Martin Wong is Chairman of GFX Creative Imaging, a twenty-five year old “one-stop shop” creative design development, full digital imaging service, and digital print production company. Six times, GFX received from the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of the Philippines the Print Production House of the Year Award, an award given by the association to honor their suppliers in print, radio, and broadcast. GFX’s clients include Jollibee, Greenwich, Chow King, Red Ribbon as well as Century Canning, Philam, and Unilever (Singapore).
Aside from being a full-time businessman, Martin is also a full-time family man. Occasionally, he shares his entrepreneurship knowhow with different audiences locally and internationally.
Here is a chat I had with Martin:
What inspired you to start your business? In the mid to late ’80’s, when I was in the US, I became aware of the growing popularity of Macintosh computers in desktop publishing bureaus. When I came back to Manila and saw that the systems being used here were very expensive and difficult to maintain, I thought there might be a market for it and as it turns out, there was.
Congratulations on being in business for twenty-five years and for the awards you received! What do you think contributes to your business doing well? Being a Christian has changed the way I do business which I think has led to more success.
From the time you started your business and today, how has your perspective about business changed? I was not a Christian when I started the business so I pretty much did things the way the world does and tried to make as much money as possible. Now, I realize that we are blessed to be a blessing to others. So, while trying to maximize efficiency and profit, I realize there’s a right way and a wrong way to do so.
How does paying exactly the right taxes, having only one set of books, not cutting corners lead to more success? The only success that truly counts is if you are living to please God. We may not necessarily be the most profitable company, but it isn’t all about that. As [the apostle] Peter said, we would rather obey God than man.
People can get too wrapped up in their work to the neglect of, what I feel, is truly important – your relationship with God. Prioritize your business, yes, but not at the expense of compromising your principles, giving to those in need, doing business by the book (Bible) like paying your taxes, not cheating your clients, giving your best in every way especially in your business. To me, there should be no conflict. If God says do this, even if it makes no sense from a business standpoint, then you do it and let Him bless your obedience. The more you take care of His work, the more He will take care of yours.
Can you cite an example of how God took care of your work as you took care of His? One of the many instances is when I went on a mission trip. I had a pastor friend who was assigned by Victory to plant a church in San Diego, California. I told him that once he formally opened the church, I would go help him for a month to train up leaders. The month I was gone, our sales at my company was the highest it had ever been. That’s just one example. There are many others.
What made you decide to surrender your life to Christ? A personal crisis in my life. My first wife left me for another man and took with her my youngest daughter who was three at the time. I cried out to God and told Him that if He was real then He would make a way for me to get her back and raise her myself. This was almost impossible as the custody of children, especially girls, are almost always given to the mother. Somehow, God made a way for me to have my daughter back. After that, there was no way I could not follow the God who makes all things possible.
Your first wife is not a believer? No, but my children and I are praying for her.
How did the Lord make a way for you to remarry after having been married before? My first wife and I are US citizens. When we first filed for annulment here in the Philippines, the Solicitor General, who has jurisdiction over all annulment cases threw the case out because the Philippines has no jurisdiction over US persons. When my first wife moved to the US, she filed for a no-fault divorce and it was granted. This cleared the way for Emelyn and I to be married here since she had already gotten her annulment years before.
I see. Thank you for sharing that. I would like to clarify, your plea to the Lord was to gain custody of your daughter? Yes. Because she was my only daughter and the youngest; I was especially close to her.
And God responded by giving you exactly that? Yes and He did in a most miraculous way. My first wife left when my youngest was just three and my oldest was 15. All of my children were able to grow up with me. I raised all of them which is why when I became a Christian all of them followed suit. We are all praying for my first wife to know the Lord.
The way you put it makes it sound doable but I imagine that for a husband to be left by his wife, the process may not be so easy. What was that like? For me, it was not too difficult. I was actually more concerned about my kids and wanting to keep them together and with me. It was really a blessing in disguise because it caused me to search for God and eventually give my life to Him which, in turn, gave my kids a chance to get to know God as well.
If someone were in that same situation right now, how would you encourage this person? Reach out to God and trust that He can bring good out of any situation. It is, after all, what got me through.
How do you balance work and home? Have you encountered instances when there was a conflict and you had to prioritize one? My family is always the priority when it’s a question of work vs. home.
They say that temptations for businessmen are great. How do you guard yourself from these “usual” temptations? I strive to be humble and wise, admit my weakness, and stay away from things that I know may cause me to fail.
Do you have mentors? Do you think mentors are necessary? I think mentors are essential; especially mentors who are strong and, more importantly, proven Christians. I like to read about the lives of strong Christians regardless of whether they are in business or in other fields. I like to attend seminars given by Christian leaders as well.
How do you identify “proven Christians?” For me a “proven Christian” is one who walks his talk. Matthew 12:33 says that you will know a tree by its fruit.
How do you end up having a mentor? Do you wait for God to provide you one, approach a proven Christian you look up to? I think it’s a little of both. Also there are mentors that are there for a particular season of your life.
You are a mentor yourself. Can you tell me about the entrepreneurship talks you give out of the country… who is usually your audience, what are the basic things you teach? The one I did in Guam was as an outreach event for the students at the University of Guam. I did one in the US for agents for a financial services company. I did one in Robinson’s Galleria as part of a seminar event for Victory [Christian Fellowship] which had a general audience. In my talk, I usually share my experiences in being an entrepreneur for the last twenty-plus years. I reduce what I learn to seven essential points and expound on each.
Can you share these seven essential points?
1. You have to take a risk (there is no reward without risk)
2. Know what it is you want to be (there’s no substitute for doing your homework)
3. Make a decision and stick with it (the most valuable thing you can make is a mistake – you can’t learn anything from being perfect)
4. Everything you need is right in front of you (you just don’t know it yet…)
5. Invest wisely in your company (emphasis on the word, “wisely” both in your business which includes the people working for you)
6. It’s not worth it (don’t take things, even your business, too seriously)
7. Be a good steward of what God has given you; in the end, it’s all about Him.
This list is terrific. I especially love Number 4. I’m going to need to attend one of your talks. What makes you want to share you entrepreneurship knowledge? I want people to benefit from the mistakes I made and at the same time, give glory to how God is always there to help and bail you out when you lift up all to Him.
What was the biggest thing He bailed you out of? It wasn’t really one big event that God did for my business; rather, it is the steady miracle of provision and guidance over the years. Looking back on the more than twenty-five years we have been in business and the mistakes (some egregious in nature) that we have made, the fact that we are still in business is the biggest testimony I have of God’s utter dependability and His unfailing faithfulness.
What advice can you share with those starting out in business? Know your capabilities, count the cost, do your due diligence, trust and honor God in your actions and decisions.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in your business? The biggest challenge (aside from the usual challenges of the day to day running of it) is how to maintain my Christian witness in the midst of a system geared toward cutting corners and bribery.
How do you address that? As a Christian, you cannot compartmentalize your life. There is no, “On Sundays I do this but from Monday to Saturday, I do something else.” Your Christianity should pervade EVERY aspect of your life. The choice is simple – you either do business by the book (Bible) or you don’t. You trust God to honor your commitment to His ways while at the same time exercising biblical wisdom.
What are the top 3 most fulfilling rewards of having your business?
1. Being my own boss, because it gives me more time for ministry and for my family.
2. As a businessman, I can connect with people who would not normally be comfortable discussing issues of spirituality vis-a-vis their business with a pastor.
3. Seeing employees and former employees living and serving God is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a Christian businessman.
Do you have a life verse? I have many but, if I had to choose one, I would have to say Romans 8:28 [And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.] because it shifts the focus from my problems and worries to God’s overarching sovereignty.
What is your hope for your business? To be an example of a business run according to Christian principles as revealed in God’s word.
Lord, thank You for the example of Martin Wong in establishing his business based on Your principles. What he hopes for his business has become a reality. May You continue to bless his desire for people to benefit from the mistakes he made and may You continue to honor him as he honors You in his business and his life in Jesus’s name amen.