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A businessman shares the secret to his success

Updated: Aug 15, 2023

I sat down with Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona, president of Harbest Agribusiness Corporation, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month.


As anyone who’s met him knows, he’s fun to talk to and is a font of knowledge. He was also a good friend of former Manila Bulletin Agriculture section editor and the grandfather of agrijournalism Zac Sarian, who started Agriculture Magazine, which also celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.


I asked Barcelona for his secrets to running a successful agribusiness. Here are his answers:

Offer quality products. Marketing may take a business far, but in the end, what will determine a loyal clientele is how satisfied they are with your products. “Another good aspect of it is we see farmers making money,” Barcelona said.


Open everyone to opportunity. When introducing a new product to the market, it’s sometimes a good idea to educate your potential customers on how it will make their lives easier. “One of the most important lessons we learned (is) that we have to make the farmers make money. So, we have to teach them. It takes time. We have to be very patient.”


Cultivate relationships. “One thing that we really emphasize is the spirit of service,” Barcelona said. This means their staff is always ready to answer questions from customers. This extends to Harbest’s relationship with its suppliers as well. “I emphasize friendship. In any business, that’s very important because friendship is founded on having a good relationship.”


Invest in your staff. “Almost all of (our field staff) are really mentors, but they had to undergo field training for three years, so they built up their confidence until they can handle training programs,” Barcelona said. Helping staff meet their true potential means cultivating employees who are invested in helping your business grow.


Stay updated. “Successful agribusiness always starts from science. Ten percent of your success is technology (and) science. Fifty percent is your strategy. Experience (and) how you apply it, that’s very important also. But without science, no matter the strategy, nothing will happen,” Barcelona said. “And then the last one, 40 percent is character. Because if you are lazy, or give up easily, you won’t be successful.”


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