A knowing nod; a hot pandesal shared late at night at a construction site; a career crossroads and a question thrown casually while staring at the ceiling—unrelated, seemingly inconsequential yet meaningful and poignant moments that define bonds with Henry Sy, beloved companion, comrade, father-figure and mentor.
Senen Mendiola was a young, newly graduated accountant, transplanted to Manila from the bucolic life in Lubang Island in Mindoro when his uncle, a government official, introduced him to an equally young businessman in the 1950s.
This cursory introduction was Mendiola’s big break in the business world with Sy whom he fondly called Tatang or father. Later, Mendiola found himself in a position of trust, first handling the financial books for Sy’s earlier drugstore and shoe stores on Carriedo and later on managing Shoemart’s public ties and fulfilling its social obligations.
Mendiola shared Sy’s passion to learn about retailing as they visited stores on Escolta Street to see how these were run. Before the war, Escolta was considered the high street of business and style where the well-heeled of old Manila shopped. Department stores in art deco and neoclassical buildings which sold shoes, clothes, cosmetics and even bicycles, lined the streets. After the liberation of Manila, Escolta lost some of its former luster but businesses trickled in to revive the trade. Sy and Mendiola watched shoppers and talked to sales ladies, learning all that they could about retail. This proved useful in the later years for Sy who continued to observe shoppers’ behaviors, albeit incognito style, to know their needs.
They shared so much in common that Sy and Mendiola were considered inseparable. And like Sy, Mendiola emulated qualities of loyalty, commitment, honesty and humility. Such was their bond that words need not be said to understand each other. “Sila ng dad ko (my dad and Mr. Sy) they were very close. There was one meeting and somebody asked a question. Another person suggested something else. And Mr. Sy and my dad, nagkatinginan lang sila na para bang nagkaintindihan sila (they just looked at each other like they understood each other),” Jorge Mendiola, Senen’s son and the Executive Director of SM Retail said.
“There was a silent trust and understanding between them,” Marissa Mendiola Aguirre, Mendiola’s daughter, now Senior Vice President for the SM STORE’s Signature Lines observed.
Sy considered Mendiola as practically family, recognizing his help in tending to Shoemart from its small beginnings. Mendiola’s family also became involved in the businesses—with his wife Josefina helping in the development and expansion of SM Cubao as branch manager and both Jorge and Marissa eventually taking active leadership roles in the retail business.
“They (the Sys) treated us like family and they are so kind. My dad would tell us when we were younger, ‘tulong kayo’ (help them) so we would help out in the Cubao store. My dad loved Mr. Sy and SM that I think he felt family should help family,” Aguirre said.
- End of Part I -