Joji Ilagan Bian’s fire in the belly

The term “fire in the belly” refers to someone’s drive or motivation to achieve success, a powerful sense of determination.

Passion is also a word that means an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. Passion burns out. Fire in the belly burns on. Passion rises and falls. Fire in the belly is a continuous drive.

I don’t know how some people maintain being fired up but I know that Joji Bian has fire in the belly. Who she?

Joji was born in Davao City on July 23, 1955. Her dad Jose Ilagan from Batangas served as a prosecutor in Davao while her mom Ma. Celina Javellana from Iloilo was a housewife who found time to organize the Divine Mercy Devotion movement here in Mindanao. Jose and Celina produced five children. One of them became a lawyer like Jose and one is a doctor who performs free surgery on children with cleft palate.

Joji Ilagan studied at the Immaculate Conception College (now University of the Immaculate Conception) and became the grade school valedictorian and high school salutatorian. At 16, she became an academic scholar at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. Right after graduation, she returned to Davao City and worked as a teacher at Philippine Women’s College. In not time at all, she became Dean of the PWC HRM Department.

Engr. George Bian, a hardworking businessman, married Joji when she was just 24. They lived in Barangay Buhangin since 1980. Their three children (Dyan, Michael, and Nicole) now help run their family business establishments.

From 1981 to 1988, Joji witnessed the difficult times in Davao City. The economy was in bad shape. Many people were unemployed and could not send their children to college.

Being an educator, Joji thoughtfully considered putting up a technical vocational school that could hasten employment for those who could not afford a 4-year college course. Joji and George Bian started a one-room school at Anda Street called Joji Ilagan Career Center. Today it has developed and spawned the JIB Welding Academy, the Tumble Tots Pre-school Philippines, and the world-class ICHEF culinary school.

Joji have ventured into many other businesses. Not all of them lasted but nothing deterred her from finding projects to nurture.

In 1988, Joji Bian became the first woman president of Davao Tourism Association (DATA). The group’s goal was to promote tourism and business investment. She represented the private sector while then Mayor Rody Duterte represented the government. Duterte and Bian worked hard to gain the trust of business people to promote Davao as a pleasant place and convinced them that the city was no longer “Nicaragdao” (killing fields).

Even without government funds then to promote Davao, Joji Bian went to Manila and met hotel owners to sponsor “See Davao.” The project allowed an influx of visitors who had a taste of the best foods in Davao and also enjoyed popular tourist sites in the Davao region. She replicated her efforts by going to the USA to promote “Balik-Dabaw.” Bian understood the importance of tourism’s role in developing the local economy.

From 1992 to 1994, Joji Bian became the first woman president of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce. It was another opportunity for Duterte and Bian to work together to help improve Davao. They wooed more business people to invest in Davao. Their efforts led to the generation of jobs – which enabled more youth to go to school, brought food on the table, and improved the quality of life for Davao residents. She brought in several foreign trade missions that earned the Most Outstanding Chamber in the Philippines Award for the local chamber.

From 1998 to 2004, she was chosen by Mindanao business people to represent them in the Philippine Chamber of Commerce board and in Mindanao Business Council. As a leader in the East ASEAN Business Council, Bian presented a positive image of Davao City among foreign investors.

In 1997, Joji Ilagan Bian became the youngest recipient of the Datu Bago Award. She was recognized for her contributions to local business and education. It’s the most prestigious award in the city for those in the private sector who have served Davao well. Former Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada honored Joji Bian with a Kabalikat Award in 1998 for her service to the community through more than a thousand scholarship grants at Joji Ilagan Career Center.

In 2005, the University of the Immaculate Conception gave Bian the Most Outstanding Alumnus Award – in recognition of her service to the community. UP Diliman also gave her the Ang Patnubay Award for NGO in 2011.

Her success story was featured in a Go Negosyo book, 55 Inspiring Stories of Women Entrepreneurs. Local, national, and international publications had given her countless accolades.

Life has rewarded well and received more than she asked for. She has a happy family, good health, successful business, and very good friends. She could have retired easily and bask in the sunshine of good life… but only if she believed that her purpose for living is purely for selfish reasons.

The fire in her belly keeps Joji Bian motivated to continue serving the community.

Hernando Castillo
Mindanao Times

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Published in: on December 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm  Leave a Comment