Lasting Legacy: Benny Tantoco, Patriarch of the Rustan’s Group, passes away at 100 - Lifestyle Asia

The former ambassador to the Holy See leaves behind a storied life and many lessons imparted.

READ ALSO: In His Own Words: Donnie Tantoco On What His Lolo Benny Taught Him About Well-Being

Bienvenido “Benny” Tantoco Sr., the patriarch of the Rustan’s Group of Companies and former ambassador to The Vatican, has passed away peacefully in his sleep, morning of July 6. He was 100 years old.

Bienvenido Tantoco Sr. with grandson Donnie

He, together with his wife, the late Glecy Rustia Tantoco, co-founded what we know now as a group of companies that started out as a humble retail display in the couple’s living room. back in 1952.

Today, the flagship Rustan’s Department Store is open in various locations and carries many of the world’s luxury brands, making it the country’s most prestigious retailer. It has also branched out to supermarket chains and more recently, an online shop, rustans.com.

Tantoco, who celebrated his 100th birthday last April, leaves behind six children—Bienvenido Jr., Nedy, Menchu Lopez, Marilen Tantoco, Merl Pineda, and Tokie Enriquez—as well as 21 grandchildren, 40 great grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Life well-lived

Benny helped build Rustan’s from the ground up, starting as a small business in their living room, moving to a small gift shop in Manila, and opening a full-fledged department store in the decade that followed.

A royal in the field of luxury retail, Benny was successful in introducing upscale brands such as Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior as early as the 1960s. More brands such as Lacoste, Lanvin, and Gucci soon followed, along with the opening of a flagship store in Makati. Two more locations were opened: one in Cubao in 1973 and another one in Cebu in 1981. By the 1990s, Rustan’s had also opened its Shangri-La Plaza Mandaluyong and Ayala Alabang stores.

During the 1970s, the company also ventured into opening a chain of supermarkets, Rustan’s Supermarkets and Shopwise.

In 1987, as all children became involved, the family business grew further with the establishment of Stores Specialists Inc., which brought brands like Marks & Spencer, TWG Tea, The Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Zara, Tory Burch, and Calvin Klein.

The Rustan Group of Companies was also responsible for bringing in Starbucks to the Philippines via Rustan Coffee, along with Royal Duty Free and luxury boutique department store, Adora.

Through the Rustia-Tantoco Foundation, Rustan’s philanthropic arm and a leading advocate for social upliftment in the country, the family was also able to grant education scholarships, as well as initiate fundraisers and sponsorships in arts and culture.

Apart from being a businessman, Benny also served as the Philippines’ ambassador to the Holy See in 1983.

Lessons learned

Donnie Tantoco, grandson of Benny, has shared the lessons his grandfather has taught him about taking care of oneself and others in a Lifestyle Asia story earlier this year.

“What I learned from my Lolo is not so much what you do to enhance your overall well being and live life fruitfully at a physical, relational, spiritual and professional level, it is why you do it.”

“I have never stopped learning from him,” he says. “His teaching style is really through his action and example.”

The biggest lesson he has learned from his lolo is that every day is a gift.

“I think the biggest secret of my Lolo is that he does not treat another day of life as something that just happens naturally. He truly treats each day that he wakes up as a gift and an opportunity,” he says. “Everything that happens on that day is either a blessing or a blessing in disguise. I think this is why I have hardly seen my grandfather get angry or gripe, or say negative things.”

Living with intention and discipline is also something that Donnie learned from his lolo, who is an early riser, never skipping to devote the time to reflect and pray by himself. He believes that without “the time to think and pray, you cannot be intentional.”

After a quiet time in the morning, Donnie says his lolo would do some work, replying mindfully to messages he received from the day before, kindly sharing his wisdom.

“Another lesson I learned is to answer [to] your messages in a way that is coaching and encouraging,” Donnie says, pointing out how this method has been helpful for the wellbeing of not just his lolo, but also the team.

“I think the biggest secret of my Lolo is that he does not treat another day of life as something that just happens naturally,” Donnie says of his Lolo Benny

Donnie also remembers his lolo as a foodie, who loves a good meal as much as the conversations that happen over it.

Benny is someone who exercises regularly, too. If not in his at-home gym, the younger Tantoco would often go on “wonderful but also strenuous” hour-long walks with his lolo.

But perhaps the most important lesson Donnie has learned from his lolo is this: to show up for new relationships, for a chance to demonstrate love, for new learnings, and for opportunities to contribute to a larger-than-life purpose—and to look good through it all.

“[He] constantly reminds me, ‘Donnie! Remember this—you get 50 points for showing up! And 40 points for looking good!” he recalls. “My lolo is the most stylish person I know.  I love the way he grooms, curates his outfit, mixes prints and colors to reflect his inner creativity, and match his mood for the day. I love the way he stands out in a sea of dark suits.”

“Everything that happens on that day is either a blessing or a blessing in disguise. I think this is why I have hardly seen my grandfather get angry or gripe, or say negative things.”

More than the physique or clothes, however, “looking good,” as Donnie has learned from his lolo by example, means ‘being intentional about the character you choose to put on.’

“That character has to be real, and be the very best you are and can offer,” he says. “So what I learned from my Lolo is not so much what you do to enhance your overall well being and live life fruitfully at a physical, relational, spiritual and professional level, it is why you do it. His reason comes from a place of gratitude; it is simply to be whole with himself so that he can be whole for others.”

Exemplary leader

The family confirmed his passing in an official statement. 

“Rustan’s patriarch, beloved father and grandfather, an exemplary leader and visionary, [he] passed in peace in the early morning of Tuesday, July 6,” the statement reads. “A revered figure in the retail industry, business circles, and diplomatic community, as well as for his various church and philanthropic endeavors, he lived his life full of energy, warmth, and devotion.”

He, together with his wife, the late Glecy Rustia Tantoco, co-founded what we know now as a group of companies that started out as a humble retail display in the couple’s living room back in 1952. 

Today, the flagship Rustan’s Department Store is open in various locations and carries many of the world’s luxury brands, making it the country’s most prestigious retailer. It has also branched out to supermarket chains and more recently, an online shop, rustans.com. 

Tantoco, who celebrated his 100th birthday last April, leaves behind six children—Bienvenido Jr., Nedy, Menchu Lopez, Marilen Tantoco, Merl Pineda, and Tokie Enriquez—as well as 21 grandchildren, 40 great grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

No cause of death has been revealed, but the family says “he will be honored in celebration of his life” and will later be “laid to rest with a memorial service to be announced soon.”

Photos courtesy of Donnie Tantoco

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