From banana cue vendor and macho dancer to captain, CEO

Many years ago, there was this boy who really loved his family and dreamed of improving their lives. But he wondered how he can do it given that they are poor and just living in the Pasig River bank in Sta. Ana, Manila. It was also the 1950s when the country and many families were reeling from poverty.

Leo Tenorio tried to earn a living from selling “banana cue.” His day began in public markets where he looked for affordable saba. It was his routine for the next 12 years because he wanted to help his parents who are not earning enough to feed a family of seven, including a sister afflicted with polio. His mother back then was a laundrywoman while his father was a janitor at the Madrigal Shipping, a crewing company in Escolta, Manila.

“That time I was earning only 10 centavos, and I considered myself lucky if I would be able to make 50 centavos because that can sustain me for one week. But I started saving during that time using my bamboo alkansya (piggy bank),” Tenorio narrated.

When Tenorio reached high school, he did his best to maintain high grades while still vending banana cue. After four years, he finished his studies as one of the top 10 students in his class.

Macho dancer
Tenorio recalled being told by his father that it would be impossible for him to go to college.

“I asked my father, ‘How can I fulfill my dream of alleviating our miserable life if I will not go to college?’ He just turned his back on me without saying anything,” he said during his interview with the Daily Tribune’s digital show Usapang OFW: Maritime Corner.

Driving his eagerness to get a college diploma and a good job was the sight of his siblings asking for food because his parents could not afford it.

“That’s very hurting to see,” a teary-eyed Tenorio said. With perseverance and diskarte (resourcefulness), Tenorio saved money to enroll in a nautical course at FEATI University.

Paying the tuition was challenging. The course cost P2,800 per semester. To raise the amount, Tenorio worked as a janitor at the Cooper Theater in Manila. It was there that he met actors Dolphy and German Moreno, who were only movie extras at the time.

“It was them who convinced me to work in Avenida (now Rizal Avenue) as a macho dancer. I danced wearing only brief. I didn’t see any malice doing it at that time. For a person who wanted to pursue his aspirations in life, I didn’t care what people said back then,” Tenorio said.

“When I dance, customers are clipping P5 and P10 bills in my brief, and I am so grateful to them for appreciating my performance because, with that money, I paid my tuition and gave some to my parents,” he continued.

Stevedore to seaman
When asked about his motivation and strength to keep going amid the hardship, Tenorio answered that his family and undying faith in the Senyor Nazareno of Quiapo Church motivated him.

Tenorio finished his studies after two years and applied as a cadet at the Madrigal Shipping. He was hired and his first duty was as a stevedore in Port Area. Later, he was promoted to seaman and worked aboard inter-island vessels.

“And, as they say, the rest is history. It took me a decade to become a licensed master mariner (captain) at 30 years old. I must admit it was not easy. There were so many sacrifices to attain my dreams. I even broke my rib while doing my job. I did not treat that as a hindrance, but as part of the unlimited challenges that I must face,” Tenorio said.

He also fulfilled his promise to his family by building their beautiful home in Sta. Ana and providing the best life to his parents and siblings.

“My younger siblings have finished their studies and I brought my mother to different parts of the world. And after that, I built my own family. I want to impart to budding seafarers that they should not mind the struggles and just treat that as part of life’s recipe. The determination to win is the better part of winning, as a saying goes,” according to Tenorio.

Tenorio is now the president and the first master mariner of Marlow Navigation Philippines, which has grown to become a globally renowned and trusted name in commercial ship management and among the top employers of Filipino seafarers.

Today, Marlow’s network of fully controlled offices spanning 12 countries, more than 1,000 shore-based employees and 24,000 active seafarers in its roster underpin Tenorio’s success story, sustainable business and client-focused ethos.

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