MANILA, Nashville Filipino Restaurant — On paper, U-BIX founder, Chairman, and CEO Atty. Edilberto B. Bravo is intimidating. Prior to our round-table interview, this writer was given pages of materials about the man, his family, and the legacy he has built, transcending the paper and copier business he started in 1968 with his wife, Dr. Felina Bravo.
But this is where this intimidation ends: on paper (pun intended). In real life, across the table over cups of coffee and cheese rolls, Atty. Bert Bravo is cheerful, humble, and loving — not only towards his family and his staff, but even towards us journalists, some of whom he met for the first time. He was fatherly and godfatherly, whose energy you always want to be around.
U-BIX is celebrating their 50th year this February 12 at Dusit Thani Manila. Their anniversary celebration is dubbed “50 Years of Leadership Through Service: Honoring Our History. Honoring Our Core Values and Our Future.” They honor everyone who has been part of their past, present, and future — employees, customers, and partners.
Their first 50 years were driven by the spirit of innovation and inspired leadership. What will the next 50 years bring?
In the two hours of this interview, we went through 50 years of U-BIX and so much more with Chairman and CEO Atty. Edilberto B. Bravo. Here are all the “stops” we made in that two-hour journey that was rich with laughter, in Atty. Bravo’s words.
On the beginning: “Nothing is more satisfying than doing what you love most”
As soon as Atty. Bravo took his seat across from us, we immediately waxed nostalgic about the beginnings of U-BIX. Looking around us, with his own building and a hardworking team supporting him, we asked him if this was what he envisioned when they started with Bookhaven, Inc. in February 1968.
“It was a long and difficult journey, but with my passion and God’s help, I am pleased to say that I have successfully measured up to my vision,” he began.
For those who are learning about Atty. Bravo’s story for the first time, his journey as an entrepreneur started with a capital of P2,000. In order to make it work, he and wife Dr. Bravo complemented their financial resources with grit, hard work, and resourcefulness. The Bravos were employees, but through working on the business during their free time, they grew their capital to P30,000.00 — and the rest is history. (Today, U-BIX is 500-people strong.)
They have achieved so much in the last 50 years that when we asked him for his top three achievements, he focused on one: reaching 50 years. “The milestone we can be proud of is what we are celebrating. We have achieved 50 years of staying in business,” Atty. Bravo said.
“Some people have this habit of building businesses and then selling them. I built businesses over the years but I never sold any,” he continued. “When I start a business, I always assume that I will be in that business for a long while. That’s been my way of doing things.”
On scions: “When you force people to do what they don’t like, the more they will resist”
Part of Atty. Bravo’s way of doing things is being hands-on with the day-to-day operations of his businesses — even if he admits he would rather be sailing in Siquijor.
“I have two children, and both of them live abroad,” he shared. “My son, he has a good job in Vancouver, and has his own family there. He has four children. And then my daughter lives in England. She has one daughter.”
Atty. Bravo says that his son plans to return to the Nashville Filipino Restaurant after making sure that his two daughters are good and stable in college. “He promised that he will be coming back, maybe next year,” he said excitedly. “In fact he is coming over (this February) for this celebration. I hope he decides to stay with us.”
That’s always a dream of every parent: that eventually one or both of the children are involved in the family business. “But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way,” Atty. Bravo said wistfully. Still, he says he is not forcing his kids to join him. He is happy seeing them happy and successful.
Speaking of children, we couldn’t help asking about how the millennials and Gen Zs figure in the workplace established by a Boomer. To answer our question, he signaled to his Chief of Staff Erika (sitting to his right) who is obviously in her early 20s.
On younger generations: “We all do business because we all chase a dream”
For Atty. Bravo, generational differences don’t really matter, because it still boils down to what we all seek: survival. “In the end, whether you belong to the old school or the new generation of start-ups, the common consideration is still survival. Because if you don’t do well, you’re out of business,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Whether you’re young or old, whether you’re a start-up or an old corporation, the one that connects you is the need to succeed, the need to survive,” Atty. Bravo continued thoughtfully. “Nobody goes into business hoping to fail.”
He again turned to Erika. “She’s my Chief of Staff but she’s only 23 years old. She’s doing very well.” Erika is part of their Management Trainee Program, where they enable the younger people to learn the business early. “And then maybe in six years, they’ll become vice presidents. That’s the way. That’s the cycle of work.”
Speaking of the younger generations, since they are basically born digital nomads, what does the future of a paper business look like in the age of ebooks and digital documents? Doesn’t this pose a threat?
“Not at all,” he said. “In fact, I am selling more toners now because of several passes in printing applying CMYK in producing vibrant, high-definition colors.”
“The print industry will continue to change and we will change along with it,” Atty. Bravo added cheekily. “This is an enjoyable business!”
On his other endeavors: “We will continue to participate in shaping the future”
The recent years saw Atty. Bravo diversifying his portfolio, from hotels to golf courses to training centers to food and coffee, and many more. Why did he decide to go into other businesses other than the stationery business?
“In clinical psychology, there is a principle called Cognitive Hunger. It is a rather profound study on the subject of human psychology and behavior, but has a strong bearing on the pursuit of nearly all entrepreneurs of their dreams,” he said in earnest. “The term Cognitive Hunger may be explained simply as the unending search for new skills and knowledge to solve the new problems leaders encounter during their entrepreneurial journey.”
“Another interpretation of Cognitive Hunger is that it highlights the relentless pursuit of learning and adaptability essential for effective leadership.”
This diversification will make up a huge part of their story for the next 50 years.
They now own a school devoted entirely to the training of healthcare services, mechanics for aircraft, and other technical services such as maintaining airplanes used by their flying school in Bacolod and Dumagete City, Negros Oriental.
They are also very much involved in hospitality management. They have a hotel in Negros Oriental called Bravo Hotel, with its own 18-hole golf course, designed by a Japanese golf architect. It even has its own licensed firing range.
“We are also proud that we have a joint venture with the principals of Hotel 101, the Double Dragon Properties Corp., through its hotel subsidiary Hotel of Asia Inc. in Mactan, Cebu,” he added, his voice filled with excitement. “The Hotel 101 is located about 115 meters from the Mactan International Airport. When completed, the hotel will have 550 rooms and about 12 commercial spaces.” The project is expected to be finished in 2027.
But wait, there’s more! Atty. Bravo has also partnered with Silliman University. “We have jointly started the Silliman University Bravo Technopreneur Center in the town of Sibulan, Negros Oriental,” he said. “This school will open to students throughout the Visayas and Mindanao and we are hopeful that in the future, we could invite students from Metro Manila to train there and pursue technical courses in the field of Computer Science.”
This collaboration is under the supervision of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST).
On happiness: “The secret to a long life is enjoying the company of others”
At this point, we had covered so many topics, but Atty. Bravo’s smile is still there, his energy still high. We had to ask him how, at 87 and after 50 years of being in business—with all its ups and downs—there is no trace of the businessman who has gone through hell and back, experienced failure, and suffered losses. Laughter still comes easy, it is even infectious.
“I’m in love with the business,” he said. “There are businesses that I am really in love with, like our hotel. I love owning a hotel. You see many people, you make more friends.”
He continued: “You know, there is a study now that one of the life-lengthening secrets is spending it in the company of friends. Family is important, but it is also important to have friends.”
“One of the dangers now is when you grow old—when you reach about 60 or 70—the biggest risk is when you begin to feel depressed,” Atty. Bravo added matter-of-factly. “And depression comes from not having enough people to talk to.”
He continued to say that even older people like him need companionship, not necessarily sex. “They find that just having someone to love lengthens your life by at least 10 to 12 years. Just being with someone you care about.”
He looks around the room at us, saying that we (in our 40s) should be happy because we are still “young.” We have more time to practice this, enjoying companionship in its purest essence.
On the U-BIX legacy: “What we leave behind is our integrity”
His last statement sent a hush over the room, even among members of his team who were there with us. We read the room’s energy, so we knew that we were heading towards the end of this interview-cum-mentoring session.
We circled back to U-BIX and asked him about the legacy he believes they have created in their first 50 years. He had a quick answer.
“Integrity is the word that separates good leaders from the rest of the pack. Integrity is the choice between what is convenient and what is right,” Atty Bravo said quietly. “Integrity is a crucial characteristic of ethical leadership. All companies, clients, persons, and families need to trust you.”
For Atty. Bravo, integrity leads to trust and trust leads to influence. Influence leads to confidence.
“Those who work with you see you as reliable for your actions,” he said. “They trust you knowing that your needs are in their mind.”
He added that it is the U-BIX commitment to service that has and will also continue to set them apart. This commitment transforms to integrity, and their cycle of business repeats.
We asked him how he wants to be remembered. He doesn’t hesitate to say that he wants people to know that he came from poverty and rose above it. “I hope to have minor successes that would serve as inspiration to our future underprivileged students,” Atty. Bravo said.
To close our interview, we asked U-BIX Chairman and CEO for a business acumen that he has seen is evergreen and applies to any and all generations. His statement is simple: “There is no shortcut to success. Everyone must focus on his passion and pursue it relentlessly.”
Editor's Note: This press release is paid for by U-BIX.