An evolving business: What could be next for the Henry Sy empire?

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 19 2019 02:48 PM

SM Megamall, the second largest shopping mall in the Philippines, is pictured at night. Photo from SM Supermalls Facebook page

MANILA - Tycoon Henry Sy passed away Saturday at 94, leaving his business empire in the hands of his family and trusted associates.

With the family patriarch's death, an era has ended and a new one dawns upon one of the biggest conglomerates in the Philippines.

The change, however, has been creeping in since 2017, with the election of Sy's long-time associate, Jose Sio, as chairman of SM Investments.

SM Investments Chairman Jose Sio gestures during an interview with ABS-CBN News. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

In the same year, the Sy family also tapped Frederic DyBuncio as president, signaling the appointment of more professionals in top positions at SM.

“It’s more of an evolution. It can’t always be a family business since we have a lot more of professional executives with us,” the retail giant's daughter SM Investments vice chairman Teresita Sy-Coson earlier told ABS-CBN News.

Sio took over the leadership of SM Investments as it forayed into leisure and gaming with Belle Corp, and into logistics with its acquisition of a stake in 2GO.

"I said, Mr. Sy, I thought we will retire together but you already retired but I’m still here," Sio told ABS-CBN News in a previous interview.


Three of Henry Sy Sr's six children: Henry Jr., Teresita Sy-Coson, and Hans Sy. File

Even as those outside the family took top positions in the Sy empire, the business magnate's children are still key players in keeping their father's legacy alive.

Sy's namesake, Henry Jr., and eldest daughter, Sy-Coson, are co-vice chairpersons at SM Investments, where their brother, Harley Sy is also executive director.

In 2018, Henry Jr. also launched a cement business, Big Boss Cement Inc, betting on the Philippines' construction boom.

Their brother Hans Sy is currently the chairman of the executive committee of SM Prime, after stepping down as president of SM Investments in late 2016. 

Herbert Sy is an adviser to the board of SM Investments Corporation and is currently the vice chairman of Supervalue Inc, Super Shopping Market Inc, and Sanford Marketing Corp. He is also the director of China Banking Corporation. 

Their sister Elizabeth Sy, meanwhile, serves as chairperson and president of SM Hotels and Conventions Corporation, the family's hospitality and leisure business.

Henry Sy Sr's grandson Howard Sy. ABS-CBN News

The patriarch's grandson, Howard, is also busy building his own "SM" with Storage Mart, a self-service storage facility in Makati.


A customer service robot is seen at SM Megamall during a demonstration on Nov. 21, 2018. The robot represents billionaire mall tycoon Henry Sy's increasing use of automation in his business. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News

Sy's mall empire is also riding on the rise of artificial intelligence with its robot concierge.

The white robots, which roam around SM shopping malls, provide information on deals, promos and events from a touch screen mounted on its chest. It can also reply by voice to basic questions.

"We believe that technology can aid us in upgrading our service. The Sy family, the SM group are so much into technology," SM Supermalls chief operating officer Steven Tan had told ABS-CBN News.

While SM has expanded into catering to more affluent classes, it continues to pay tribute to the patriarch's shoe store beginnings with Simply Shoes.

Simply Shoes is SM Investment Corp.'s fast shoe-shopping presentation. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

With over 30 branches nationwide, Simply Shoes seeks to tap into budget-conscious middle class shoppers and is also a tribute to Sy's first "Shoe Mart" in downtown Manila's Carriedo.

"As we grow big, we also want to stay true to ourselves. In fact, that’s one of Mr. Sy’s dreams," SM Retail senior vice president for shoes and bags Eugene Saw told ABS-CBN News in an earlier interview.