Henry Sy, billionaire trailblazer of PH mall culture, laid to rest

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 24 2019 11:04 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2019 06:37 PM

The late billionaire and SM founder Henry Sy is shown in this handout photo from his office. Sy was schedule to be laid to rest on Jan. 24

MANILA—(UPDATE) Henry Sy Sr., once hailed the Philippines' richest man, was laid to rest Thursday, leaving behind a legacy of mall culture and a billion-dollar empire that spans retail, banking and property.

Sy expired peacefully in his sleep last Saturday. He was 94. Masses were held on Thursday morning at various SM malls to pay tribute to the patriarch. The burial was closed to media coverage.

Fujian-born Sy, whose wealth was estimated by Forbes Magazine at $18.3 billion (nearly P1 trillion) at the time of his death, started with a shoe store in downtown Manila in the 1960s.

Shoe Mart would later evolve into SM, a chain of 72 malls in the Philippines and 7 others in China. The giant structures are not only shopping destinations, they are also de facto city centers where Filipinos can dine, transact with government and even go to church.

"There is no such thing as overnight success or easy money. If you fail, do not be discouraged. Try again," Sy said in an interview with the Philippine Star.

"Success is not just good luck. It is a combination of hard work, good credit standing, opportunity, readiness and timing. Success will not last if you do not take care of it," he said.

HISTORIC WEALTH TRANSFER

Sy's fortune includes the Philippines' largest lender by assets, BDO Unibank, Chinabank, condominium developer SM Development Corp., and National University.

The SM Group's most recent venture before the patriarch's death is the Philippines' first IKEA store, which will be the largest in the world. It will be housed at SM Mall of Asia complex.

The Sy-led conglomerate also has stakes in logistics firm 2GO, Atlas Consolidated Mining and Development Corp., and Belle Corp., a partner in City of Dreams, a casino-hotel complex. 

Sy's death signaled a leadership change in the Philippines' largest companies to the sons and daughters of tycoons who built their businesses from scratch, said executive coach Eric Soriano.

Transitions are "very sensitive and very volatile sometimes" and success lies in preparation, Soriano told ANC.

"We are witnessing the greatest wealth transfer in the history of mankind, from the baby boomers, from nothing. It's time to turn the new leaf, a changing of the guard from the founder to the siblings," he said.

Sy's children have been handling their parts of the business "efficiently and professionally" and there are no signs of a power struggle, said Regina Capital head of sales Luis Limlingan.

The tycoon has 6 children: Teresita Sy-Coson, Elizabeth Sy, Henry Sy Jr., Hans Sy, Herbert Sy, and Harley Sy.

While his children are in charge of different parts of the business, the patriarch chose a long-time associate and chief financial officer, Jose Sio, to replace him as chairman of SM Investments, in 2017.

"His drive in life, his vision. I said to myself, this (man) will be big," said Sio, whom the Sy children call "uncle."

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

Another recent venture, Simply Shoes, sells low-cost footwear as a homage to the elder Sy's roots.

SM is also investing in new technologies, with a robot concierge set to be deployed at Megamall. It also offers merchandise at a discount through online marketplace Lazada.