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Move to manufacturing: Martin Tuason

For Arms Corporation of the Philippines, work is more than just making money. It’s about giving back to the communities it operates in.

It’s an evolutionary tale, the history behind Arms Corporation of the Philippines (Armscor). The business began its life in the early 1900s as a photography store, founded by 2 Englishmen named Roy Squires and William Bingham. It later morphed into a sporting-goods retail shop, which was purchased by ex-army hospital corpsman Arthur Hileman, who ran it until 1941. It was then that Celso Tuason came into ownership, the grandfather of current CEO Martin Tuason.

From retail to manufacturing

“He was an avid sportsman, and that’s the reason he bought the shop,” Martin says. “He was shopping there almost every day, so it was something he was passionate about. He wanted to get into the retail business. In the store, we sold Harley-Davidsons at one point; we had a haberdashery department; we had a bunch of different things. However, we eventually ran into some issues when World War II broke and also later on some foreign exchange controls.

“It was a challenging time for the family, but for the entrepreneurial Celso it also posed a great opportunity. He looked at what his best-selling category was instore and decided that would be his company’s core focus. His customers were most interested in the firearms section, so he thought: Why not take it one step further and become a manufacturer of that item? The president of the Philippines at the time granted him permission to take on this new business venture as it was in line with the government’s then focus on industrialisation, and that’s exactly what he did.

“In 1952, we were incorporated and we built our first .22 rifle,” Martin shares. “Shortly after that, we realised we needed ammunition so we purchased the equipment to make that too. It was a slow start. We were a backyard operation in those days — it was literally in one of the family member’s properties in a temporary building. We put some manufacturing machines in place and we got to work.”

The spirit of giving

The business moved to its current location in 1958 — 7.5 hectares of jungle. “We managed to make it home,” Martin says. “It perhaps wasn’t the best place to manufacture in the Philippines, but now there’s quite a vibrant city surrounding us.” The site now plays host to manufacturing and distribution facilities, a shooting range, a fire department and reserve fire brigade, a reserve battalion that assists on national guard operations, release operations and medical and dental missions, as well as the BATA Foundation, which supports an orphanage in Marikina and disaster relief initiatives.

“In business, we make money, we’re profitable, and we do well. But for my father, myself and my uncle, we feel that we must give back all the time. I guess that’s the Catholic upbringing we have — the spirit of giving. That’s ingrained in us. It’s something we’re very proud of here, the fact that we’re able to give back through our foundation and the orphanage. We’ve actually even gone as far as applying for tax exemption status in the US for our charity to continue to support the orphanage.”

Celso handed over the reins to his business in the 60s, giving his 3 sons — Bolo, Butch and Conkoy — the chance to step up into management roles. Then a couple of decades later, it officially became known as Arms Corporation of the Philippines, or Armscor. Fast-forward to today and it’s the largest firearms manufacturer in the Philippines and the 10th largest in the world with Martin (Bolo’s son) at the helm. The business has more than 2,000 employees and an average growth of 18–30% per annum.

“You’ve just got to be passionate about what you’re doing and success will come.” – Martin Tuason

Honour & integrity

Despite the great success the company has achieved in the Philippines, in the US (in 1985 it opened an office in Sacramento, California, moved to Nevada in 1998, and later acquired the Rock Island Armory brand), and the world (it markets its products globally), Martin says the business has never lost its key values of honour and integrity. “These are the words we live by. There are very few companies like us, where I can guarantee that if you came and sat down at the table with anyone from the family and you did a handshake deal, it would be done. We’ll put it in writing because that’s how everything is done nowadays, but what we say is what we do. I don’t think we would have been doing business for this long if we didn’t have that attitude.”

This is the approach Armscor takes with its staff too. “We want to grow our people, and therefore we offer them management training programs. A lot of the skills are learned in our factory and on the job. Even in my case, that’s how I learned and I think I do okay. I have helped the company grow 200% since I took over, and the numbers don’t lie. You’ve just got to be passionate about what you’re doing and success will come.”

Martin’s vision for the future is to grow Armscor into the largest firearm company in the world. To achieve this aim, he is continuing to roll out a modernisation program, the automation of the finance department, and the investment into the development of his employees. “If we put that all together, hopefully we’ll make enough money so we can expand and diversify into the defence industry,” he concludes.


Source: The CEO Magazine
Date of Release: March 15, 2017