Lance Gokongwei looks back on Cebu Pacific’s beginnings


It was sometime in the late 1980s, recalls Cebu Pacific president and chief executive Lance Y. Gokongwei, when his late father, John Gokongwei Jr. aka “Big John” first toyed with the idea of starting his own airline.

“He was in the United States at that time and read about a low-cost carrier called Southwest. That’s how all this started,” relates Lance. “He came up to my office one day and said, ‘I started this airline—can you think of anyone who could help?’ For me, that meant he wanted me to help, so that’s what I did.”

Lance Gokongwei, president and chief executive of Cebu Pacific, leans on lessons he learned from his late father as he leads the airline in navigating through turbulent skies. (Photo from JG Summit)

Big John’s only son says his late father’s lack of experience in the airline industry did not deter him from going against established players and enabling “everyJuan” to fly.

Lessons learned

The older Gokongwei’s secret to having such confidence was seeking advice from others because he believed that “no matter what challenges arise, make sure to find the solution, even if it doesn’t come from yourself.” 

He also was, Lance says, a firm believer that learning never ends. “You can never stop learning from others. Even when you’re the boss or the manager, you will benefit from the ideas of your colleagues.”

This year, Cebu Pacific marks 25 fruitful years since it first took to the skies in 1996, fulfilling the vision of Big John to make air travel accessible to more Filipinos. 

“Till today, I think Dad was most successful with businesses that catered to every man, the common man, because that’s who he was,” Lance said in 2019. 

With steady leadership and guided by the lessons he picked up from his father, the airline’s chief has piloted the company through turbulent skies—not the least of which is the ongoing pandemic that has upended the global airline and tourism sector.

John Gokongwei, Jr. (right) touring former First Lady Ming Ramos at the launch of Cebu Pacific’s inaugural flight in 1996.

“All the lessons my dad taught us, he taught not through words, but by example. And all the lessons he taught, guide me until now,” he shares.

Committed to serve

Amid the challenges the airline is facing today, Lance expresses gratitude to the passengers and customers who have trusted Cebu Pacific with their life’s important moments. “The unwavering support you have given us through the years propels us to pursue new opportunities, to usher #MoreSmilesAhead with everyJuan,” he says.

As the airline celebrates its 25th year, it stays committed to serving the public with utmost safety, convenience, and fun in every flight. “Our strong team—from the flight crew to the operations team, to those working from home or offices across the network—remains true to their service in making sure you arrive to your destination as safe and comfortable as possible,” enthuses Lance. 

“We have witnessed a lot of changes in 25 years—changes that enabled us to grow and reaffirm why we fly. As we celebrate this milestone, our commitment remains: to make the skies accessible for everyJuan of you in the years to come.”

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