He Never Stopped Dreaming. He was once a janitor and his resume proudly declares it. Now, this Southland Filipino-American entrepreneur is one of the most successful businessmen around.
Janitor, Metropolitan Cleaners, Cebu, 1969-73.” Thus read the last line under “Business and Employment” of the resume of Edwin N. Aroma, a low-profile Cebuano businessman now living in Van Nuys, California. Above this line is a long list of former employment and current business enterprises that range from being an auditor with the San Miguel Corp. to being president and owner of numerous agricultural, financial, and management consultancy firms. Behind this impressive employment and business history is a barrio boy’s story of success, vision, hard work, and dogged determination to achieve the goals he has set for himself.
Edwin N. Aroma was born to a fisherman and a school teacher in Catmon, Cebu on September 11, 1949. As the family grew to three sons and two daughters, Aroma’s mother was forced to stop teaching to attend to the children. The family could hardly get by with the father’s income from fishing.
When Aroma graduated from public high school at 17, he told his father he wanted to be an engineer, but his father said he couldn’t afford to send him to college.
“I didn’t know how to farm nor to fish. I really wanted to study, and make something of myself. So, I asked my father to give me 20 pesos, so I could travel to Cebu City and find a job,” Aroma said. “I applied for so many jobs, and finally found an agency that needed janitors.”
For four years, Aroma labored as a janitor, sweeping streets and alleys and cleaning offices, while he studied accounting at the University of the Visayas. He distinguished himself as a scholar and student leader. He became a college representative and later a university senator. Once, when he was a university senator, some school mates saw him sweeping an alley with fellow janitors from the Metropolitan Cleaners of Cebu, and word spread around in school at once that he was a janitor. Aroma was embarrassed for a moment, but he went on being a janitor and finished his accounting degree in 1973.
When he finally passed the CPA exams and was hired as an auditor for Carlos J. Valdez & Co. in Cebu, Aroma went to the owner of the janitorial services firm.
“I thanked him for employing me for four years, and told him I was resigning. I told the owner and his wife that I had been hired as an auditor, but they wouldn’t believe it. The wife asked: Who would hire you as auditor, you haven’t even finished college? They didn’t know I was studying all the time that I was working as a janitor. I told them I just finished my bachelor’s degree and was reviewing for the board exams,” Aroma said. “When the owner heard this, he came to me and hugged me.”
“We are proud of you and happy for you,” the owner said. “You are our first employee to finish college.”
He served as auditor for Carlos J. Valdez & Co. until 1976, then became auditor for San Miguel Corp. (in Cebu and Manila) until 1978, and then was chief accountant for Mandaue Printers until 1982.
While working for these companies, Aroma continued his studies, finishing two more bachelor’s degrees — in Management and Economics —and a master’s degree in management engineering from the University of the Visayas.
In 1982, his godfather, Ben Boiser, who was living in the U.S., was offered by an Indonesian plywood company a job as accounting manager, but Boisier didn’t want to leave the U.S. Boiser recommended Aroma for the job. Aroma left for Jakarta early that year and became accounting manager of P.T. Hartaty Jaya Plywood, the biggest plywood plant in Indonesia, which was, at that time, on the verge of bankruptcy.
Later that year, the owner died and Aroma was promoted to general manager. Within six months of assuming the helm at the plywood plant, he turned the company around and made it profitable for the first time in years. He managed the plywood company until 1986, but decided to quit his job because he could no longer stand dealing with corrupt Indonesian officials.
During this time, he earned his second master’s degree in Business Administration (financial management) from the University of Singapore.
Aroma, who remains very fluent in Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesia’s national language), went back to the Philippines in March 1986, and looked for a business where he could invest his savings from his Indonesian job.
“I decided on a mango farm because I found out that the demand is high for mangos, the number one fruit in the Philippines. The Philippines can only supply 27% of Asia’s requirements,” Aroma said. From a small plantation in Cebu, he now has three huge plantations in Cebu and another big one in Bohol, totalling 25,000 trees, almost 3,000 of which are bearing 500 fruits each per harvest. The other 22,000 trees are expected to bear fruits for commercial purposes in one or two years.
It takes a mango tree five years to bear fruits. But these fruits will not be of commercial quantity until the tree is eight years old, when it begins to bear from 500 to 800 fruits every year.
Aroma has now become one of the biggest, if not the biggest, mango growers in the Philippines, beating out even Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr., who has about 15,000 mango trees in Davao.
“In addition to mango, I have also planted avocado and jackfruit trees for commercial purposes,” Aroma said. “I buy idle lands and plant them with trees. I make these idle lands productive, help provide employment for the barrio folks, and, at the same time, help in the ecological development of the country. I am happy to feel that I am helping in the economic development of the country.”
In October 1986, Aroma came to the United States for a much-needed vacation, but decided there are better opportunities awaiting him in the U.S. Since then, Aroma has established numerous businesses. He is president and owner of Trans-World Services Inc., which provides management and financial services to business clients (mostly Jews). “We help find financing for businesses,” he said.
Aroma, who is called by acquaintances as Mr. Future because every time he talks to people, he talks about the future, also owns and operates the Chandler Apartments in Phoenix, Arizona, which has more than 100 rental units. He also owns the Prime Appliance Rentals Inc., based in Los Angeles. Aroma is also a managing partner of Worldwide Empire Funding Inc., based in Delaware; and is controller of All Valley Washer Service Inc., based in Van Nuys, California.
Still a Filipino citizen, Aroma has numerous business and land holdings in the Philippines. He is president of Imgime-Aroma Mango Ranch in Cebu and Bohol; president of Socsargen Realty & Development Corp., based in General Santos City in Cotabato; and president of Capital One Financial Solutions Inc., based in Cebu.
How does he manage all these companies, which are located in at least four cities in the United States, and three cities in the Philippines?
“My managers in the Philippines fax or e-mail to me financial and other reports regularly, and I visit the Philippines at least four times a year to personally look into the businesses,” he said. “With the modern telecommunications systems, you can communicate with your employees from anywhere in the world.”
Aroma is not all about business. In 1988, he finished his third master’s degree in Business Administration (majoring in Global Management) from the University of Phoenix-LA in addition to his three bachelor’s degrees, and will soon receive his Ph.D. in Global Economics from UCLA.
At present, he is chairman of the board of Kiwanis Club of Phil-Am Los Angeles, where he also served as president for two terms (1996-98). In addition, he is executive vice president of the National Association of Cebuanos — USA, vice president of the Cebu Brotherhood Inc., chairman of the Children First Foundation (the only Filipino in the board), executive vice president of the Rainbow Coalition for Philippine Progress (which he helped found along with three other Filipino leaders), and a member of the Philippine-American Institute of CPAs.
He has received numerous awards, among them “Outstanding Club Leader,” Kiwanis Club of Phil-Am Los Angeles; “Distinguished Kiwanian,” Kiwanis International; “Outstanding Civic Leader,” Pamana Awards; “Outstanding Club President,” Kiwanis Club of Phil-Am Los Angeles; “Kiwanian of the Year,” Kiwanis Club; and “Club Builder of the Year,” Children First Foundation Inc.
Aroma now sets his sights to a political career in the Philippines. He plans to run for a congressional seat in his native Cebu, to enable him to contribute his expertise in the fields of global and financial management, and to help the Philippines solve its “economic imbalance.”
Aroma also wants to give attention to the Philippines’ children by teaching them positive mental attitude. “They are the future leaders of our country, and we have to focus our attention to their development,” he said.
Aroma is married to Imelda Ochia of Tubocan, Cebu, whom he met while he was still working as a janitor and she was a ticket clerk in a Cebu City cinema house. “I also urged her to study accounting,” Aroma said proudly. They have three children — Moanna, 21; Imee, 15; and Edwin Jr., 4.
Aroma tells all his children and his friends proudly that he was once a janitor, who had to work hard day and night to make his dreams come true. He has achieved many dreams, but Aroma never stops dreaming. And when he sets his sights on one thing, he does everything to achieve it. Such is the mark of a successful man.