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Forum » Inspirations » Success Stories / Biographies of Great People » Henry Sy: Life, Works & Achievements
Henry Sy: Life, Works & Achievements
adminDate: Tuesday, 13 July 2010, 1:43 AM | Message # 1
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Pietros Val Patricio
Industrialist: Henry Sy
Ethnicity: Chinese
Country: Philippines
Age: 82
Business: Retailing
Fortune: $2.1 Billion
Conglomerate: The SM Group of Companies
SM Prime Holdings
SM Investments Corp.
SM Developments Corp.
SM Shoemart, Inc.
Highlands Prime, Inc.
Charity: SM Foundation, Inc.


One night at the North Forbes Park district of Makati, there was an old man who happened to lie down on his couch alone in his living room. He was thinking about his humble past, his soaring achievements in the course of his long life as a simple individual. And he knew very well that in reality, life has never been easy for him. He knew that he wasn't born to be the man who he is right now. Most likely, fate must have been cruel on him as a child. All he knew was that he was once just a dreamer, probably a wide dreamer in a sense of view meaning that e
The Asian Crisis

Henry Sy knows almost every obstacle in his business after almost sixty years of experience. After contributing so much to the phenomenal calculus of the country's economic development, he knows what is best for his business and has learned from the problems he has faced in the past. He sited one of the reasons that worsened the status of the Asian crisis in 1997 was the fact that most industries in Asia were family-controlled. Most Japanese industries, for example, have started as private family firms: Toshiba, Mitsubishi, Toyota and etc. Most residents in Hong Kong cannot avoid contributing to the bank accounts of business tycoon Mister Li and his sons who control countless office towers, supermarkets, electronics outlets and telephone companies in the city. Both the economies of Hong Kong and Taiwan prospered from the industrious anthills of small family shop owners who grabbed the chances whenever good opportunities came along. The secret behind South Korea's economic success came from thirty ambitious business clans who engineered the economic miracle by creating the vision of Korea Inc. The idea was to transform the back then impoverished agrarian economy into one of the world's economic powerhouses by the unity and struggle of these ambitious families called chaebols. This meant that these families have supported each other throughout the years and therefore have benefited from the riches mainly among themselves. The impoverished Indonesian archipelago has bowed to its mama and papa corporation, known as the Suharto Inc., for more than 30 years. For many decades, patriarchs have been running their family business like absolute royalties to maximize their economic power rather than to maximize profits for the good of the nation's success. The most accurate description of the Asian economic landscape is to conclude that business in Asia is a family affair. Even today, most of Asia's top public industries are still family-owned. The industrialists who run these industries belong to the powerful families who basically own Asia. And for generations, industrial concerns have been past down from grandfather to son and to grandchildren, not to professional managers who are not related to the clan. And instead of venturing with shareholders, profits were made to create new flagship companies. During the decades of industrial growth in East Asia, these inefficient and outmoded practices have increasingly grown until they came under fire and have caused the outcome of the Asian crisis based on crony capitalism cables and the spoils of parceling economic growth only to a privileged few. Having recovered from the crisis today, many Asian economists have become suspicious about centralized capitalism and concentrated economic power. Even tycoons today would note that it is not business as usual anymore since the pre-crisis atmosphere in the region. Economists no longer trust to take faith on former socio-economic policies of the past. Today, it is impossible for business families to continue carrying on with their secret industrial recipes due to global competition and international pressure from free trade. The private business sector has learned a lesson from the heavy dose during the region's economic collapse. The Philippines as a dwarf economy only experienced a light economic spill over. The rules of the game have changed as East Asia still remains to be the world's fastest growing region. Industrial success now demands transparency and genuine data for firms to be run in the benefit of stakeholders and the public. Henry Sy has been an influential monitor towards the change of Asia's economic behavior. He himself took care that no intruders or outsiders would enter his family business in the past. Now that he has joined the rules of fair play in the free trade policy, his company has slowly been opening up to outsiders. In the case of the family tradition, the business has increasingly grown so complex and stressful that professional workers outside the family had to be hired – of course counting on their loyalty. As much as possible they try to avoid placing any professional strangers who have their own agendas. His offspring claim that the business grown too large for just a few people to manage. The family has been very hands-on lately. Now they have to delegate more work and take more responsibility. Some day-to-day managements of the Sy family have been handed off to recruited managers and professional economists who now assist them in making financial decisions. The new rule is that there should be no family members in the team of a professionally managed company. Still, the Sys continue to fear that by bringing in these new changes in their business affairs, something important might get lost forever. But nevertheless, they still hope that everything goes out well and pray for a "continuity of culture", which will keep the spirit of their legacy alive once the family's role in the company diminishes.

Going Public

When the SM Group opened up to the public on March 2005 by enlisting its three prime companies at the Philippine Stock Exchange, the company launched what is now considered to be the largest initial public offering throughout Philippine history. It is now one of the largest gainers in the local bourse. As a sign of his gratitude to the country, he has returned a special gift to the consuming community by establishing the SM Foundation Inc., which grants scholarships to numerous unprivileged children. Being a wide believer of education, Henry Sy continues to engage in education projects. His foundation has already granted aid to some 400 gifted scholars. In partnership with the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., Mister Sy has donated public schools for the poor in rural areas of the country. He was also the prime mover behind the prestigious Asia Pacific College in Parañaque City. He also invested for the upgrading of his alma mater, the Far Eastern University. Never forgetting his ethnic roots, he donated several school buildings in his and his wife's ancestral villages in China. His company also gave full financial support to the promising athletes of the Philippine team during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. He owes most of his inspirations to his beloved wife, whom he claims to be his life-long best friend. He once told the press that he is not polygamous as any ordinary businessman because it is his nature to be faithful. In the same year, SM City Dasmariñas, SM City Batangas, and SM City San Lazaro were opened.

The Torusim Venture

A very remarkable man he is. After all, not many have the chance to achieve and excel so well. Maybe, he is a very fortunate person after all. All hardships have their reward. And lucky are those people who dream big and still get to live their dreams. Henry Sy is indeed a man of visions. "I've never had an inferiority complex," he declares in an interview "only shopping complexes." His eldest son, Henry Jr. points out. Well, it is true about his weakness for shopping - or shall we say passion? He never turned his back on making long and hard decisions for his projects and faced all the challenges that came upon his path. Even during the times of EDSA II (2001) and the Oakwood mutiny (2003). In 2004, countless political noises began to mess up the Philippine economy once again: from the long process of the presidential elections to the controversial scandal about the "Hello, Garci…" tapes, the insane opposition movement, allegations towards human rights of the current administration, the never ending debate towards charter change in the government system, the atrocious state of national emergency incident and finally, corruption issues as always. All that mess was in his way but they didn't seem to bother him the slightest. The Philippines still continues to paint a far worse economy than expected by international investors. It simply discourages, no, it even haunts them from coming in. Many of them long have given up on the country. But definitely not for Henry Sy. Not unless he sees hope in it. He always strived even in sickness and in health. Not even to note that this is the retailing empire that he has built. This is the land that Henry Sy has forged. If he wouldn't have done so, what would have happened to the Philippines? That is why he continues to emerge as the economy's "cool king". He takes every commotion, which scares everyone else, with ease. He is a man who just walks beyond the borders of reality. He only has one thing to say to the doomsayers of the economy: The Philippines is not a hopeless case. "I am optimistic that we can achieve a better future. I came to this country to appreciate the natural beauty and many economic advantages of the Philippines more than many other people do, and I kept working and investing with positive thinking." These are the words that come from a great man of a few words but rather great deeds. In the few times that he has spoken in public, Sy has imparted very simple yet profound words of wisdom that are worth more than a thousand words: "My personal style leads towards working, not speaking. In fact, speaking before you is more difficult than building shopping malls." His motivations towards life and economic progress have always been an inspiration to many even in crucial times of social despair. Knowing the country's high potentials in the tourism sector, he aggressively embarks to grab a bigger slice of this cake. Aside from owning several hotels already, he continues to buy attractive properties with panoramic views in Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Bulacan. His company continues to embark on a forceful expansion program for tourism development within the next few years. Urbanization projects have already long been underway. The rising number of tourists has showed that the tourism industry will soon become the next big thing in the country with its increasing rates. In preparation for this, his company has already acquired a total land bank of 96.6 hectares in 10 strategic locations including the joint venture he has signed with the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to develop a 2.34-hectare GSIS property adjacent to his SM City Baguio mall. He is planning to build residential condominiums and hotel complexes to ensure his position in the country's top holiday destinations under his very own tourism company, Highlands Prime Inc. It is the publicly listed high-end leisure property development company of the SM Group. He also owns a string of prized coves and hundreds of hectares of beachfront and adjoining hilly property in Cavite province between the wilting Puerto Azul resort and the sizzling Punta Fuego, but that is another property play waiting to happen. He is now master-planning a new 5,700-hectare seaside project called the Hamilo Coastâ in Batangas. His Tagaytay Highlands project in Tagaytay City has long broken grounds as it set to create a new landmark on Philippine soil. It is envisioned as a private residential haven for golfers on a wide green landscape with a panoramic view facing towards the breathtaking Taal Lake. It is nearing the first phase of completion inside the exclusive Tagaytay Highlands and Tagaytay Midlands enclave. Known as The Horizon, the first low-rise condominium development inside the complex will contain luxurious mountain resort facilities. As the completion of The Horizon's six (out of twelve) buildings are drawing near, the Pinehurst Building, the Pebble Beach Building, the Gleneagle Building and the Bayhill Building are some of the pompous buildings designed from a fusion of Japanese and other Asian elements showcasing monochromatic earth tones, giving it a relaxing and laid back ambience. Gold-accented and striking red ornaments are added as the centerpiece of the furniture. The panorama is accompanied with green oasis gardens together with elegant furnishing and Zen gardens at the balcony. The Midlands Golf Club will be an 18-hole golfing resort with a carefully landscaped garden and several infinity pools for relaxation.

SM Mall of Asia – Visualizing a Dream

Henry Sy Sr. is the chairman of the SM Group of companies. He continues to work hard everyday but he also realizes that he is aging. And having an adventurous life, most likely well-lived, many would still ask what else he is looking for. For a long time, he has been focusing on a meaningful project. It was a dream that nearly fell apart during the Asian economic crisis back in 1997. Back then he was willing to contribute something than could boost the Philippine economy to the fullest. He wanted to create a legacy – perhaps even leave a mark. It was his ultimate dream. He wanted to have it in the center of it all, directly in Manila's waterfront at the reclamation area in Pasay City nicknamed Bay City. It was ought to be the greatest work of his life. He originally envisioned it becoming the world's largest mall once opened. After the crisis, its plans were scaled down. Instead of building a huge 600,000 square meter box-like bricked shopping complex of seven stories, it was narrowed down to two floors, now with a more modern architectural design formed by a white glossy wave. Its construction began on the third quarter of 2002 and he pushed through for its construction no matter what happened. It was now being built having a gross floor area of 386,000 square meters, a size that has long been surpassed several other malls in the world. It was nestled at the centerpiece of the SM Business Park, where the long arcade of five one-story buildings serves as the company's corporate office headquarters. But the construction later slowed down due to the long awaiting of the availability of funds. In early 2004, construction was accelerated due to the Ty family that owns the Metropolitan Bank and Trust Company, who invested on a medical school, a dining strip and a residential complex at the Macapagal Boulevard, adjacent to the SM Business Park. At the time of its construction, the Philippines saw the opening of SM Supercenter Valenzuela, SM City Santa Rosa and SM City Clark. His SM City Baguio mall also won an award for being the country's Shopping Center of the year at the time beating the two Ayala Malls, Glorietta 4 and Greenbelt 4. It was awaited for launching on June 2005 but because of the strong pressures of economic jitters, political scramble and tropical depression; its inauguration was delayed again for nearly another year. The mall would have opened before the Christmas of 2005 but was once again delayed because of the hitch of the delivery of construction materials. It was later delayed once more because of the delayed turnover of mall space to tenants so the inauguration date had to be moved again. Before its opening on March 3, 2006 there were press rumors that the complex was unstable and had several structural defects but these allegations were denied by the company. On May 21, 2006, it was finally done. The day of its inauguration took place. It was said to be one of his greatest achievements ever. Elite members of the society, the business community, authoritarian politicians and even to the influential clergy, every imaginable person was present at that day in honor of an edifice created by a very honorable man. It was the grand opening if the long-awaited SM Mall of Asia to the public. Even the President was present at the event to congratulate him. 400,000 consumers came to grace its first day of service to the all-consuming economy. He called on his arch competitor John Gokongwei Jr. of the Robinsons Malls earlier to attend the inauguration but he couldn't attend. As expected, the mall was definitely huge in size. It was a mammoth. It was built on 19.5 hectares of reclaimed land west of Roxas Boulevard and at the southern most tip of the historical Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA). A colossal roundabout was built in front of the mall with a huge bronze globe similar to Universal Studios. There was a huge esplanade constructed behind the mall where visitors could take a glimpse at the panoramic view of the famous Manila Bay sunset. It also served as an observation center for big events such as firework events. The shopping complex consists of four buildings interconnected by walkways: the Main Hall, Entertainment Hall and the North and South Carpark Buildings. The Main Mall includes shopping and dinning establishments, in the food court. It gave way to more than 800 retailer shops. The North Parking Building houses the SM Hypermarket while the South Parking Building includes the huge SM Department Store outlet. The parking facilities have a 5,000 vehicle capacity. The mall's greatest attraction is the Pacifica Entertainment Plaza. Aside from world-class bowling and billiards facilities, the building has 10 huge theaters including an exclusive Director's Club and of course, the first ever IMAX Theater in the Philippines. It has the largest screen in the country at 22 x 33 meters, similar to the height of an eight story building making it the biggest outlet in Asia. It is named the San Miguel Coca Cola IMAX Theater coming from the joint-ventures with the two companies. More than anything, the mall also features the country's first Olympic-size ice skating rink and a special science museum. The mall also provides office space for investments in Information Technology and Business Outsource Processing. Dell International Services, a subsidiary of Dell Inc. has occupied a 13,470.5 – square meter area at the second floor. Complementing projects to the SM Mall of Asia was the donated church and following plans to build residential towers and hotels within the SM Business Park. The OneE-Com Center is an Information Technology haven for global firms to set office for their BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) operations; while the proposed MAITRADE Expo and Convention Center will house future showrooms and host trade fair events. The final highlight of the project will be a state-of-the-art entertainment dome for concerts, prestigious sport events and show business celebrations with upscale and high-tech facilities that is said to eclipse the now prestigious Araneta Coliseum once finished. The SM Mall of Asia received so much praise from the public that the parking massive lots were not enough to cater guest vehicles and the complex has caused several traffic jams in the first three weeks after its opening. It is the world's third-largest shopping mall, behind the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and the Golden Resources Mall in Beijing, China making SM Megamall the 16th largest mall in the world. It was a big leap from the small shoe store in Quiapo back in the 1950's. SM's destinations have continuously evolved creating continuous researches and new ideas to meet the tastes of consumers. On this day, the patriarch was definitely the happiest man on earth having fulfilled a long-awaited dream.

Awards & Recognitions

For a great man who deserves more than just social admiration, Henry Sy was awarded with the first special recognition as the "Father of Philippine Retail" in December 2005 by the Philippine Retailers Association. The president of the alliance, Mr. Mars Chua cited, "as retailers, we have all benefited from the establishment of malls in the country. Success stories of entrepreneurs abound as their businesses grew with the growth of malls." The award, Chua added, was an "opportunity to thank him." No other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo handed Sy the award. Many people praised him for his achievements. Earlier in 1999, he was named "Management Man of the Year" by the Makati Business Club and was conferred an "Honorary Doctorate in Business Management" by the De La Salle University in Manila. These awards highlighted the extraordinary rags-to-riches saga of the "Mall king".

His daughter Tessie said "We are very touched by this great honor for our father. I have worked for our dad for 35 years, and he is really hardworking, disciplined and a visionary. Let us have more positive thinking and just keep working hard."

When asked why he has recently spent 7 billion Philippine pesos on his new mall at a time when the Philippine economy was not strong at all, he answered, "It's investment that manifests my strong confidence to the Philippine future. I hope this biggest mall project will have a positive impact on the economy and I hope to encourage other business people to invest, too." He therefore urges the government to push and work hard to improve the country. "My simple formula that will accelerate growth is in the sense that the government should improve the peace-and-order situation as well as the international image of the Philippines in this crucial issue. Infrastructure should be upgraded and there should be a strong information campaign in promoting the country." He was definitely bullish on the economy and he meant it seriously. Every time he meets political figures, he often cites his excitement about the Philippine economy.

Socorro Ramos, founder of the National Bookstore chain which was elevated to the Hall of Fame as "Outstanding Filipino Retailer", expressed "I wish the good Lord will bless Henry Sy with many more years so he can continue to do his mission of helping others."

Meanwhile, Tony Tan Caktiong, founder of the Jollibee fast food chain and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corp., said "Henry Sy is an inspiration. He always emphasized hard work."

Forum » Inspirations » Success Stories / Biographies of Great People » Henry Sy: Life, Works & Achievements
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