Jon and Cynthia Reyes said that the best advice they were ever given is to put their family first. After all, this is what their relatives did when they first came to Canada as part of the pioneer Filipino community in Winnipeg almost four decades ago.
Pioneering the Filipino-Canadian Community
“Jon’s dad came here through the garment industry and later sponsored his mom and baby sister who arrived in 1969. My dad was sponsored here by his older siblings and my mother came to Canada as one of the first waves of Filipino registered nurses,” shared Cynthia.
Both Jon and Cynthia were born in Winnipeg, Manitoba and have lived in Canada all their lives. But having Filipino parents and relatives made them no stranger to the struggles and triumphs of immigrants.
“Their major challenges were adapting to the climate, the cold extreme weather, trying to fit into a different culture. There were no oriental food markets in Winnipeg at the time, so they were not able to eat the foods they were used to,” Cynthia recalled from her parents’ stories.
For example, when cooking the Filipino favorite Sinigang, Jon and Cynthia’s parents had to use lemons because there were no tamarind soups or mixes available in Winnipeg at that time.
“There was also prevalent racism. This, coupled with our parents’ lack of knowledge of the new country and not feeling accepted and welcomed, made it difficult. Another challenge was not having their university education recognized here in Canada. This required my father to go back to school to take formal English classes and upgrade. Trying to support a growing family and studying at the time was not easy,” Cynthia recalled.
“Luckily, there were many too who were helpful and accepting,” they added with a beam.
“We work together best because we balance each other out well,” they shared.
Engaging on a business venture is a challenge in itself, but doing it with your lifetime partner is a different story altogether. Nonetheless, Jon and Cynthia made it work and made it work well.
“Jon is of a military background, very rules-driven, organized, and great at training staff and creating processes,” said Cynthia.
Jon adds, “She has a professional nursing background. She is caring and sensitive and knows how to be firm but fair when it comes to human resources. We have to work as a team, but we do admit that we butt heads occasionally.”
Jon and Cynthia are owners of The UPS Store in Manitoba, their second business, and just like any entrepreneur, they experienced a few setbacks when they were starting out.
“Being new business owners of The UPS Store in 2008 required us to bring awareness to our business. We had to contact all of the people we knew to spread the word about our store and to introduce it to many people in our community and in Winnipeg.”
More worrisome for the couple, however, was the recession in 2008-2009.
“We had to cut staffing hours, make the budget very tight, continue to operate and promote our business. Somehow, we managed to weather the economic storm, now we can sleep at night and we have valuable customers who continue to support our business. We love to serve them and make their lives easier with the best quality products and services. We have become friends with them as well, which make our business most enjoyable,” they said.
When they started The UPS Store, they only had themselves plus one part-time staff. Today, their staff has grown to 2 full-time staff and a part-time employee. Jon and Cynthia lead the business together in terms of marketing, training, and planning.
The Manitoba Filipino Business Council
Because of their businesses, Jon and Cynthia developed numerous valuable relationships with Filipino-Canadians, including other business owners. The dynamic duo also became active members of several business organizations in their home community, like the Women Business Owners of Manitoba.
“The format was very hospitable and non-intimidating. It’s also very organized and well formatted. During the monthly meetings, there’s a great opportunity to create networks with other business owners as well as educate them on life and business-related topics,” Cynthia said.
Full of new information and inspiration from their meetings, Cynthia always comes home motivated and would almost instantly and excitedly share her discoveries to Jon. Fueled by Cynthia’s stories, Jon thought, “Why not have [a group] for Filipino business owners in Winnipeg?”
With this in mind, Jon founded the Manitoba Filipino Business Council, where he currently serves as the president.
“The Manitoba Filipino Business Council’s (MFBC) mission is to create an environment and to provide a resource for Filipino-Canadian business owners that allows them to prosper and progress by networking within the membership and through the MFBC events,” explained Jon.
The MFBC provides support for its members to promote their business as well as provide an avenue to share their ideas and struggles, which other members can learn from. The activities of the council help unite and strengthen the Filipino-Canadian business owners in order to produce individuals who contribute to the economic and social growth of the community.
Since 2010, the MFBC has championed business events and seminars for active and prospective members that would have otherwise cost their members an arm and a leg. Several of their guest speakers in past events included:
- Barbara Bowes, Human Resources guru of Winnipeg, also a columnist for The Winnipeg Free Press and Radio Show host for Human Resources on CJOB;
- The world renowned Dale Carnegie Training, known for improving Leadership Skills and Team Building for Businesses;
- Local Professional public speaker Deri-Latimer, known for helping business owners in communication and public speaking;
- Dynamic speaker Ryan Caliguiri who owns a marketing company and a columnist for The Globe and Mail; and
- Tia Polvorosa of Provici Cosmetics, who talked about how to support each other as a business community and how to share business success amongst each other.
The MFBC also gives back to the community that has given them so much.
“We have projects to benefit the Kidney Foundation of Manitoba and Children’s Hospital Foundation. We also provided a bursary to a post secondary education business student. We are working on building a business directory online via our website,” Jon mentioned.
The MFBC is also actively working with the local community while trying to reach international markets.
“We have working relationships and recognition from the World Trade Center Organization and Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce helping us bridge business and trade with the Philippines and Manitoba. Plus, we are also recognized by and network with the City of Winnipeg and provincial and federal levels of government,” Jon shares.
According to Jon, the whole point of MFBC is to provide “a strong platform for business owners to connect with each other and as well as the key people of our community, city, province and country.”
He adds, “It’s about time. Don’t you agree?”
Jon and Cynthia make sure that they don’t just focus on business but find time—make time—for each other and their kids.
“The toughest part of being an entrepreneur couple is being parents. Our kids are no stranger to the sacrifices of the business life. After all, with each birth of a child came the birth of a business. They have seen us at our most down and roughest points, but generally we have figured out how to make the best of things and we try to do our best to make every minute together quality, fun. [Our kids] are balanced and very flexible as a result: they are sociable and can socialize with all types of people from different walks of life. They really learned to appreciate others, as in business we rely on people and treat people with respect,” they share.
What the couple enjoys is spending time at home with their children Reyna and Miguel who are 11 and 7 years old, respectively.
“We also have a dog Seger. Cynthia likes to play the piano and has helped Reyna and Miguel on playing piano since they were both 4 years old,” Jon said.
“We want to continue to grow both personally and professionally,” they said. “We want to do what any couple who has children do—to guide our children and help improve their lives.”
As entrepreneurs and community leaders, they have aspirations for their other ventures as well.
“We are always looking for innovative and forward-thinking individuals of all ages to join us to bring fresh new ideas to our council. We want to create new opportunities and accomplishments working together. We want to mentor those to carry out our mission and lead us into the future eventually.
“Our newest project is a trade mission in the Philippines scheduled this September 2013. The MFBC is working with the World Trade Centre Winnipeg between the World Trade Center – Manila, The Philippine Chamber of Commerce, The Canadian Trade Commission, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, and other business and professional organizations to help seek opportunities for our members and citizens of Philippines and Canada,” Jon said.
“We want to continue helping our business peers, our community as we find networking and assisting others are very rewarding. As business owners, we are always thinking of other possible business opportunities,” they said.
All photos courtesy of Jon and Cynthia Reyes.
Interview conducted by Melissa Remulla-Briones, editor, Philippine Canadian-Inquirer.
Article written by Ching Dee, PCI correspondent; edited by Melissa Remulla-Briones.