Unlike other CEOs and entrepreneurs who’ve built their successful businesses by pursuing their passions and interests, Ben Monteiro, chairman of LB Levinson Brothers Inc., established his company out of sheer need and survival.
As a civil engineer and father with two young mouths to feed, he couldn’t make ends meet with his job in a construction firm where he worked as a manager overseeing the engineering, construction and maintenance of civil projects.
Survival of the fittest
While grateful for the job, he harbored bigger, loftier dreams. “I built a house in our hometown, Pila, Laguna. But with the loan that I took out, it would have taken me more than 15 years to pay it off.” His salary was then a meager P20,000, and minus the payment for the loan of around P6,000, it left him with very little to provide for his wife Leila and two sons, Levin Jetrho and Elvin Allyson.
“I wanted the best for my children and wanted them to go to the best schools. And foreseeing that I wouldn’t be able to do that with my current job, I knew I had to do something,” he says in the vernacular. And in a scary leap of faith, he ventured out on his own.
Putting up a business and building it from the ground up entailed hard work and sacrifice, which didn’t frighten the young father, as these were the very things demanded from him in his youth. “Sanay na ako sa mga challenges na ganyan, sa mga hirap na ganyan [I’m not afraid of challenges and putting in the work]. I have even experienced eating only lugaw [porridge] for my meals and eating soy sauce with rice just to get me through the day. Kaya siguro noong nagkakaedad na ako, nagkakatoyo na din ako paminsan-minsan [That’s why, I guess, as I grew older, I’ve grown to become a little kooky],” he chuckles.
His mother was a humble housewife, while his sickly father worked as a farm hand in Laguna, providing for their children the best way they knew how.
Despite being poor, Monteiro mustered enough chutzpah to dream bigger and aspire to become a civil engineer—the first professional in the family. It took him longer than most to finish his studies as he had to work right after high school, doing odd jobs as a construction worker and even a farm laborer to save up for his tuition and complete his studies at the University of the East. And that he did.
“Mahirap maging mahirap [It’s hard to be poor.]’ That’s what I often told myself to push myself forward,” he recalls. “Fortunately, being stubborn and never giving up are two of my most winning qualities.”
With these never-say-die qualities, he launched a start-up in 1998 with P500,000 capital, calling it Levinson Construction Corp. (coined from Monteiro’s nickname “Ben” and his wife’s name “Leila” with “son” denoting his two boys Levin and Elvin), which engaged in civil work projects for power and telecommunications companies.
“We didn’t have much, but we worked with what we had,” he says, adding that he even spliced their old Thunderbird, turning it into a pick-up truck for their operations. Soon, Monteiro was able to get the ball rolling for his enterprise, earning the trust of his clients and delivering according to standards required of their projects.
“As a businessman, I usually work on establishing trust first. My primary concern isn’t profit but in building relationships with clients. Because once you have trust, profit will come later,” he says.