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Tools for Success: Bernard Ong

ACE Hardware is the one-stop shop for lifestyle improvements in the Philippines. CEO Bernard Ong says being helpful is his company’s mission, and his approach is unique.

Evolution relies on tools and without them, progress is an uphill battle. In 2023, tools remain the foundation of greatness, but their role has developed significantly.

Rather than being used primarily for hunting, they now play a pivotal role in enhancing our lifestyles.

In the Philippines, ACE Hardware stands at the forefront of change. With a history dating back to its inaugural store in Chicago in 1924, ACE opened its first franchise in the Philippines in 1997 within SM Southmall in Las Piñas in Manila.

“People don’t really like to be sold to. They don’t like ads per se, but they respond to helpful tips.”

It has since become the nation’s one-stop shop for home and lifestyle improvements.

And like evolution itself, ACE Hardware Philippines hasn’t stood still. Leading its transformation and reinvention is Bernard Ong, who took the helm as President in January 2012.

Armed with a Master of Economics, an MBA from IMD Business School in Switzerland, and valuable experience gained at corporate giants like Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Shell, he’s no stranger to driving progress.

“I have always tried to introduce some major innovation or transformation that pushed the company to the next level,” he tells The CEO Magazine.

Preparing for Growth

From outsourcing distribution at RFM Corporation to expanding business operations at I B Gimenez Securities and implementing logistical overhauls at Shell, Ong was sharpening his own toolkit for what lay ahead.

Under his leadership, ACE Hardware Philippines has expanded its network to over 240 stores across the Philippines and also developed distinct formats for malls, department stores, community centers and builders’ depots.

The ACE brand has become synonymous with quality, which has been further reinforced with the consistent ‘ACE Red’ in-store design and product packaging.

“We were a lot smaller before, mainly staying within SM locations. But under my leadership, we’ve been more aggressive in exploring opportunities,” he says.

“It has been a wonderful experience working with ACE Hardware over the past few decades. The collaboration and engagement between us is one of the reasons why our brands are the most recognizable and trusted in the area of tools.” – Tommee Lopez, Philippines Commercial Director, Stanley Black & Decker


ACE Hardware Philippines’ mission transcends mere product range and affordability. Its driving force is to be helpful in every way possible.

“Helpful is our purpose, which can be seen or felt in the stores, in our own internal ways of working, in how our people treat each other, in the communities we work in, in our helpful collaborative culture and in the way we help each other become more successful,” Ong says.

To be helpful to customers, ACE Hardware Philippines has drilled down into consumer needs, conducting surveys among customers and loyalty club members, employing data analytics and embracing online marketing for data-driven insights.

“We have been able to compare campaigns and messages to find out which ones were the most effective, which ones had the widest reach for the lowest cost and which messages people are responding to,” he says.

This approach has enabled ACE to optimize category management, improve its product assortment, streamline its supply chain and stay ahead of consumer trends, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic when it quickly pivoted to offer gardening and pet-related products.

A Different Approach

ACE Hardware Philippines has also been able to adapt its marketing strategy.

“What we learned is people don’t really like to be sold to. They don’t like ads per se, but they respond to helpful tips, or articles on how they can keep their homes safer, or how they can take care of their pets.”

Also, recognizing that ACE Hardware Philippines’ brand comes alive through its employees, Ong has heavily invested in training and development. The company’s unique learning platform offers over a thousand bite-sized modules covering various aspects of personal development, management, service and technical skills.

“Unlike other companies, we look less at experience and more at competency.”

This approach allows employees to become well-rounded generalists, poised for career growth.

“Unlike other companies, we look less at experience and more at competency,” he says. “If there’s high potential, our training system will take care of the knowledge part, and that’s very powerful.”

Giving back to the community is also an important goal for ACE. After pandemic-related shutdowns, the company provided paints and paintbrushes to schools reopening their doors, while staff members volunteered their time to repaint classrooms, and ACE donated personal protective equipment and disinfectants to healthcare services.

These efforts garnered recognition, with ACE Hardware Philippines receiving the ESG Initiative of the Year award at the 2023 Retail Asia Awards, as well as Hardware Retailer of the Year for the past two years.

“People who are with us longer are able to serve customers better, and we exist to serve.”

Looking ahead, Ong plans to expand ACE Hardware Philippines’ network, adapt physical stores into pick-and-pack fulfillment centers for local ecommerce deliveries and triple its selection of ACE-branded merchandise.

None of this growth would be possible without strong partnerships with vendors and suppliers such as Co Ban Kiat, Black & Decker, Akari and Firefly, Ong explains.

These collaborations focus on shared prosperity and involve regular business reviews to align strategies and identify growth opportunities.

Ultimately, ACE Hardware Philippines’ core mission remains to provide tools and support to help its employees and customers evolve.

“People who are with us longer are able to serve customers better, and we exist to serve,” Ong says. “It’s really the way we work.”

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