He’s made millions from ‘balikbayan’ boxes in Australia

First Posted 12:34:00 10/31/2006

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IT WAS 1987 when Pablo Tagle, a native of El Nido, Palawan, became convinced that the future of his family in the Philippines was becoming dimmer and dimmer. Faced with political uncertainties, Pablo ? Boy to his friends ? packed his clothes, withdrew his savings of P160,000 pesos, and brought his wife and two children to Sydney, Australia.

He had actually been given three opportunities to leave the Philippines. The first time was in 1972. ?I was invited by my sister to Australia.? The second was in 1976, when he had the chance to migrate to the United States. He ignored both opportunities. ?I was idealistic and naive then,? he says.

But in 1987, when coup attempts began troubling the administration of President Corazon Aquino, he felt that the country?s future, and his own with it were going nowhere. ?I just had to leave when the third one knocked on my door.?

Boy left a promising marketing career in a pharmaceutical company in Manila, swallowed his pride and worked in menial jobs in Sydney. He began as a laborer in a soda and juice warehouse and later as a letter-sorter in the Australian Post Office.
First job

It was tough and heart breaking. ?I had to work standing in the warehouse from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.,? he says. Like most educated Filipino migrants, he faced the reality that not all Philippine college degrees are recognized in Australia. ?So a laborer?s work was the only answer and it became so frustrating, considering the job I had in the Philippines."

Boy Tagle?s first break came in 1990 when his friend Mario Tan, a leading remittance businessman in Manila, offered him a business partnership in Sydney. Tan wanted Boy to help him establish a remittance center Down Under.

Birth of an OFW firm

?In the beginning, clients came few and far between,? says Boy. ?I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning, answering phone calls of friends working in shifts who wanted to remit money to their families back home.?

Soon his Filipino clients would inquire whether he also offered balikbayan box services. He saw the opportunity, grabbed it, and BM Express International was born. BM, for Boy and Mario, was a major success. Only one company was in the balikbayan box business then and clients had to bring the boxes to the store themselves. ?So I offered to pick up the boxes in their homes using my old station wagon,? says Boy.

Little did he know that he would next be bombarded by phone calls from Filipinos he didn?t even know, all wanting their balikbayan boxes picked up. Heeding the call for more efficient service, he next organized the first network of balikbayan boxes drop off points in the entire city of Sydney ? a first from an enterprising new kid on the block.

From 200 kilos of balikbayan boxes a week in 1992, Boy and his wife Connie soon faced an insurmountable 3,000 kilos of balikbayan boxes a week.

Exponential growth

?At first officials of the airline carrier wouldn?t give a cent to notice me,? he says. ?But they changed their mind when I was offering 3,000 kilos.? Soon his boss at the post office would complain about his habitual absences. His neighbors would also complain of the many boxes stored in front of their houses.

?We eventually had to buy a warehouse on Wiltshire Street and quit our jobs to work on the boxes full time,? he says.

BM Express International is now a household name not only in New South Wales but also in South Australia, Adelaide, Queensland, and Victoria. It has also expanded into several branches of groceries in New South Wales and importation, food processing and packaging.

Boy says that the majority of Filipino-Australian households now have Filipino-made products all over Australia ? among them noodles, corned beef, bagoong, balut, kawali and even walis tingting - that are either imported, processed, or packaged by BM International Express. The Tagles are thinking of franchising their businesses to Filipino-Australians.

In 2000 the Filipino Australian Business Association named Boy the top businessman in New South Wales. ?Ang sikreto ko ay sipag, katapatan at ang pagiging patas sa kapwa, (My secret is hard work, honesty and fairness with my fellows,? he tells the Inquirer.

Despite his success Down Under, 59-year-old Boy remains a true blue Pinoy. While his children Tristan and Trisha operate the business in Australia, Boy devotes most of his time in the Philippines, creating employment as he establishes a food processing and packaging plant in Antipolo, develops a resort he calls BM Lamuro in El Nido, and sets up a school for the needy natives in his hometown El Nido in Palawan.

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