Pilates instructor builds healthiest PH office tower

Menarco Development Corp. managing director Carmen Jimenez-Ong (right), together with her parents Menardo and Carolina Jimenez.

She grew up in a family of businessmen who co-own and run one of the largest broadcast companies in the country and together with three siblings received constant lectures from their father on business matters.

Carmen Jimenez-Ong, however, says she did not expect to become a business leader whose first project quickly achieved a milestone in the Philippine property development sector and earned the title ‘healthiest building’ in the country.

Carmen, a pilates instructor and the youngest daughter of GMA Network Inc. co-owner Menardo R. Jimenez, Sr., is the managing director of Menarco Development Corp., the boutique real estate developer behind the 32-story Menarco Tower along 32nd Street in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig. Her initial goal, she says, is to create a landmark tower that will age gracefully.

“Three and a half years ago, when I was tasked by the family to develop a property on 32nd Street in BGC, I took it upon myself to find out how to create a better work space,” says Carmen, a Management graduate from Ateneo de Manila University who has dealt with a lot of people as executive director of GMA Foundation Inc. and later as owner of B+B Studio, where she also teaches pilates in Taguig.

Menardo, the 83-year-old patriarch who owns several parcels of land in Pangasinan, Batangas and Taguig, chose Carmen to head his property development business.  Menardo himself started as a real estate developer in the mid 1970s, when he constructed 1,000 homes in Jaro, Iloilo, but put aside the property business to focus on GMA Network as its president until 2000.

Menarco Development was formed in 2014 and was named after Menardo and his wife Carolina Gozon, a sister of current GMA Network chairman and chief executive Felipe Gozon.  

“Carmen Jimenez-Ong is the artist in the family, whose creative mind seems to have no boundary,” Menardo tells journalists in a news briefing at Blackbird Restaurant in Makati City, referring to his youngest daughter.  His other children are Butch, Joel and Laura, who also have successful careers in the corporate world.

“She [Carmen] is not an engineer, not an architect, not a certified urban planner, not even a human resources development manager, but her deep understanding of how the worker’s mindset, attitude and performance are greatly affected by the work area has led her to design the workplace that is totally worker friendly,” Menardo says.

The result is a modern office landmark which became the first in the Philippines to register for WELL Certification and meet the WELL Building Standard.  It is given by the International WELL Building Institute, an international group that measures and monitors the performance of building features that impact the users’ health and well-being. Menarco Tower is also a pre-certified Leed Gold Tower and garnered three Philippine Property Awards: 2016 best green development winner, 2016 best office development (highly commended) and 2015 best office architectural design (highly commended). 

Menarco Tower design

Carmen says it is considered the healthiest building because it prioritizes health and wellness above all else.  “If we put people first, profit will naturally follow,” she says.  

“WELL has been described as a nutritional label for our client’s building. It provides transparency on the quality of the building and what occupants are to expect by working within it. Menarco is leading by example on what can be achieved within a commercial building,” says Michael James Hearn, operations manager of Arcadis, which provides consultancy services to Menarco Development.

Carmen says Menarco Development is spending a little over P2 billion to complete the construction and development of Menarco Tower on a 1,790-square-meter lot her father acquired in the early 2000.

“Everything is because of his hard work,” says Carmen, referring to her father who first showed his business acumen as a young student in Pangasinan.

Although Menardo’s father owned large tracts of land and served as mayor of Dasol town in Pangasinan, he learned the importance of hard work as a young boy who earned money by polishing shoes and renting out comics and bicycles.  

“People think we were born with silver spoon. But our father, with all the hardships he went through, made us paddle our own canoe,” Carmen says, referring to her father. “Everyday is like business school in the family.

”Menardo says he challenged his children to rise to the occasion. “What you tell your kids must be constructive,” he says.  All his four children did rise to the occasion and now hold top positions in major companies.

Menardo graduated from the Far Eastern University with a degree in Accounting and later joined Gilberto Duavit Sr. and Felipe Gozon to form the triumvirate that acquired GMA Network in the 1970s.

“When we bought GMA in 1974, there was no diligence.  When we finished the transaction, there were no receivables, only payables,” says Menardo.  He headed GMA Network in the 1980s up to 2000 and transformed it into a leading broadcast company.

When he passed on the leadership of GMA Network to Gozon, Menardo focused on his other companies, while accumulating properties. Menardo acquired another lot along 5th Ave. in Fort Bonifacio that may become the next project of Menardo Development, according to Carmen, once the Menarco Tower is completed by the first quarter of 2017.  A topping off ceremony for Menarco Tower is scheduled on June 8.

Joel Jimenez, who is a director of GMA Network, says the family also plans to develop a 70-hectare beachfront property in Lian, Batangas.

Carmen says aside from being a WELL-certified building, Menarco Tower is a Filipino-designed and built landmark.  “Everything is local,” she says. “We are working with the best consultants we could find.”

“It is a showcase of Filipino talents,” she says, adding that she tapped the services of construction and architectural companies DATEM Inc., Aidea, Jose Aliling & Associates and C|S Architecture.  It also tapped the consultancy services of Arcadis and management expertise of Leechui Property Consultants Inc.

Menarco Tower features high-speed elevators, super-fast data connectivity and structure that can withstand the strongest typhoons and shocks, according to Carmen.  “We are creating the healthiest building in the country. We’d like to offer a healthier environment. We want to create a new normal in the Philippines.”

She says a building that considers the health and wellness of employees will reap benefits in terms of increased productivity and improved employee satisfaction.  “A healthy and a happy employee is a productive one,” she says.

Menarco Tower will have a gross leasable area of 25,442 square meters spread cross 22 floors, with each floor expected to accommodate up to four tenants, including multinationals and local conglomerates.  The first 10 floors will be parking area and other facilities.

Among the expected tenants are the companies owned by the Jimenez family. Monthly lease rate is about P1,100, which is more competitive than the average P1,200 charged by other premium buildings in Fort Bonifacio.  The company is expected to generate revenue of P28 million a month or P335 million a year.  This means that a return on investment is possible within six or seven years, despite the higher cost of development, representing 5 percent to 6 percent above other LEED projects.  LEED, or the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, refers to the standards for design, operation and construction of high-performance green buildings. 

Carmen says the units at Menarco Tower are only for lease. As a premium building, leasing rate starts at P1,100 per square meter.  Potential tenants are lining up, she says.

Hearn says Menarco Tower is designed to consider the following factors: air, water, lighting, fitness, comfort, nourishment and mind.  It is making substantial investments to control air toxicity, promote walking, filter and treat water, provide super-fast Internet, allow the sunshine in, encourage whole food dining options and provide fitness area.

“WELL-certified buildings provide an improved environment for employees and clients, resulting in increased employee satisfaction and health, increased productivity and staff retention,” says Hearn.

Menardo says Menarco Tower provides “a great pride for me and my family.”  He says he gives Carmen a free hand to run the business, except “when she approaches me for advice.”

“In all the businesses that I have established, I have always believed in the value of hard work and integrity. Menarco Tower symbolizes all that. It elevates what a modern office tower should be, so that the people working there can work hard and do their best,” says Menardo.

Carmen says she hopes that the completion of Menarco Tower “will change the way office buildings are built in the Philippines.” 

This article is written by Roderick T. dela Cruz of Manila Standard.

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