Exclusive interview with Johnny Cobankiat, President of Ace Hardware Philippines, CBK Hardware and Coby’s Gear & Gadgets
Since the 1920s, the name “Cobankiat” has become tantamount to a hardware company that not only withstood the test of time, but also the devastating effects of World War II. Once a humble store in the heart of Manila’s Chinatown, Co Ban Kiat Hardware grew into a massive corporation hell-bent on improving homes and buildings alike.
Now, after a decade, Co Ban Kiat Hardware Inc. (CBKHI) is aptly praised as the “House of Home Improvements,” spearheading the ceaseless mission of making high-quality building supplies accessible for all people. But how exactly did a small store evolve into one of the country’s leading suppliers of top-of-the-line hardware materials? This is the parabolic, mustard-seed story of this company and its zealous pioneer, the Cobankiat family.
Needless to say, World War II ravaged the Philippines. It made ruins of buildings, and left destruction and marginalization in its wake. During that time, the Filipinos found it difficult to smile despite their natural resilience and cheery dispositions. However, these unfortunate events compelled an inspired Atilano Cobankiat and Co Ban Kiat Hardware to return to business and better the war-torn landscape of Manila. Out of Atilano Cobankiat’s willingness to ameliorate Manila, Co Ban Kiat Hardware began producing and supplying home building materials to individuals and groups who shared his vision of rebuilding the city. Truly, it was an arduous yet impactful beginning.
Fast forward a few decades, Johnny Cobankiat, the current President of CBK Hardware Inc. and son of Atilano Cobankiat says that his father’s initiative and decisiveness in improving the Manila landscape were grounds for Co Ban Kiat Hardware to be revered. In his eyes, his father saw as an opportunity to improve the living standards of the Filipino people, not to make a profit but to help rebuild a war-torn country.
“My father always tells me stories of our humble beginnings and our purpose. We do not just sell building materials. We are helping Filipino people build their dreams. I even like to think that we are in the business of nation building”
Johnny Cobankiat says. If home is where the heart is, Johnny Cobankiat has sought and continually seeks to strengthen it.
While effectivity is arguably the most important aspect of home improvement, Johnny Cobankiat was never one to sacrifice the aesthetics. For him, form and function needed to be perfectly balanced. This belief was made real in 1996 when his endeavors birthed Coby’s Design Center in Edsa Shangri La. To this day, the specialty store offers a lavish line of innovatory products that considers the keen tastes of the modern-day Filipino.
If that wasn’t enough, Johnny Cobankiat has also brought another hardware giant to the Philippines in his pursuit of ease of living. Only a year after the creation of Coby’s Design Center did Johnny Cobankiat partner with ACE Hardware USA and bring them to the country. By supplying them with the necessary tools, CBKHI helped root the American hardware retailers’ cooperative not only in the Philippines, but also the minds of the Filipinos.
As a man of trust and honesty, Johnny Cobankiat saw his bringing of ACE Hardware to the Philippines as a strategic and philanthropic decision.
“I want to introduce to the Filipino people more international brands with products that are reliable, affordable and most of all, trustworthy,”
he exclaimed. This inclination to stay truthful is rare among the majority of sales representatives and businessmen within the industry who, in most cases, would withhold information and compromise structural integrity as a whole just to earn extra. “Trust,” Johnny Cobankiat says, “is an important material in building relationships.”
For Johnny Cobankiat, the saying “fortune favors the bold,” hits close to home. Here we have a man who is passionate about helping others and he has made it his life’s work. Because of this, never has he become more successful.
All in all, the pillars upon which Johnny Cobankiat stands are efficiency, beauty, and decisiveness. In fact, the balance between these things are what Co Ban Kiat Hardware Inc., Coby’s Design Center, and ACE Hardware live by as brands. These names all revolve around making better and further beautifying the lives of the Filipino with home improvement and hardware materials that are easy to use and understand.
Now, as Co Ban Kiat Hardware Inc. celebrates 100 years of existence, we can look back at how this humble shop in Manila’s Chinatown grew into one of the biggest suppliers of home-improving materials through nothing but the passion of its CEO and his love for helping those in need.