I bumped into this article from the company’s intranet portal, effort has been made to provide the URL of the article from Philstar but unsuccessful.

Written by Wilson Lee Flores, 20 May 2007
Source: Philippine Star-Sunday Life

We were born to succeed, not to fail. — Henry David Thoreau

Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon… must inevitably come to pass! — Paul J. Meyer

Congratulations to inspiring rags-to-riches SM Group of Companies and Banco de Oro universal bank founder Henry Sy. He recently received an honorary doctorate in Business Management from the University of Guam, in a simple but elegant dinner ceremony at the Quezon Function Room of Shangri-La Makati on May 10. The event was attended by close family members and several top SM Group officials. The University of Guam was represented by its president Harold Allen and other top officials.

Read: 14 Worklife Principles of Henry Sr.

His less than two-minute speech was read for him by daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Sy, while the robust-looking and self-effacing 83-year-old Sy greeted well-wishers. The menu for the intimate dinner included carpaccio of salmon and lapu-lapu, wasabi mustard, baby greens with lemon oil vinaigrette, cream of herb with wild mushroom wonton, sea bass with basil and black olive tapenede, oven-roasted potatoes and tempura asparagus, and desserts included fresh fruits with mango ice cream and pistachio biscotti.

Like pioneer industrialist and monopoly-buster John Gokongwei Jr. of JG Summit Holdings, Cebu Pacific Air and Sun Cellular, I have had the privilege of personally knowing Henry Sy since my college years. I have followed their careers the way kids enthusiastically follow the careers of NBA athletes or their favorite Hollywood stars.

Read: Henry Sy: Dreams Can Be Realized

Here are some of what I believe to be the secrets to Henry Sy’s phenomenal success as the wealthiest billionaire of the Philippines (ranked by Forbes magazine):

1. Humility. Henry Sy has always been a man of few words and disarming humility. I remember when his Podium mall was newly opened near SM Megamall, he invited me to have merienda and then dinner in two restaurants. I was with him for five hours, but he spoke very little; I had to coax him to tell me his fascinating stories. He reminds me of an East Asian ancient philosopher who spoke little but had great gems of wisdom. He has reportedly never been seen expressing anger in public.

2. Ability to find and use good talent. I have never done business with Henry Sy, or ever asked a favor of any kind. But once, when I was starting in the business of building and selling middle-class houses in Quezon City after college, I sold him a small number of China Bank stocks which my late grandfather had bought in 1920, passed on to my late dad. Sy bought those shares at the market price quoted in the stock market, and even asked me for a discount!

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Amazingly, even if Sy has since gained control of China Bank by patiently buying stocks through the years, he has chosen to maintain the separate corporate identity of this respected institution and even allowed the original founding family to continue managing it professionally and so profitably. Even in his other companies, he knows how to utilize the best professional talent to help his entrepreneurial family run diverse businesses.


3. Traditional Confucian values.
Henry Sy has maintained traditional Confucian values of hard work, frugality, discipline, love of study, self-sacrifice for the family welfare and harmonious social relationships. He has said: “The SM business model is anchored on hard work, focus, determination and the ability to take risks and make bold calls. We are guided by this set of principles and core values.”

It was only a few years ago that he finally agreed to move to a new but simple bungalow in North Forbes, Makati. He told me it was his eldest daughter Tessie who received his check to purchase the lot, and the kids who built his home. For decades, he and his wife stayed in a Makati condominium where one of his hobbies is cooking.

4. Good strategic planning. “I am hands-on and personalized in my management style. I do not do things on impulse. I think long and hard about every project,” says Sy.

5. Wife and children. The not-so-secret “secret weapons” Henry Sy has had in building up and running his dynamic and vast SM Group are his wife Felicidad Tan-Sy and his five workaholic children Tessie, Betty, Henry Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley. His wife’s younger brother Dr. Paulino Y. Tan helps run his Asia Pacific College, in which America’s IBM has a significant minority stake.

6. Focus. Henry Sy has chosen to focus and build on his main business of retailing. He expands to other industries, but most of them are related to, or support, his retail interests such as banking (his Banco de Oro, Equitable PCIBank and China Bank and credit cards support retail tenants and consumers), real estate, movie cinemas, tourism and others.

7. Bold risk-taker. Old friends Philip Cuazon, Jimmy Tang and James Uy recounted that in the ‘70s, when Henry Sy acquired a huge lease on Makati land, Ayala Group executives were said to be surprised by the boldness of this young retailer from Carriedo, Manila. When Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983, Henry Sy persevered. He has been able to build the biggest pioneering shopping mall of SM North Edsa in Quezon City. Even as Gringo Honasan was leading his bloody 1989 military coup, Sy was completing SM Centerpoint in Santa Mesa, Quezon City.

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When there was nothing in the Manila Bay reclamation area, and even though its location was not at the crossroads of traffic, Henry Sy, a bold risk-taker, bought land there and confounded skeptics by constructing the enormous seaside SM Mall of Asia even while President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was hounded for two years by the “Hello, Garci” scandal.

8. Long-range strategic vision. In the postwar era, during buying trips to the US, Henry Sy noticed that shopping centers were booming there; the shoe retailer already envisioned that one day he would build similar shopping centers in the Philippines. Despite his quiet appearance, Sy is a determined entrepreneur who told me that he has always envisioned himself to be No. 1 in whatever endeavors he undertakes.

At the recent dinner where he received an honorary doctorate from University of Guam, Sy said, “Behind SM stores, malls, properties and banks, our story in SM is one of vision — one that is fueled by a constant drive to innovate, raise the bar and create values that redefine consumer experience. It is about constant service and quality concepts that transform people and their environment.”

9. Good reputation. Throughout East Asia, honor is often regarded as more important than wealth or power. In the Hokkien dialect of Fujian province in southeast China where Henry Sy was born and spent his childhood, shinyong refers to the old-fashioned value of “trustworthiness” — the same phrase used for the word “credit.”

Henry Sy has impeccable shinyong, not only within the business community, but even in his dealings internationally. At the University of Guam ceremony conferring Sy an honorary doctorate, Guam’s American business leader Ken Jones stood up to make a speech recounting his uninterrupted, harmonious and reliable business dealings with the SM founder since 1954. Henry Sy said, “In life and in business, you need to be goodhearted and trustworthy. This is the way to build long-term relationships.”

10. God’s blessings. Henry Sy and his deeply religious wife Felicidad Tan-Sy also attribute their success ultimately “to God’s blessings,” despite what others might call fate, destiny, good karma or so-called good luck.

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