To celebrate Easter, let me share a story of a man of humble origins, beating the odds to become a star in his field.
Cyril Mitchel Agan’s background is typical of many lower-middle income Filipino families. His father, Leonardo, immigrated to Manila from Siquijor to seek a better life. His mother, Ma. Lucille (nee Tecson) a native of Marinduque, did the same. The couple married and eventually had three children between them, Cyril being the eldest.
The Agans lived modestly in a rented apartment in Paco, Manila. Leonardo was a tailor who owned a franchise of Topper’s Tailoring. Lucille, although having a Chemistry diploma under her belt, could not pursue her studies in medicine since she needed to work to support the family. She landed a job as a bank teller and remained there for many years.
Cyril was academically gifted. He studied at JASMS Manila where he was an honor student. He did so well that he was transferred to Manila Science High School, a public institution for the academically gifted. But Cyril was different. He didn’t fit in. Sure, he was smart, but unlike his peers, he had little interest in contact sports and other testosterone-charged pursuits. He was more inclined to the arts. Even as a child, Cyril had a natural eye for everything beautiful, be it in literature, the performing arts, and, yes, even in the human form. Cyril is part of the LGBTQ community and this would later on prove to be his secret weapon as an aesthetic physician.
After high school, he decided to pursue medicine upon the prodding of his father. Confident of his grades (or maybe due to youthful hubris) he applied to only one school — the UP College of Medicine. Luckily, he passed and eventually became a general practitioner.
It was at this time that the financial situation of the Agans deteriorated. The tailoring business had become out of date and customers waned. Bills piled and Cyril’s parents were finding it difficult to make ends meet.
Cyril’s specialization had to wait. He needed to work to help pay the bills.
He looked for a job abroad since it was the easiest way to earn well. The young doctor landed a job in a Miami-based aesthetic clinic that serviced luxury cruises. He flew to Miami to learn the science of using injectables as a way to enhance the human face. Apparently, there are four types of facial injectables: Hyaluronic acid, which act as a filler for depressed or sagging areas; Botulinum Toxins (Botox) which is a chemical used for facial contouring and controlling wrinkles; Poly-L-lactic Acid Threads that are used for lifting sagging areas; and Deoxycholic Acid which is used to melt fat on the cheeks and chin. Injectables are ideal for facial enhancements, said Dr. Cyril, since they offer improvements as dramatic as cosmetic surgery without being invasive. Its effects are far more remarkable than laser treatments.
In the cruise ship, Dr. Cyril’s job was to plan the enhancement procedures and administer them to clients, both men and women. He was given a quota — $10,000 worth of injectable per week — not an easy task considering that passengers have no intention of enhancing their faces when they first board the ship.
Persuading clients to fix their faces was a hard-sell. But count on Filipino ingenuity to save the day. Cyril recalls prospecting clients in the jewelry store and in VIP parties. Admittedly, mature ladies were easier to convince.
He would strike a conversation with them and somehow persuade them to go through the enhancement procedure. Filipino charm never failed him, he said. It helped that he is articulate and well versed in the arts.
After each procedure, the ladies would be so happy with the result that they would persuade their husbands and friends to do the same. Many more clients would normally follow.
The end product was Cyril’s best advertisement. This is where his natural eye for beauty comes in. He has an innate sense of how to bring out the best in a person’s features. It is a natural gift, he said, and cannot be studied. As a gay man, he knows what looks good on men and the features that are attractive to women. Conversely, he knows what features in women are attractive to men.
Dr. Cyril’s reputation grew to a point wherein he didn’t need to scope for clients anymore. Clients would join the cruise with the specific purpose of having their faces enhanced by Dr. Cyril. The young aesthetic physician was generating $50,000 a week with bookings back to back.
When asked to describe his technique, he said it is all about restraint. The facial enhancements should be significant enough to achieve a remarkable improvement, but subtle enough not to grab attention. There is no formula to beauty since every face is unique, he said. To this, he meticulously plans every procedure as a bespoke case.
Asked how one can tell a good doctor from a bad one, Dr. Cyril suggests looking at the end results of their patients. If they all look alike — you know that the doctor uses cookie-cutter techniques. Also, look at the doctor’s face, he advises. If the doctor’s face is over-altered, then you know the doctor is heavy handed.
After 40 cruises, Dr. Cyril’s fame was growing and so was his bank account. But he was getting burnt out. It was time to come home. By this time, Dr. Cyril was able to save enough to move his family from their rented house in Paco to a luxury condo in Ortigas. He also earned enough for his mother to quit her bank job and go back to medical school. She is now a licensed pediatrician.
Back in Manila, Dr. Cyril met Jan Raymond Conadera, an IT specialist who was a marketing executive for Warner Music. Jan became Dr. Cyril’s life and business partner. He is the moving force that takes care of all business matters in the couple’s growing empire.
In 2017, the couple opened their own clinic in Ortigas Center called Lift Aesthetic Clinic, but not before obtaining advanced training in Thailand, Taipei, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea. As an authority in aesthetics, Dr. Cyril became a resource speaker and trainer for various pharmaceutical companies, here and abroad.
To make it easier for South-based clients to access Lift Clinic’s services, the couple opened their second site in Bonifacio Global City. Its core market consists of top executives, mostly male, who wish to be the best version of themselves. He has become the preferred doctor of corporate Manila. All enhancements are done on an outpatient basis, which means, no down time.
Dr. Agan has come a long way since being that kid from Paco who didn’t fit in. It just goes to show that everyone has their unique talents, no matter how unusual they may be. If these talents are honed, there is no limit to the success one can achieve. No one would have guessed that Dr. Cyril’s eye for beauty would be his ticket to success.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist