For Henry Sy's grandson, it's career over love for now

Art Fuentes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 28 2018 09:08 AM | Updated as of Jun 28 2018 03:47 PM

Howard Sy, grandson of the Philippines' richest man, strikes out on his own with StorageMart, a company that rents our storage space for space-starved urbanites. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA -- Billionaire Henry Sy's bachelor grandson is focusing on his career despite pressure to settle down, as he builds his own empire outside the shadow of the Philippines' richest man.

StorageMart owner Howard Sy, 29, said he wants to earn people's respect rather than being doted upon just because he is the child of the boss.

"In our family, the way they brought us up, you have to work outside," he told ABS-CBN at StorageMart's newest branch in Quezon City.

"You want people to listen to you because they respect you for what you've done," said Sy, who wore the same dark blue uniform as his employees to the interview.

He is the third in a brood of 4 of Hans Sy, board member and former president of SM Prime Holdings, the shopping mall arm of the family patriarch's SM Investments.

"I’ll probably focus on career right now, but at the same time na-pe-pressure na rin ako because you don’t want to be too old for your kids," he said.

The facade of StorageMart in Quezon City. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

OUTSIDE HIS GRANDFATHER'S SHADOW

Sy said he had not worked for the SM Group, which employs 86,000 people and where his aunt and uncles hold key positions.

After graduating from the University of Melbourne, he worked as an investment banker for Macquarie Group, where nobody cared about his pedigree.

"When you look at this industry, the (investment) banking industry is so ridiculous. You're against Harvard graduates, all the Ivy League schools ‘pag international," he said.

Twelve-hour workdays and working weekends were normal. The job also had Sy shuttling between Hong Kong and Singapore. He recalled one time when he stayed overnight and finished work at dawn for a proposal that was due later that day.

"Every time you go to the office there's always someone there doing something. It's something you really rarely see in the Philippines," he said.

Sy said the intense work culture, attention and reading volumes of documents helped prepare him for his business foray.

"The money's great pero nakakapagod (it's tiring). So what I did was I used it as stepping stone na lang, make a lot of money there and then throw it into my own business," he said. 

FATHER’S ADVICE, FAMILY SUPPORT

Howard Sy, founder of StorageMart, talks about building his own business apart from the SM empire. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Sy used his own savings to build StorageMart. He said it was nerve-wracking at the start.

"The night before I signed my first check for my business I couldn't even sleep. It was quite worrying," he said.

Sy said his father, Hans, advised him to work hard and keep cool when challenges arise.

"If you're not hands-on, then you won't understand what's going through in the everyday operations," he said.

"That's another thing my dad always says, if you have a problem and you don't have a solution, don't worry 'cause you don't have a solution. If you have a problem and you have a solution, don't worry 'cause you have a solution. So basically, don't worry, no matter what it's always gonna be there," he said.

Henry Sy inside the original Shoe Mart store in Manila. Video grab

While StorageMart is not part of the SM Group, Sy said he thought of the name as a tribute to his grandfather.

SM is named after Shoe Mart, a small shoe store in downtown Manila that was the seed of the taipan's shopping mall, banking, real estate and leisure empire.

"At the end of the day, we wouldn’t be here if not for him. I wouldn’t have this business, I wouldn’t be alive," he said.