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.
Antolin “Bet” Paule had just finished his end-of-shift routines as a foreman, timekeeper and overall supervisor at the construction site of one of Sy’s earliest projects in the late 1960s, the Manila Royal Hotel on Calle Echague.
In fact, he was hoping to cap the day with a nice bottle of beer when he heard someone calling his name an hour past midnight. Sy was legendary for working very long hours and by extension, Paule was no stranger to working late.
“Binati ko siya ng good morning. Sabi niya, sige inom ka, para may lakas ka, but not too much (I greeted him good morning. He told me, go ahead and drink so you will have strength),” Paule, now the Senior Vice President of SM Engineering Development and Design, recalling Sy’s unassuming way of showing his concern said.
Paule said Tatang would work 16 hours a day. But he would be considerate of the needs of others.
“At paminsan magdadala siya ng hot pandesal para sa akin (Sometimes, he would bring hot pandesal when he visits),” Paule fondly remembered.
One day, Sy asked Paule to join him to see a somewhat strange location—a large swampy area between Quezon City and Caloocan now known as North EDSA.
“Puro kangkungan ‘yon at squatters (the area was overgrown with watercress and had illegal settlers),” Paule said.
Paule recalled how much flak Sy got when he was building his first SM mall on North EDSA in the early 1980s amidst an economic downtrend and skyrocketing interest rates.
“People would ask me, ano nangyayari sa boss mo? Binili niya kangkungan (What happened to your boss? He bought land filled with water cress),” Paule said. He further recalled that Sy would tell him that people didn’t understand his vision. “It is like a fishnet. Going north huli natin. Going south huli natin,” Paule recalled Sy saying to him about the mall’s potential as a regional hub.
When SM City North EDSA opened in 1985, it drew thousands, exceeding everyone’s expectations.
Erlinda Paule was a graduate of Commerce in 1958 when she found a job as a cashier in a shoe store on Avenida Rizal. Little did she realize that this store would give rise to a chain of shoe stores in the country under the Shoemart brand.
Erlinda spent a few weeks on the job before she got moved to bookeeping, in charge of recording the financial transactions of the company including sales. Like her husband, Antolin (Bet), Erlinda felt a sense of family as she closely worked with Tatang on these duties and saw his virtues of malasakit (sacrifice and genuine concern), lakas ng loob (grit or courage) and hard work.
“Hardworking si Tatang. Minsan inaabot po kami ng hatinggabi sa office. Kahit paminsan na may sakit siya, nasa trabaho pa rin (Tatang is hardworking. Sometimes we would work until midnight. Even if he is sick, he will continue to work),” she said.
That grit was tested when Tatang sought to venture to the emerging Makati district. For Tatang, Makati presented opportunities for expansion even if the development of the district was uncertain at the time. Erlinda was at a crossroads and found herself choosing to relocate to a new work location, trusting Tatang without hesitation. Tatang’s conviction led to the launch of his shoe store, Shoemart Makati, in 1963.
“Yung SM Makati lumago ng lumago (SM Makati continued to grow),” Erlinda said. She stayed for over 35 years with SM until her retirement in 1994.
Erlinda said that despite his success, Tatang was untouched by fame and fortune.
“Ganoon pa rin siya. Simpleng tao lang (He remains the same. He is just a simple man),” she said.
- End of Part II -