Bernardo M. Villegas
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The Father of Pharma Retailing

          The name Mercury Drug is synonymous with inexpensive and quality medicine accessible to the masses in more than 1,000 drugstores all over the Philippines, employing over 13,000 people.  Its founder, Mariano Que, passed away at the age of close to 97 last April 12.  I had the privilege to know him as a friend for more than forty years.  His passing at a ripe old age reminded me of what St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, used to advise those who are struggling, despite their human weaknesses, to be faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. “Nano” was one of those committed Christians.  St. Josemaria’s advice was to ask God for a very long life, in contrast with other equally holy spirituality, such as that of St. Therese of the Little Flower, whose prayer was to die as young as possible so that she could enjoy the beatific vision without delay.  St. Josemaria’s advice was to ask for a long, long life so that one can serve God and one’s fellowmen for as long as possible, “being squeezed to the last drop like a lemon.” I know for a fact that Nano was very thankful to God for giving him a long life so that he could serve his customers, his employees, his suppliers, the communities in which he operated, and all his stakeholders as long as possible.  Needless to say, his first priority in his life of service was his family, i.e. his wife Estelita and his eight children.

         I have no doubt that Nano was squeezed as a calamansi is purged by an economical housewife to the very last drop.  Nano served unselfishly all the stakeholders of Mercury Drug and was a loving father to his children and doting grandfather to his grandchildren. The testimonials given during the Memorial Mass by his children, grandchildren, employees, suppliers and other people whose lives he touched were unanimous with one message:  that Nano’s passion was to be of service to others. This spirit of service was so evident to me whenever he would consult me about the average increase in the Consumer Price Index.  It was his great passion to make sure that the prices of the medicines he was selling to the public would never rise at rates higher the  average inflation. He also used the CPI as a gauge of whether or not he was paying his employees the just family wages.

         Mariano Que started retailing medicine in 1945.  He started his drugstore with the purchase of one bottle of a wonder drug after the Second World War.  It was called sulfathiazole.   The bottle had a price tag of P100.   He then patiently sold the content, tablet by tablet, or as we say in Filipino “tingi”.  As he accumulated profits, he invested them in a bigger volume of medicines and in a transport vehicle called the pushcart. His first ever Mercury drug store was opened in Bambang Street.  After 72 years, today there are over 1,000 stores, employing 13,000 people.  I don’t think there is another person who has contributed more to the health of millions of Filipinos than Nano for having established the largest pharma retailing business in the country.

         Nano was one of the first persons in business with whom I shared the teachings of St. Josemaria Esriva, Founder of Opus Dei.  From what his daughter Vivian said in her eulogy, I could gather that, without being a member of Opus Dei, Nano lived fully its spirituality.  In Vivian’s words: “Dad taught us the meaning of hard work, sacrifice and divine filiation.  He trusted God completely and it was his faith in the Lord that helped him through his deepest and darkest moments.  From the very beginning, Dad worked hard.  He appreciated the importance of work well done and, in many ways, he was sanctified by it.  I have often wondered where he managed to get the much needed reserves of energy to accomplish what he did.  But he was a passionate man who loved what he did.”

         More important than his work, though, was his family.  I was impressed by what I heard from his many children who spoke during the Memorial Service.  Each one recounted how Nano, despite his very demanding schedule at work, found time to pay attention to each of them, playing with them, conversing with them, bringing them out on walks individually and devoting to them both quantity and quality time.  Most of all, his children appreciated how much he loved his wife Estelita.  Again in this regard, Vivian summarized the views of all her siblings:  “We saw how he cherished our mom in so many ways.  Mom was his life.  He was faithful to my Mom until the end.  He never looked  at another woman, not because of ‘heavy guarding’ but because she was the one and only love of his life.  He was distraught and heartbroken when she passed away, and we were completely devastated and didn’t know if we could go on without her.  But Dad, despite his pain, was our strength, our light, our guide, and our anchor.”  This testimony from a daughter about the unquestionable marital fidelity of a business icon is so important during these days when some or our leaders have the temerity to flaunt their infidelities, rationalizing what is out and out adultery.  I have asked the Que siblings to pray to their exemplary parents to intercede to God for Filipino spouses to be faithful to one another for the rest of their lives.

            Nano’s being an exemplary family man had a major impact on how he conducted his business.  Far from considering business as simply a profit-making machine, he actually lived the Christian principle that business is a community of persons who have grouped together  to promote the good of one another as they engage in the production of goods or services that are sold to the public.  This is the message I heard from the employees of Mercury Drug who also delivered eulogies.  The employees said that Nano made them feel that they belonged to one big family made up of all the stakeholders of their company, i.e. the customers, the rank-and-file workers, the executives and managers, the suppliers, the community in which they operate, the funds providers and the nation at large.  When Nano would say that Mercury Drug was one big family, he was not just mouthing motherhood statements.  Because he knew how to treat his wife and children with the greatest affection and care within his own family, he knew how to transpose this family environment to the company that he built.  How I wish business people reading this article would examine their consciences and ask themselves if they consider people who work for them—especially the rank and file—as members of a family and not just as mere  economic resources from whom to squeeze maximum profit! For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.