Henry Sy, Sr.

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Henry Sy, Sr., Philippines' richest man. (Source: Forbes Asia, 2008)

Henry Sy, Sr. (Chinese name 施至成 Pinyin: Shī Zhì Chéng), now 87, is still the undisputed richest man in the Philippines for years according to Forbes Magazine. In 2010, Forbes valued his net worth at USD 5 billion.

Sy is known as the "Father of Philippine Retailing," and the founder and chairman of the SM Group of Companies. In spite of his old age remained ageless. His success in retail business branches out into different establishments and still continues to unravel different opportunities. As his saying goes “a dream is a wish your heart makes", never stops dreaming.


Early life

Henry Sy’s original birth name is Shī Zhì Chéng which literally means "to attain ultimate success”. He was born on the 25th of December 1923 in a small village in China. His father left China and migrated to the Philippines when he was still a toddler. Later, at the age of twelve, he left his home village Ang-khue of the Dieng-oh municipality in the county of Jinjiang, near Xiam en in Fujian province. His father was a trader and took the risk of establishing a business here in the Philippines. They used to live in Quiapo, in a 30-square meter lot. His father owned a tiny grocery store on Echague Street (now Carlos Palanca Sr. St.) just behind Chinatown. Because of such hard life, the young Sy pursued, he would always go to Divisoria, known for wholesales, retails and bargains, to buy cheap goods and sell it at their own ha-ya tiam or sari-sari store to Filipinos. Both of them worked hard, from early morning up to late in the evening every day.

Sy enrolled as a grade one student at the age of 12 in an Anglo-Chinese School in Quiapo. It was a tough time for the young lad to know nothing and start from scratch. As he went through his education together with the business, he decided to enroll at the Far Eastern University in 1950 and took up a degree in Associate in Arts in Commercial Studies. In 1999, he acquired the Doctorate degree at the De La Salle University.

It was in 1950’s when he later on changed his legal name into Henry Sy after being granted a Filipino citizenship. He married a Chinese immigrant who also became a Filipino citizen under the legal name of Felicidad. The couple had 6 children, Teresita "Tessie” Sy-Coson, the eldest, manages Banco de Oro, Equitable PCI Bank, the department stores and the retail stores, Hans is who is now in charge of the shopping centers and president of SM Prime Holdings and vice chairman of China Bank, Henry Jr. who takes care of the real estate ventures of the company and Elizabeth is involved with tourism ventures like the Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay City. Herbert manages the SM Supermarkets and Harley, the president of the flagship holding company SM Investments Corp. According to Sy children, their father sincerely followed Confucian values. They were brought up knowing the value of hard work and perseverance. He then involved all of them into the business by the age of 13, stocking deliveries, arranging shelves and cashiering were mainly the jobs given to them.

When the World War II began, almost all businesses were closed and the country's industries were all destroyed after the Battle of Manila. It was also during this time that their shop was plundered into ashes and rubbles; nothing was left to him and his father. After the war ended in 1945, he ventured into peddling American shoes. He diligently studied the market and decided to pursue the shoe business. He went on a long business trip to the East Coast and came back with a lot of grand selling ideas. Starting a business was not that easy, one needs to have capital to start the ball rolling. It was in 1949 when received his first credit line from China Bank and was approved of a one million peso loan, by the tycoon Mr. Yap Tian Siang. He opened the very first Shoemart store along Carriedo St. in Avenida Rizal, downtown Manila.

The Shoemart story

for main article click SM Shoemart

After the construction of the first Shoemart, as what they used to call it, he conceptualized a new chain of shoe stores. The shoe store soon became very popular until it expanded into three outlets. Because of his dissatisfaction, he decided to create something new and better. He added an electronic appliances division in each of his stores and so on. He expanded his shoe store chain in the new pioneer urban centers, at the Makati Commercial Center in 1963 and then followed by another in Cubao, then by two other ones again at the Harrison Plaza in central Manila and in Delgado St., Iloilo City.

The SM logo was later used to shorten the name shoemart. It was designed by a Spanish-descended Filipino artist Juvenal Sanso. The said logo was a phenomenon because of its simplicity yet with power. It was in the year 1975 where the shoe store became a fully operated department store because of the various inclusions of areas such as supermarkets.

His big breakout came in 1985 when he opened his first supermall in Quezon City, the birth of SM City North Edsa. The shoe-box look alike mall was clean and fully air-conditioned that promotes modern shopping conveniences. SM Centerpoint in 1989, it was also at this time that the Gringo Honasan’s coup de etat occurred. In 1991, the famous SM Megamall was built and inaugurated. The very first mall which featured a cinema division called Silverscreen and ice skating rink.

The first mall outside Metro Manila was opened in 1996, SM City Cebu. It was followed by SM South Mall in Las Piñas including SM City Fairview and SM City Bacoor in the province of Cavite. As the vision expands, the company continued to branch out its supermalls by opening SM City Iloilo in 1999, SM City Manila, SM City Pampanga in Angeles City and the SM City Sucat. Both expansions reached Luzon and Visayas, so, in 2001, SM City Davao was opened. After the launching of SM City Bicutan, a second mall was opened in Mindanao, SM City Cagayan de Oro which was inaugurated in 2002; it was also at this time where the construction of the SM Mall of Asia started, together with SM Clark and SM Las Pinas. SM Centerpoint was then renamed to SM City Santa Mesa after extensive expansions. In 2003, several malls were opened, SM City Lucena, SM City Marilao, SM City Manila and SM City Baguio. By the end of the quarter of 2004, SM City Dasmarinas and SM City Batangas were again opened. In 2005, SM City Dasmariñas, SM City Batangas, and SM City San Lazaro were added to the list.

On May 21, 2006, the very controversial and historical, SM Mall of Asia was finally done. The grand opening followed. It was built on a 19.5 hectares of reclaimed land west of Roxas Boulevard and at the southernmost tip of EDSA. A gigantic roundabout was also built in front of the mall with a huge bronze globe. There was a stretch of esplanade constructed behind the mall where people could take a look at the panoramic view of the Manila Bay sunset. The mall's greatest attraction is the Pacifica Entertainment Plaza aside from world-class bowling and billiards facilities, the first ever IMAX Theater in the Philippines was also built. It has the largest screen in the country at 22 x 33 meters.

Moreover, 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. and OneE-Com Center, 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 main 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.

This was one of the grandest dreams of the tycoon and now it came to reality. Several constructions of Supermalls have been in the making ever since covering the whole island of the Philippines. Countless of these malls are still to be opened.

Now, these historical expansions of supermalls even reached the other shore of the world. The SM Group has established three supermalls in China over the past years, namely SM North Xiamen, SM South Xiamen and SM Chuan and will soon open in Chengdu City province of more than 70 million people. Soon after, an SM supermall was also opened in Guam.

Group of Companies under SM Prime Holdings

The SM Group has also engaged in the following firms and establishments:

  • Watsons Personal Care Stores, Inc. - a pharmaceutical endeavor with Hong Kong's Hutchison-Whampoa Ltd.
  • International Toy World - Toy Kingdom outlets were created
  • Ace Hardware Philippines - a joint-venture with the Ace Hardware Corp. of USA
  • Star Appliance Center
  • Surpuls Shop
  • Sports Central
  • Baby & Co., Home World
  • Our Home
  • Quantum Entertainment
  • China Banking Corporation – owns 70 percent of its assets.
  • 2006: Equitable PCI Bank – bought the remaining 66% in which he already had a 34% stake, merged it with Banco de Oro Universal Bank in 2007

Singapore's United Overseas Bank Ltd. and Spain's Banco Santander Central Hispano SA – opened small branches

  • 2003: Keppel Group of Singapore – joint-venture
  • The Podium – opened the said mall, the first handicapped-friendly shopping center in the country.

Engagement in Tourism

He also ventured in real estates and properties, from owning several hotels; he continues to buy attractive properties with exotic views in Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan and Bulacan. The company has already acquired a total land bank of 96.6 hectares in 10 strategic locations. A project was signed with the [[Government Service Insurance System[[ (GSIS) to develop a 2.34-hectare GSIS property adjacent to SM City Baguio mall. His tourism company, the Highlands Prime Inc. is planning to build residential condominiums and hotel complexes. He also owns prized coves and hundreds of hectares of beachfront and hilly property in Cavite between Puerto Azul resort and Punta Fuego, which are all to happen soon.

He is now a 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 sets to create a new zest in the area. The first phase of completion inside the exclusive Tagaytay Highlands and Tagaytay Midlands are almost on the groove. Known as The Horizon, the first low-rise condominium property inside the complex which will contain mountain resort facilities.

As the completion of The Horizon's six (out of twelve) buildings are drawing near, we can envision Sy’s produce, buildings are designed to be of Japanese and other Asian inspired elements showcasing monochromatic earth tones so that attraction takes place. The said resort is also accompanied with green oasis gardens together with elegant furnishing and Zen gardens at the balcony. He firmly believes that once you are very determined, everything can happen.

Awards & Recognitions

Henry Sy Sr., a great man who deserves more than just social admiration, was awarded with the first special recognition as the "Father of Philippine Retail" in December 2005 by the Philippine Retailers Association. He was named "Management Man of the Year" by the Makati Business Club and was conferred an Honorary Doctorate in Business Management by De La Salle University-Manila in January 1999. His fellow businessmen, Socorro Ramos, founder of the National Bookstore, Tony Tan Caktiong, founder of the Jollibee fast food chain and CEO of Jollibee Foods Corp., and Benjamin Chan, the founder of the Bench boutique chains praised and thanked him for being their inspiration to continuously improve and aim for the best.

The man with a good heart, he founded, the SM Foundation Inc., which grants scholarships to numerous unprivileged children. Together with the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc., he has donated public schools for the poor in rural areas of the country. He was also behind the project of putting up Asia Pacific College. Most importantly, he never forgets his ethnic roots; he donated several school buildings in his and his wife's ancestral villages in China. They also gave full financial support to the promising athletes of the Philippine team during the 2005 Southeast Asian Games. He said he owes most of his inspirations to his beloved wife, whom he claims to be his best friend forever. For all his philantrophy, Sy was cited by Forbes as one of the 4 Filipinos Heroes of Philanthropy.

Every now and then, he would sit at his warehouse-style office headquarters in Manila bay and reminisce what he has gone through, staring at the old bass cash register he once used, to remind him of everything he has become. Achievements:

  • Former Director - San Miguel Corp.
  • Honorary Chairman and Advisor to the Board - China Banking Corp.
  • Former Director and Member of Nomination Committee - Keppel Philippines Marine Inc.
  • Founder, Chairman, Chairman of SM Investments Corporation, Chairman of SM Prime Holdings Inc and Chairman of SM Land Inc - SM Development Corp.
  • Chairman Emeritus - Banco De Oro Unibank, Inc.
  • 1960-Present : Chairman, Chairman of SM Prime, Chairman of ShoeMart, Chairman of SM Development and Chairman of Highlands Prime Inc (SM Investments Corp.)
  • 1989-2006: Former Director, Director of Keppel Philippines Marine, Director of Keppel Philippines Properties Inc. and Director of SM Keppel Land Inc (Keppel Philippines Holdings Inc.)
  • 1994-Present: Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Nomination Committee (SM Prime Holdings) Inc.
  • 1995-2007: Director, Republic Glass Holdings Corp.
  • 1999-Present: Director, Keppel Philippines Properties Inc.
  • 2002-Present: Chairman and Chairman of Executive Committee, Highlands Prime Inc.

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