The Zobel-Dynasty


A look in Philippine newspapers – especially in the columns of enterprise news or high-society – shows often the name of Zobel with variations. The scarcely Spanish rather German appearing name makes curious and raises questions about the origins and the evolution of this dynasty, which has been in the past und nowadays so important for the development of Philippine economy. Here some protruding family-representatives are sketched shortly.

In fact the name is of German origin . In 1832 the pharmacist Johannes Andreas Zobel came from Hamburg to Manila and he opened together with his wife a drugstore in Intramuros, the Zobel Botica. The motives of his emigration as well as the person itself remain in historical darkness. There is a speculation, that also political aspects - the European revolutionary movements failed in this time - would have given reason. Later Johannes Andreas Zobel expanded his economical activities. He established a chemical lab and is engaged in the exploitation of iron- and cupper-mines in Bulacan and Baguio.

His son Jakob or Jacabo Hinsch Zobel senior, born 1815 in Hamburg, assists his father and gets married with the attractive daughter of a high judge in Manila. Her name is Anna Maria Zongroniz y Arrieta. The marriage clears further entrances to the local upper class of such days. Anna Maria dies however early with thirty years. In time of her death son Jacobo Junior is only six years old.

The family decides to send the child Jacobo Zobel junior (1842 – 1896) to a private school in Hamburg. He achieves the degree of middle maturity there and his talents for foreign languages are discovered. In 1858 his father arrives from Manila and the son is sent for further studies to Madrid. Now the family gets culturally more orientated to Spain over generations and the former German relationships are losing importance. Nevertheless there are still blue eyes and blond hairs in the gene pool of the family as the example of Enrique Jacobo Zobel shows. But they can be also from Basque origin's.

Jacobo junior completes a studium generale in Madrid and acquires additionally a degree as pharmacist. As already told he is  exceptionally language-talented - and as a polyglot man he has a understanding of eleven languages, including the Swedish, Russian, Arabian, Etruscan or Chaldean language. A German professor in Madrid inspires him for the numismatics. Henceforth Jacobo is collecting especially antique coins and he publishes also articles in Spanish and German journals on this subject.

In 1866 he returns to the Philippines and he manages the pharmacy of his father for a short period of time. The Zobels are already regarded as wealthy. The marriage with  Trinidad Ayala y Roxas has a further strong capital increase as side-effect. Trinidad is the daughter of a rich Basque-Philippine family, which - here comparable with the American Kennedy family - made money with alcoholic distillates. The distillery is the germ cell of today’s much more diversified Ayala-Corporation. Jacobo Zobel becomes capital owner and enters into management.

His economical activities are extensive. He manages the building of the first two bridges made from steel in Manila and imports for the first time bikes and typewriters from Germany to the Philippines. His name is also connected with the first public traffic network in Manila, tramcars drawn by horses. Five routes are operated. The cars can take up to twelve passengers and have a first and second class. In his late years he is co-founder of the Banco Espanol Filipino. Eagerness and assertiveness are attributes of his work. He is regarded as being work-possessed  and denounces the popular "dolce far niente".

As multicultural philanthropist he corresponds for example with the Danish fairy tale writer Andersen and he translates agricultural articles. In the circles of his friends and his Freemason group - presumably considered crucial by the Catholic church - he is supporting Philippine talents from the culture scene. He joined a loge of British origin, because such one established by the German consul in Manila was not opened for Spaniards and Mestizos.

Already in young years he becomes a town council. He stands up in particular for the expansion of the public school and library system. He tries to beautify Manila by planting trees and he strives for a stronger Philippine influence in the Spanish Cortes.

May be that the property of German hunt-arms made him suspicious to the Spaniards in 1872 , the year of the rebellion of Cavite. He is sent to prison for six months. Due to an intervention of German chancellor Bismarck he gets free from prison. Nevertheless he becomes later a member of the Royal Academy in Madrid. His death in 1896 caused by an intestine-ailment at the age of 54 years is also deplored at Madrid. Hermogenes E. Bacareza writes in his history of the Philippine-German relationships, that the little known Filipino Jacobo Zobel Jr. is worth of greater fame. (1).

The marriage with Trinidad produced five children. Two children have – in spite of the proximity to the medicine of those days - only a very short life. From the oldest son Fernandes (1876 - 1949) we know only that he supported in an active manner the later president Aguinaldo.

In particular it is his son Enrique – his full name is Enrique sable de Ayala ( 1877 - 1943) -, who gets public attention. He acquires the "Bachelor of Arts" in Madrid and continues with a follow-up study of mining industry, engineering sciences and painting at Paris. Returned to Manila, he joins the management of family’s company.

In 1901 he marries his cousin Consuelo Roxas de Ayala. The short marriage - Consuela falls victim to a cholera epidemic – produces three children follow. At the age of 33 he marries a second time. His second wife, daughter of a Spanish admiral, brings four children to the world.

Enrique consolidates his father’s firm and expands into many other business fields: the pharmaceuticals-sector, the porcelain and glass sector, banking and insurance sector, the field of building design and real estates as well as into the production of cane sugar. From original rice-fields he develops the trading centre of Makati.

He is reserved with regard to the "pax america". In a conservative attitude he is defending the heritage of the Spanish "mother country". For him the knowledge of Spanish language is indispensable to understand fully the writings of Rizal. To support the knowledge of Spanish language he founds a special school, the "Premio", that still looks for the initial objectives today. He understands himself as a philanthropist and supports the building of the national museum and the theatre's Metropolitan. On the side he publishes still essays and economy articles.

Enrique is a member of the Spanish Club, a union of rich and influential Spaniards born on the Philippines. They have reservations about the new American Commonwealth. In the thirties Generalissimo Franco becomes the new political idol. Enrique is on the side of Solano a strong proponent of the Falangists. It is little known that there have been parades in Manila comparable to such of the Third Reich - with uniforms, flags, banners and arms stretched for greeting. But the government of president Quezon was not very impressed by such parades.

Enrique has in total eight children and now the family tree is getting more and more side-branches. His son Jacobo participates in the death march of Bataan and is arrested by the Japanese. By the end of war he becomes consultant of the presidents Quirino, Roxas and Magsaysay. Alfonso is the father of Jaime Zobel which becomes decades later CEO of Ayala Company. Daughter Mercedes marries the American intelligence officer McMicking from the staff of general Mc Arthur. McMimicking was after the war a great support to the family and he is  more and more engaged in diversification.

Daughter Consuelo from Enrique’s second marriage becomes spouse of the youngest 4-star general of America, James Alger. After his retirement they move in 1970 to Hawaii. She is a strong catholic and deeply impressed by the charity of Saint Theresa. In 1987 Consuelo Zobel establishes a relief organization for street children in Manila.

Also son Fernando (1924 - 1984) from the second marriage becomes well-known. He visits the elementary school in Spain, but has to return to the Philippines, because of the Spanish civil war. He sees the Japanese occupation and is confined to bed for more than a year because of a back suffering. In this period he begins to paint. After the end of war he studies in Spain and at the Harvard University. Later Fernando joins the management of the Ayala group. In 1960 he becomes a professional painter. In exhibitions he has already shown his artistic talents. He resides mostly in Spain. His figurative painting becomes gets more and more abstract. Graphic and calligraphic elements are engraved in abstract, foggy structures. He is founder of the Museo de Arte Abstracto Espanol in Cuenca in Spain. One of his commentators compares his work with a "bright, dazzling comet on the sky of in the Philippines".

Outstanding figures of the next generation are Enrique Jacobo Zobel (*1920) and Jaimes Zobel (*1921).

About Enrique Zobel – short name: "Enzo" – we know more, because he has given interviews. He describes himself as being a non-conformist and a very strict disciplinarian. Now in old ages he announced to publish a biography, so that we could get more information about this extraordinary man.

First as single pampered child of a superrich family he does not lack anything and he is attending the American School in Manila. However, this pleasant life is disturbed abruptly by the Japanese occupation and the imprisonment of his father. Suddenly in the age of fourteen he has to take care for his family. And so it comes, that he works for two years as a coachmen (!) in Manila. Later he teaches the Spanish language to Japanese soldiers. He succeeds in getting free his very thin father from Japanese captivity.

After the end of war he works as a engine mechanic with the American army.  He earned only two and a half Pesos per hour and a "Ganta" rice per day. Later he decides to go to America and to study agriculture. To be independent from allowances of his parents he works in the evenings as an engine mechanic for General Motors.

Finally his uncle Joseph McMicking offers him a management function in the truck department of Ayala-enterprise. Now Enrique can forget his agriculture studies more or less. In the first years he is active for his uncle, who is his instructor.  His area of responsibility is area- and town planning. The trading center Makati and the Forbes Park is developed under his direction. Enrique buys up agricultural areas for - how he says - good money and resells these after their development to businessmen for even better money.

His jurisdiction expands in the following years into other industries and he becomes in 1968 CEO of the Ayala Company. Job discipline is very important for him. Often he is sitting at the desk of his office already at seven o'clock in the morning and he can get angrily if employees are coming late at ten o'clock. In the early eighties he gets a vehement quarrel with his cousin Andreas Soriano about important shares of the San Miguel Corporation, the large beer and food producer group on the Philippines. Enrique sells angrily the family’s shares to the Marcos favourite "Danding" Cojuangco. But before this transaction he did not consult his family clan – especially the "queen widow" Gloria - and so it comes, that he loses his positions in the Ayala group.

But Enrique is an entrepreneurial primary rock and builds up business fields of his own in the building sector. For the sultan of Brunei he builds for example one of the largest palaces of the world.

He described his business activities also as a game, comparable to his favourite sport, the polo. As an excellent polo-player and billionaire he knows all renowned polo places of the world and sometimes flies to them in own plane.

Mare "Juanita" is in 1991 however his undoing. She throws him off and it becomes - in the real sense of word - "dark" for him. Doctors are already expecting his death. One year he can not remind anything. When he awakes up from coma, he is paralyzed from the cervical vertebra and needs a rolling chair and movement therapists. Despite of his heavy physical handicap he is still going abroad, in order to arrange his economical matters. His intellectual vitality and zest of life is unbroken.

The autocrat comments political events very frankly and directly. Ex-president Estrada got only garbage as information from his consultants. President Macapagal-Arroyo, which he knows from her childhood, ignores critical remarks and she wants to hear only "good things". He blames the lacking creativity of Philippine’s manager, some of them would have only a Sari-Sari mentality and try to copy very often foreign countries.

A stellar hour – actually it took several hours - Enrique had in 1992, when he was invited to speak about the person and the property of ex-president Marcos  in front of the "Blue Ribbon-committee" of the Philippine senate on Hawaii. Enrique was related to Marcos in critical friendship. That is not unusual, it is known that the economical and political elite groups on the Philippines have a very close relationship. He knew the trickeries, weaknesses and mistakes of Marcos very well, because he was a leading member of Makati-Business-Club. He believed in such days that the ill Marcos could still find to reforms. Now he should help, to open the "can of the Pandora". Here some of his revelations:

Marcos had evidently gold bars, gold certificates and treasury bonds in a value from more than 100 billion dollars when he went to his exile in Hawaii. His fortune is deposited in several countries ( among other counties in Switzerland and Vatican City). Part of the fortune - so he was assured directly by Marcos - came from Nazi gold that the Japanese hid in the Philippines in time of war. (2). Marcos  concealed his wealth from his family. The fortune would allow to pay all the debts of the country. The former follower of Marcos like Fidel Ramos, Ponce Enrile or Fabian Ver got for their services gold bars in the value of a million dollars. On the other hand Marcos asked him during his stay on Hawaii for a 250-million $ credit to pay his 300 employees on Hawaii.

Enrique Zobels statements was attested a high degree creditability. Only Fidel Ramos protested.

Now Enrique lives now on his Hacienda. Now he can realize his dream of youth, - the cattle breeding. And he found already the place of his future tomb.

Due to pressure of his family Enrique was relieved in 1983 from the Ayala executive board post. His successor is the tall cousin Jaime sables de Ayala I . Born in 1920, he attends after schooling a university in Madrid as well as the Harvard University. In 1958 he was given the job of an assistant in the Ayala group with a monthly salary of 200 dollars. He works 26 years in different departments of the company, intermitted by a "Sabbath time" of five years as ambassador in Great Britain. Sable Jaime invests in particular in the High-Tech and telecommunication sector, the establishment of industries and car sales market (Mitsubishi). After the old one was burned down, he is engaged in the planning of the new Ayala art museum in Makati.

In 1985 he has to decide if he and his family should support Ferdinand Marcos or his competitor Aquino. That was also a crucial question with regard to the existence of the Ayala company. Jaime Zobel comes to the conclusion: " If the forces of reform were defeated, there would be no place for us here." Aquino gets his support.

Jaime Zobel retires from Ayala in 1995 because of age limit. Now he should have more time for his hobby, the photography. He got for his professional photos some awards.

Forbes Magazine is publishing an annual list of billionaires. Following this list he and his family have a property of round about 1.2 billion dollars, so he is on the level of the China-descended family  Henry Sy (1.3 billion $) and Lucio Tan (1.2 billion $).

His successor in the office of president becomes his son J. Augusto Zobel de Ayala – short name: JAZA. He is born 1959 in Manila and has also a Harvard degree. He continues further investments in the food industry and in particular in the sectors of telecommunication, IT and E-Commerce. But now he has to decide if he should go on with the diversification of the conglomerate of Ayala or if he should follow the trend to concentrate on the classical fields of business. - He is also vice-chairman at Globe Telecom and the Bank of the Philippine Islands and is sitting in the advisory committees of JP Morgan International, the Mitsubishi Corporation and the Toshiba Corporation.

In a 1995 speech to Asean business people in Hong Kong he said:

We all pay for poverty and unemployment and illiteracy. If a large percentage of the society falls into a disadvantaged class, investors will find it hard to source skilled and alert workers; Manufacturers will have a limited market for their products; criminality will scare foreign investments .... It therefore makes business sense for corporations to complement the efforts of government in contributing to social development."

His words are not a mere declaration. JAZA is chairman of the Philippine ´s Children & Youth Foundation and Vice chairman of the global Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). These positions underline his social commitment.

In his leisure time he swims, is doing  gymnastics or is riding a bike. Once he said "Life is a marathon, not a sprint". And that’s clear, he tries to have time for his  family life.

Because the eighth generation of the Zobels – represented for example by Bianca, Paolo and Jake - is already in the blocks to take over demanding businesses in the oldest, most diversified and growth-oriented company of the Philippines.

© Wolfgang Bethge, 2002


(1) Hermogenes E. Bacareza, A Philippine German History of Relations, Quezon City, in 1980, p. 54 ff.

(2) Compare my article "Yamashitas treasure or the never ending dream for fortune" on this Homesite