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Philippine Daily Inquirer
October 25, 2002
Exec gave up corporate life to turn to bees
By Mei Magsino
Silang, Cavite – Leaving behind the stress-filled and highly competitive corporate world, Joel Magsaysay settled into the extreme opposite of his past life. And he made it big.
Combining his keen business acumen and passion for nature's most productive workers, he went into beekeeping, and is now the biggest in the country. He exports tons of honey to Tokyo, Japan while wife Violaine manufactures soap, medicine, and candles from bee products.
Twenty-two years ago, Joel was chief executive officer of an international fast-food chain, living a lifestyle that most of his colleagues in Makati city envied.
An industrial management engineering graduate of De La Salle University, he was initially providing multinationals with business planning feasibility studies and systems design expertise.
At 26, he became a top official of a fast food chain while teaching at the Ateneo Center for Continuing Education Graduate School.
Weekends found him riding his motorbike or surfing at Nasugbu.
Then he shocked his friends when he quit his job and decided to live in his family's seven-hectare farm in Silang, Cavite, which was at that time, was something like a forest. He left his life of comfort and lived in a place with no electricity, telephone, and the nightlife.
While colleagues thought he made a mistake, to Joel, the decision was leaving the rat race and
taking a short cut to the finish line. "Most corporate executives have this plan: work all their lives, accumulate wealth and then when they have saved enough and grown old, they would retire and go back to provinces to do some farming and enjoy the gifts of nature until their last days," Joel says. "But why would you do all that, lose too much time just to go back to farming when you can get out of the race and go to farming while you're still young?" he says. "That's exactly what I did. And I now live in paradise with my family. What more can you ask for?"
Today, Joel is one of the country's leading apiculturists (beekeeper), owning the country's most diversified apiaries producing the full range of bee products and marketing in both domestic and export markets.
He and his wife, Violaine, a former Philippine Airlines flight stewardess, own and run Ilog Maria, a fully commercial honeybee operation producing honey to soaps and shampoos.
KING OF BEES
Joel's fascination with bees started when he would surf at Nasugbu and he was consuming imported honeybee pollen products.
The honeybee products, which came from France, cost too much, and he wanted the real pollen, not a processed product.
His search in the beekeeper's guide led him to Ian Aranza, one of only two beekeepers in the country, who also happened to be one of his father's godsons.
"When I discovered Ian's hobby, we immediately went down to discuss business," Joel says, "and I asked him to teach me how to be a beekeeper."
In December 1985, the country's political turmoil was taking its toll on the Magsaysay family. The entire family met to discuss their plans in case a civil war broke out.
The Magsaysays identified the seven-hectare land in barangay Lalaan 1, in Silang, Cavite, for the family's possible retreat but nobody among Joel's siblings would take the responsibility of developing the property.
Since he was into beekeeping, he volunteered to develop the seven-hectare forest.
Joel sold his motorbike to buy a hand tractor that he needed to develop the property.
He got rid of all the weeds and turned the property into a fully productive and inter-cropped farm with coffee, black pepper, fruit trees, coconuts, bamboo and hardwood trees like narra, gmelina and mahogany.
As he neared his 30th birthday, Joel computed the chances of his finding a wife who has the same passion for bees was one in a million. But he was lucky.
"My wife Violaine has kept bees for about fourteen years. When I met her, she had already started keeping one colony," Joel said, "we got married seven months after we met and immediately moved nine colonies in our old bee trailer into the farm. What happened next was indeed a honeymoon!"
Violaine worked as an international flight stewardess for four years at the Philippine Airlines.
When she had saved enough, she resigned from her job, bought a farm, cultured prawns and kept bees in Dolores, Quezon. When she married Joel, she moved to the farm in Silang.
The farm, powered by solar energy, was the perfect place to start a family and extend the business. For water, they tapped the aquifer flowing beneath the farmhouse.
"Our water is so clean; we can bottle it right out of the tap and sell it. We use this mineral water for drinking and in our lab for honey wine, honey cider vinegar and health soap and our natural shampoo," Violaine says.
They named the farm Ilog Maria.
The beekeeping business flourished. The nine bee colonies they started now expanded to eight hundred and is still growing.
Beekeeping equipment, which costs a fortune abroad, was not a problem with the Magsaysays as the business grew bigger.
"We now make our own equipment," Violaine said, "We have a team of technical experts who have been working with us to develop our honey extractors and other machines necessary for the business at a much lower cost,"
The farm is surrounded by pineapple, mango, citrus, coffee, bananas, coconut plantations
provided flowers for bees and flavors for the honey.
In 1996, together with their four children, they left their farmhouse to transfer to the newly constructed three-storey building which became their new home. The farm house is now a storage house.
Their new home has Violaine's laboratory in the basement floor, the showroom on the ground floor and family rooms in the second and third floors.
The top floor of the building has the computers and satellite dish that enable Joel to update the ilogmaria.com, the farms website.
The beekeeping business has no wastage. As they exported the honey, the remaining beeswax is turned into candles and soaps.
Straight from the beehive, they got virgin honey, bee pollen, propolis gold, royal jelly, honey cider vinegar, refined beeswax and whole dried bee venom.
In Violaine's laboratory, she makes preparations from honey such as propolis mist, propolis throat and breath spray, and propolis ointment.
Although Violaine is not a chemist, she was able to formulate health soaps and shampoos using their products as the base.
"Joel and I did so much research in soap making," Violaine said, "and then, I experimented. After about a thousand trials and errors, we were able to create the perfect health soaps and shampoos that are now exported worldwide."
At the Ilog Maria showroom, which doubles as the store, Violaine's products – all from her original formulation – are on display such as soaps, honey-glycerin bar with sampaguita oil, and individuals buy them by the dozen.
Finding the essential oils necessary in soap making is not a problem, according to Joel.
At the back of the building is a thriving herb garden where Joel and a childhood friend built a watering facility that employs the forest-mist system, imitating the rain-forest fog that helps in the propagation of herbs where they get their essential oils.
Molded and rolled beeswax candles have also been best sellers for visitors and collectors who frequent Ilog Maria.
Joel has trained hundreds of hobbyists, government and non-government organizations that wanted to learn about beekeeping.
Even international organizations such as Plan International, US Peace Corps, US AID, Japan Wildlife Research Center, Save the Children Foundation, International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, Philppine Australia Agritech, and the Israel Ministry of Agriculture Extension Service for Apiculture
have sought his expertise in beekeeping.
Joel and Violaine have raised their four children who have inherited their passion for nature and knack for business.
When the couple joins fairs and exhibitions, the children, age 5 to 13, manage the store and the farm. And even prepares the accounts for the day.
"The kids go to local schools here that have the same educational system as the best in Manila," Joel said, "and at their young age, they understand the nature of the business and can manage it."
For Joel, his best decision to leave the corporate world was also his life's best decision.
"If I didn't come here and become an apiculturist, I could have been a company president now. But will I be as happy as I am now?" That's the biggest question that will be answered by a big NO,"
Joel said, "I've found my Shangri-la. What more can I ask for?"