From having adventurous adolescence in Metro Manila’s streets in the 1990s, Lester Tancioco Codog now runs several businesses and owns two aircraft that often take him above the clouds. His journey to the top, however, was full of challenges and opportunities.
Still young at age 39, the father of four admits he had a colorful past. Although he grew up in a middle-class family, his mingling with the poor gave him the tenacity to survive challenges and his partying days with the rich opened business opportunities.
Codog is a “rock star” in the motoring world, being the founder and CEO of Foilacar Industries—a pioneer in foil car wrapping that offers an alternative to car paint protection. Foilacar develops and provides revolutionary design and aesthetic automotive wrapping services.
When US boxing champion Floyd Mayweather visited Manila in 2018, it was upon Codog’s invitation. He personally drove the champ for a tour of Manila.
Codog is also the CEO of Foilafly Inc.—a private charter plane company that also provides medium-sized aircraft restoration in the Philippines. A reservist at the Philippine Air Force and a member of Class Charlie Mabalasik (1998-2000), Codog regularly flies his own aircraft across the country to promote general aviation as a hobby and to discover and introduce different tourist destinations through his popular vlog. He owns two air assets: Cessna 182T Skylane RG2 and Cessna 340 multi-engine aircraft.
Codog recalls that in his teenage years, he was an aggressive salesman who sold cars. Being inventive and full of devices, he was not afraid to take risks. “At a young age, I wanted to be mature. At Grade 4, I smoked cigarettes. But when I got home, I still had values because we are a religious Catholic family,” he says.
He joined a fraternity group and engaged in street brawls at Grade 4 and Grade 5. He began courting girls in Grade 6. “I matured at a very young age. I started driving using my father’s car to go to bars,” he says.
“Crazy activities and cars were the best things for me. I started to love cars. Then I started using drugs. I was being adventurous. Then I was kicked out of a Catholic school in Parañaque,” he says.
He enrolled in Malate Catholic School but had to quit after a week. He transferred to a school in Makati which is known for drop-outs and spoiled brats. At 16, he met a girl whom he got pregnant. He was kicked out of school for the third time.
He then took and passed the Philippine Educational Placement Test to obtain a high school diploma, after which he studied BS in Aircraft Maintenance Technology at Airlink International Aviation College and a flight training course at Masters Flying School in Pasay.
In 1998, he joined the Philippine Air Force as a reservist and completed the grueling eight-month training to become a technical sergeant.
All this time, Codog was living with the family of his girlfriend where he was exposed to a circle of rich individuals. “My life started changing because this is a completely different kind of people,” he says, referring to the wealthy families who lived around the area. “My connection became different,” he says.
Hesitant to ask for money from his parents, Codog entered the underground buy-and-sell business involving cars and ammunition. At 19, he was wanted by the government and was forced out of the country by the Department of Justice for the illegal transactions that he entered into.
He was charged with 11 high-profile cases. “I entered a plea bargain. Then Justice Secretary Hernando Perez ordered me out of the country. For five years, I was not allowed to enter the Philippine soil, or else I would go to prison,” he says.
“It was a very difficult moment for me and my family. But that’s when my life started to change,” says Codog.
He became a janitor and construction worker in the United Kingdom, a pothead in Switzerland and a driver in the United Arab Emirates. In the year 2000, he joined his father in Dubai to become his assistant and all-around office boy. His father had a small business engaged in theme park construction and artificial landscaping.
When his father left for Saudi Arabia to attend to a project, Codog took charge of the business in Dubai. Being resourceful and imaginative, he started innovating. “My mind was playful. With high-profile friends including sheiks, I got contracts for the interior design and refurbishing of yachts. I hired more carpenters from the Philippines and our team grew from 10 to 50,” he says.
Being aggressive and young, he was able to complete only one of the three projects. “That’s the first lesson in the corporate world I learned. If it is not your expertise, don’t enter it. You should also hire the best people. The problem is I did not hire the best people. So I learned a lot of things,” he says.
He went back to indoor landscaping and got the biggest break when they were offered a contract by Grand Hyatt of Dubai to do interior landscaping. “The bamboos inside Grand Hyatt that they imported in Southeast Asia were dying and the grand opening was within a few days. We replaced them with artificial bamboos. The business recovered,” he says.
At age 23, his father’s company, Shifa Decoration, became known for landscaping, rockworks and riverworks in Dubai. When his father returned, their ideas clashed. He quit as marketing manager to prove to his father that he could make it on his own.
An Arab neighbor hired Codog as a partner to put up Floramex Agriculture, a horticulture company that imports ornamental plants from Holland. From a two-man and one-truck company, Codog transformed Floramex into the largest firm of its kind in the Middle East with 36 trucks and 96 employees.
“I became corporate because I dealt with the biggest banks, biggest chains of hotels, with the sheiks and princes, with the palace itself. At age 24, I bought myself a brand-new Porsche Boxster S. I also bought a boat. I had motocross. I had a jet ski. I had friends in the palace. I had everything a boy wanted. I had all the toys. I became a legend as a party boy. At 24, I was a rock star there,” says Codog.
From being a minority partner, Codog dreamt of establishing his own company. “I wanted to grow even more because I was exposed to the corporate world and learned the intricacies of quotations and contracts. I was talking to consultants, architectural firms, accounting departments. I was managing employees from Pakistan, India, South Africa and the Philippines,” he says.
“I put up my own company called Design Unlimited. I got a business partner from the Philippines and we traded furniture and vases. I imported them from Vietnam where I had a vase factory. We supplied vases to the Middle East—Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi. We became known for ornamental plants and vases. One of our competitors asked me to become a partner in Qatar. So I had two apartments, one in Dubai and another in Qatar,” he says.
Design Unlimited became one of the leading Filipino-owned companies in the United Arab Emirates. The business, however, was hit by the 2008 economic crisis in Dubai, forcing Codog to consider other business ventures.
Back to the Philippines
He thought about putting up tea and cacao shops in other Asian countries. He also considered bringing the foil wrapping technology from Dubai to Singapore. On the way to Singapore, he decided to visit Manila first, with the five-year travel ban against him already expired at that time, to see his mother. On the airplane, he sketched his business plan on a tissue paper.
In Manila, it was timely that a Filipino with expertise in the foil wrapping installer also went home. A good friend of Codog asked him if they could wrap his Porsche. “It was not a business project. It was just a test. I ordered stickers and we wrapped it,” he says.
His friend liked the way his supercar looked. Other supercar owners also got interested and asked for Codog’s services. He then decided to establish Foilacar Industries, not in Singapore, but in Manila. “My life went upside down in 2008. I was supposed to take a short vacation in Manila, but when I woke up, two years had passed. It took me two years to finish the line of supercars lining up for our services,” he says.
“That’s how Foilacar started. That’s also how I discovered that the Philippine economy is very good. I closed my company in Dubai and turned over the operations to my partner. Now, I am fully based here and it is now Foilacar’s 11th year,” says Codog.
Codog is considered one of the godfathers of the global foiling industry. He developed foiling technology standards that he also brought to the US, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia.
He also expanded his network of friends because Foilacar became a hub for supercar owners including a president, senators, congressmen, governors, mayors, economists, billionaires, businessmen and even wealthy individuals with underground ventures.
Codog ventured into other businesses such as aviation, mining services, restaurants and public relations. “In between the 11 years that I am in the Philippines now, I established different businesses already. From there, I went back to flying because that is the love of my life. So I opened a company that distributes a brand of aircraft. We offer chartering and aircraft restoration. I also have contracts with mining companies. I am a partner in various restaurants. The latest is an advertising agency and consulting firm that I put up,” he says.
In 2017, he established Quintessential Communications Network, a public relations, branding, marketing and out-of-the-box strategist that executes effective and high-impact media campaigns for political organizations and companies.
Quintessential has arranged high-profile deals with celebrities like world boxing champion Floyd Mayweather and Miss Universe 2015, 2016 and 2017 as some of his brand ambassadors for the different companies he held.
Beyond his corporate responsibilities, Codog uses his flying skills with the Fourth Air Force Wing Reserve, where he is ranked as a captain and wing commander (WesCom) to engage in rescue missions, charity works in times of natural disasters emergencies and highly-classified missions.
As an innovator and designer, he is a member of the Inventors’ Society of the Philippines. He received an automotive/color change patent in 2009. As an avid golfer, he became the Sta. Elena Golf Cup Champion in Laguna in 2013.
For his outstanding achievements in business, innovation and design, Codog has received various awards such as Outstanding Young Businessman Awardee (2012-2014) and Automotive Innovative Awardee (2011-2015).
Asked about the lessons in business that he learned through the years, Codog says branding and marketing play important roles behind the success of a company.
Lessons in business
“The first thing I learned in business is marketing and branding. Second is how to operate. I may not be a master of operations, but I learned a lot in operations by eating with people, meeting with them, sleeping with them and leading them. Lastly, I learned that you don’t have to be rich to become happy. If you are not happy with what you are doing, then quit. Even though you will take a big loss, you should never be scared because that is going to be temporary. Your happiness is the greatest motivation that you should have. You have to be happy,” says Codog.
“You have to be enthusiastic about what you are doing. If you are not having fun, it is not gonna work. If you are having fun, it is not work. Sometimes when you get tired, you just have to take a time off before you come back,” he says.
Codog says while he had a colorful past, he remains adventurous to this day. “I am still adventurous. I never stopped but I am more careful right now,” he says.
He now finds joy in simple things. “Think of it as your last day. You will start appreciating more,” says Codog who was involved in a plane crash two and a half years ago in Plaridel, Bulacan.
“I am now a strong believer and promoter of general aviation in the Philippines. The general aviation is dying because the patrons of general aviation are mostly in their senior years. I want to fly to our more than 7,000 islands. I am promoting to all businessmen how flying can change their lives,” he says.
Codog usually takes breakfast in one island and eats lunch in another. “I can go home and back to my office on the same day. That’s my advantage of having my own plane and flying. General aviation should be alive because we have so many islands. Once our general aviation becomes big again, it will be cheaper for everybody,” he says.
Codog says another passion that keeps him excited every day is the branding services that his advertising agency provides to clients. “One of my goals is to help medium-scale companies to be on par with international companies. It makes my adrenaline high in helping companies. When I see companies and people growing, it makes me feel more alive,” he says.