Cover Showing some of the bottled concoctions with Philippine elements that were a success to a young middle-class market

Only one of two Filipinas in a short list of 25, Olivia Limpe-Aw embraces her latest recognition as among Asia’s Power Businesswomen for 2020 by Forbes with gratefulness to the four patriarchs who preceded her

The news of her being chosen as one of Asia’s Power Businesswomen for 2020 by Forbes came as a total surprise to Olivia Limpe-Aw. “I had only known that Forbes Asia was writing an article on the company. Since my son Aaron was the resource person for the article, I had no idea what it was for,” the chairman and CEO of Destileria Limtuaco said.

Aaron knew the research was for Forbes Asia’s Power Businesswomen but he presumed that his mother knew about it. He did not take the matter seriously because he thought Forbes Asia was just reaching out for information on a shortlisted group of individuals. “So, nothing was certain as far as he was concerned,” Limpe-Aw added.

But when the articles started coming out about this year’s Asia’s Power Businesswomen, she began receiving the links to her phone from her son. “The Forbes team had actually notified him earlier in the day, but he missed their e-mail,” she shared.

The recognition was given to 25 business leaders who, according to Forbes, “have risen to that challenge [global pandemic] and are demonstrating their mettle in these difficult times”. Destileria Limtuaco showed it can be flexible when, during the months that liquors were banned, it switched to making hand sanitisers and disinfectants.

Established in 1852, Destileria Limtuaco is the oldest distillery in the Philippines. Five generations, including Limpe-Aw’s have contributed to the company’s growth and strength. It was established by Lim Tua Co, a Chinese immigrant who introduced to the country a Chinese medicinal wine locally called sioktong. He later took on a Filipino name and became known as Don Bonifacio Limtuaco.

A nephew, Lim Chay Seng, took over the company upon the death of the founder and his only son. Seng steered the company through a period marked by revolutions. But he did well and pumped much-needed capital into the business. He also expanded their products to Western liquors.

His son, James Limpe, then took over. A graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle, US, Limpe is credited for employing the modern management style to the company. He also introduced vodka in their line of products.

James’ son Julius soon took over and made his own mark by developing patents and building major plants. He was also the man behind Destileria Limtuaco’s iconic brand, White Castle Whiskey.

Breaking the Chinese tradition of sons taking over businesses, Limpe-Aw stepped in as the fifth-generation head of the 168-year-old distillery in 2004. She introduced several exciting features to the company, including developing the whiskey market potential of the middle class with innovative products using Filipino ingredients. Such as Paradise Mango rum liqueur, Amadeo coffee liqueur, Manille Liqueur Collection (basic ingredient: calamansi), Dragon Fruit wine and Very Old Captain Artisan-crafted Rum (basic ingredient: molasses).

“You not only do your country proud; you also help the local farmers by bypassing the middlemen,” she states the vision behind this successful business move.

With the strong position of Destileria Limtuaco in the industry, and now a prestigious recognition to her leadership to boot, Limpe-Aw can very well stand beside those who went before her to whom she shows her gratitude.  

“I give my sincere and profound thanks to the four generations before me for all the hard work, sacrifice, passion and dedication they had put into the business. They helped develop the company to become an institution in Philippine commercial history and ensure that the legacy of Destileria Limtuaco is passed on from one generation to the next. 

If she had the opportunity to talk to her forefathers, Limpe-Aw said this is what she would like to say: “I would like to  tell my father how much I appreciate and value all the lessons he had taught me— the importance of hard work,  honesty and integrity, mastery of our craft,  innovation and marketing savvy, resilience and grit. Also, to never give up and keep on trying. I wish to thank him for his trust and support, the experiences he allowed me to go through, the mistakes he allowed me to make, the risks he allowed me to take. Most especially, for truly believing that women can do what men can do. I would assure him that I tried my very best and will continue to do so  to keep my promise to continue the company’s legacy, and train and prepare our next generation the way he and our forefathers did.”  

Limpe-Aw, who is also the president and publisher of Foresight Book Publishing and Distributing Company that produces the glossy Asian Dragon, is married to businessman Benny Y Aw with whom she has three sons—Clifford, Aaron and Brandon. “All my sons are interested and are already involved in the business,” she says, confident in the thought that the torch of five generations will be passed on to not just one but three capable hands.