Overseas Filipino, Filipino expat, Filipino overseas community leader. There are many things we may call Ben Lebig, Jr., yet when you meet him, albeit virtually, his humility and spirit will immediately win your respect. Ben is a family man, an executive with oil giant Chevron, an entrepreneur, an advocate, and a happy SM Development Corporation (SMDC) investor and homeowner.
“The pandemic is not like anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime,” Ben begins
thoughtfully. “For us here, especially for myself, it’s a double-edged sword, because I’m not only responsible for my family and for myself; I’m also a community leader here in the UAE.”
The Filipinos in UAE are 800,000-strong. A large number of them are in Dubai. Ben, who had always worked closely with the Philippine Consulate and other community leaders in Dubai, saw firsthand the effect of the pandemic to Filipinos there. “With job cuts, pay cuts, redundancies, and all of that, it’s been our responsibility, as leaders, to help as much as we can,” he shares.
A role model
Ben currently works as a finance and decision support analyst for Chevron, covering Europe, Middle East, and Africa. He is the focal point of the development of Chevron’s business plan for these regions. Budget, business plans, strategy, name it: this Filipino is at the center. He has the business plan for the regions factored into the US mother company’s business plan.
It is therefore correct to say that when it comes to finance, Ben has the aptitude. So much so, in fact, that he also serves as the Chairman of the UAE chapter of the Registered Financial Planners Association of the Philippines. This is where Ben’s advocacy of financial literacy comes into play. He helps fellow Filipinos in the UAE with their financial decisions and investment goals.
Ben understands the weight of what he says to the other OFWs in the UAE. White-collar or blue-collar it does not matter to Ben; he is quick to give guidance to any Filipino.
Time to diversify
The acquisition of SMDC properties in the Philippines was not a decision that Ben and his wife made lightly, especially since they decided to go for it in the midst of a pandemic. “It took months of preparation and months of research. As a finance person myself, the financial aspect is a big component of our decision-making,” says Ben.
Ben has other investments: paper assets, mutual funds, variable universal life insurance and the stock market, and he has a business. “I am a co-owner of a company in the Philippines that produces dragon fruit,” he says. “We have 5 farms right now, in Ilocos, in Arayat, and in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. The long-term plan is to export.”
Ben knew it was time to diversify his investment portfolio. The most logical next investment was real estate. “Real estate is a hard asset. Other investments might become unstable, but not real estate,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s always a comforting thought that real estate will always be there. That’s why we came into this gradual trajectory for our diversification.”
SMDC as the best choice
After 3 months of due diligence, researching on real estate companies in the Philippines, Ben and his wife decided to go for SMDC. They knew in their heart it was the right decision.
“Believe it or not, the pandemic was also a really good push for us,” says Ben. “Because of the pandemic, we realized that real estate is one of those defensive investments that we should have. Real estate is resilient.”
Everything in one place
Ben believes his investment choices are strategic and has a sound financial value. Earlier this year, he was in Manila on a business trip. He stayed with a friend who was a resident of Light Residences. He fell in love with the place.
“I loved the place. I loved the amenities. I loved the idea of having a mall within the development because of the convenience that it provides, and the strategic location is fantastic,” Ben says.
Ben made the decision to also invest in Sail Residences because of his vision of what the area will eventually become. He says that one should always see beyond what is in front of him. “Mall of Asia (MOA) is the center,” he says. The location of MOA makes traveling to the rest of Metro Manila and to Cavite, Laguna and Batangas a breeze.
A bright future with SMDC Ben can visualize clearly the developments in the Mall of Asia in the coming years. “We’re very excited about Sail Residences, because of what it can offer to us at turnover time,” he says enthusiastically. “What the Mall of Asia area will look like and its potential brings value to investors who own a property on that side of Manila.”
Those two things were the driving forces that helped Ben decide to invest in an SMDC property without hesitation. “The main factor for investing in real estate with SMDC is the investment value. You see the potential of the place, the potential of a property on that side of town,” he says. “Whether we choose to retire in the Philippines or not, it doesn’t matter. At this point, we look at these properties as investment portfolio items.”
SMDC and the OFWs’ hard-earned money
It was a question that begged to be asked: “What makes SMDC worth your hard-earned money?”
“SMDC has always been known to provide not only high-quality projects, but also projects that are very strategic, very viable,” he says. “It has already perfected this integration of urban living with a mall and with world-class amenities you can enjoy. Whether it’s 5 or 15 years down the line, they’ll be our partners because they built our properties.”
“In the middle of a pandemic we decided to invest with SMDC because we have seen what they can do,” continues Ben. “We see how they delivered their previous projects and the quality of their projects. SMDC will protect the SM brand, so they will do everything in their power to make sure they deliver above the expectations of their clients.”
Ben knows without a doubt that he did the right thing when he invested in SMDC.