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Lolo Benny, the master edutainer

By DONNIE TANTOCO, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 11, 2021 6:00 am

(Editor's note: When Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco III was a child, he would spend all of his weekends as his grandfather Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco Sr.’s companion. Later on, he would spend every Wednesday with his Lolo Benny for 27 years starting in 1994. Friends and family say Donnie could probably write a book entitled “Wednesdays with Lolo Benny.” If Donnie were to write this book, one chapter would probably be the following story.)

My Lolo Benny liked to teach and co-learn through firsthand experience. The only way to learn, he believed, is to be out there. 

When I was in Grade 6, he wanted to bring Tita Tess (Tantoco-Enriquez) and me on a month-long trip to Mexico. My school denied my application to be away for that long. Lolo Benny told me: “Let me try to talk to them.”

He spoke to each of my six teachers and convinced them that I would learn a lot being out in the world rather than spending the next 45 days in the classroom.

Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco Sr. with eldest son Bienvenido “Rico” Tantoco Jr. (left) and eldest grandson Bienvenido “Donnie” Tantoco III (right).

He told them, “When my grandson gets back, he will do a slide show presentation of what he learned.” He showed each of them the itinerary, and told them I would share what I learned with all my classmates: “It’s a win-win.”

I think Lolo Benny was the master of edutainment. There were always elements of fun, joy, passion, humor, camaraderie, alongside discipline, struggle and problem-solving in our work.

The teachers expected my Lolo to use his power and stature to make them give me special permission. Instead, he tried his best not to come across as intimidating. In the end, they unanimously and enthusiastically approved my trip.

Needless to say, even if I was really shy, I had to make that presentation about the Aztecs, Mexico City, Taxco, Cuernavaca, Teotihuacan, etc.

On our first night in Mexico, he did not even sleep because he wanted to read a history book about Mexico cover to cover. When I woke up the next day he said: “Let’s go, Tess and Donnie! This is going to be an adventurous day. We are going to eat lunch in a cave that used to be a silver mine!”

I was thinking: “Oh, my gosh, I can’t even imagine what he is talking about.” I was so excited! He curated for Tita Tess and me what was still one of the best (out of hundreds of) exciting, astonishing, learning, life-changing experiences I’ve had. He gave my teachers pasalubongs.

And I did make that first major public presentation of my life. I felt like I had reached some kind of a new milestone.

One of my teachers told me: “Donnie! You are so lucky to have a Lolo like that! Plus, he is so charming!” I could not think of anything else but “Thank you, Lord!” And by the way, he was actually doing important work while he was taking Tita Tess and me on this unforgettable trip. 

I think Lolo Benny was the master of edutainment. There were always elements of fun, joy, passion, humor, camaraderie, alongside discipline, struggle and problem solving in our work.

At the end of each day he would say, “Donnie, today was a good day. We learned something new, we ate and enjoyed a good meal, we saw beautiful things, met fascinating people, and God is really helping us and showing us the way. What more do you want?”

* * *

Fast forward to 1994. Lolo  Benny told me, “Donnie, I want to make a Rustan’s for all Filipinos; I want all Filipinos to have the same kind of service and quality that Rustan’s gives to the rich.” I loved the idea.

Rather than hire an army of consultants, once again my Lolo, my wife Crickette and I traveled the world. We studied retailers in Europe and the US that we felt were democratizing quality.

These were retailers with a purpose beyond just making money. They had real values. They also wanted to make a difference. It was rigorous but it was also an amazing, eye-opening and mind-enlarging learning experience.

One day we saw a Pryca in Spain. We knew after 15 minutes of touring the store that we had found what we were looking for. This was the sweet spot. I told Lolo, while jumping around: “This is it! This is it!” 

Lolo replied: “Yes, but don’t try to do this by yourself. Work with the right partner. This is very different from what we know and understand.” I told Lolo: “I think our vision should be ‘Quality for all,’” and he nodded his head in agreement. He said “Do it.” 

And that was how Rustan’s Shopwise was born.