ecosystem as well. We now have our own software and applications. And not only that, we’re trying to integrate mobile phones into [the consumers’]daily lives as well. That’s the way to go.”

Business nerd

Bound by the time-honored precepts of hard work and dedication, Ngu would be the first to say that real success is never handed to anyone on a silver platter. Heaps of effort and a generous dose of wisdom are required to achieve one’s dreams and goals.

Ngu, a third-generation Chinese, boasts of coming from a family of entrepreneurs. His ever-busy parents taught him his earliest lessons in commerce, exposing him to the day-to-day operations of Topgan Industries, a printing and continuous-form company. Growing up in Binondo, meanwhile, supplied the best classroom for observing the tricks of the trade.

At a young age, Ngu showed keen business acumen along with an interest in technology. After completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Management of Financial Institutions from De La Salle University, he did his filial duty, joining the family firm. He later merged his expertise in printing with his love for mobile technology, setting up Card City Inc., a printer of scratch cards for prepaid phone credit.

Ngu sought to do more, setting up a raft of other businesses such as Orange Communications Inc., a wholesaler and retailer of mobile devices; Versatile Telecoms Inc., the country distributor of HTC, Alcatel, TCL and Gigabyte products; and finally, Cherry Mobile through Cosmic Technologies Inc.

Fail and learn

At 33, he established Cherry Mobile, which was to be his most challenging enterprise that needed all his energy and creativity to flourish. “I think the most important thing I learned from all that I’ve been through over the past 20 years is to learn from your mistakes,” he reveals. “Every time I failed, it changed everything. But at least, we have been able to guide our staff in taking the company to where it is right now.”

Whether big or small, clients, he realized as well, must be treated with respect. “Holding to that principle is one of our strengths. Definitely, a lot of the big brands out there treat everybody as a business. But we treat clients as part of our family, which I think sets us apart from the others.

“Our team members are just as important. If you want to grow big, you can’t do it on your own. You have to have a team that has the same vision that you have. I think my team really helps me because we have a shared vision. With proper guidance, we make sure that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.”

“In addition, I am very lucky to have teams who have brilliant minds. We all work together, it’s a collective effort which is very important when you want to grow your business.” Maynard shares. “Also, I think for any local brand, we should always aim to take the lead in pushing innovation.”

While Cherry Mobile is constantly seeking and upgrading its plantilla, Ngu stresses that a person’s skill set is not the only factor qualifying him or her for the job. “If they don’t have any love for the brand or love for the company, then it wouldn’t be the right fit. Skills are important, but personality and attitude are much more important.”

Even with the impressive growth and profile of Cherry Mobile, Ngu will never be complacent or lose sight of the bigger picture – to become the brand for every Filipino.

A forward-thinking CEO, Ngu shares that he’s planned out the trajectory of his company for the next five to 10 years, and steps are being undertaken to ensure that his vision comes to life. “Vision should be coupled with hardwork and integrity. To make a vision a reality, you must uphold integrity in everything that you do. “

Paying back

In gratitude for blessings received, he established a number of CSR programs and initiatives, guided by the Cherry Cares (Customer, Natural Resources, Employees and Society) principle. From providing school kits to building classrooms for underprivileged communities through CherrySkwela, to planting seedlings for sustainable livelihood and many other acts of stewardship, the company aims to uplift the lives of the needy and underserved.

“I believe that education is everyone’s basic right, and we can build a better future by ensuring that all kids are given the opportunity to have a proper education, a basic foundation to succeed in life,”explains Maynard.

On a lighter note, Ngu owns an extensive collection of Starbucks mugs. At press time, he possessed about 400 of them, most of which are on display. How did that unusual hobby start? “It began about 10 or 15 years ago, when my wife and I were traveling,” he says. “We bought one, and it started from there.” He has picked up a Starbucks mug from every city he has visited that hosts the Seattle-based chain.

“It’s funny, because I’m not really a coffee drinker. I came across a Starbucks mug on one of my travels and I liked it so much I bought one. Then whenever I visited a new destination, it became a habit for me to drop by the local cafe and buy a mug. Eventually, I amassed a collection.

“My friends also helped me build my collection further, giving me mugs as gifts from their own travels. In a way, my mug collection reminds me of how far I’ve come. From just one, I have now hundreds, collected from all over the world. It also serves as a great reminder, because though I may have started this on my own, it was friends and colleagues who helped grow it.”

Now, one would think that the top boss of a mobile phone company would have a killer work schedule. Yet, Ngu has his day pretty much under control. Up bright and early at 7:30 a.m., his mornings at the office are devoted to paperwork. In the afternoons, he schedules meetings outside with clients. At least once or twice a year, he conducts provincial sorties to visit clients there.

But when he needs to de-stress, he heads for his favorite retreat – Tuscany, where the verdant views keep him relaxed and tranquil. “I could spend a week there, but not more. The longest I allow myself to go on vacation is about two weeks. Because when you go to a certain place for more than a week, it can get monotonous,” Ngu observes.

Recharged by the rolling hills of the Italian countryside, Ngu goes back to work with fresh excitement for another round of focused activities. He says: “Telecommunications is a fast-paced field where you never get bored. It’s not like working in a factory where you do the same thing over and over again.

“It is the fire and passion for an industry that’s always in motion that keeps me going.”

* * *

Wisdom from a young CEO

Maynard Ngu may still be young in years, but in experience, he is indeed wise. From him, we learn some lessons picked up while building a digital empire.

• Treat your clients with respect. Big or small, they are your clients. A lot of the big brands treat everybody as just a business, but our clients are part of the family.

• The team is important if you want to grow big,. You can’t do it on your own. Your team has to share the same vision that you have. With proper guidance, we make sure that everyone on the boat is paddling in the same direction.”

• If the person doesn’t have any love for the brand or the company, he or she would really not jibe with the rest of the group.

• Skills are important, but I think the personality and attitude of the person outweigh these.

• Being in the technology field, we have to make sure we’re always ahead of the competitors. Quick decisions – that’s one of the best reasons why we adapt swiftly.

PHOTOS BY HARVEY TAPAN

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