Henry Sy: The man they call Tatang

Jose Sio (left) with Henry Sy

MANILA, Philippines — A knowing nod; 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.

Jose Sio, SM’s longest-serving chief finance officer, now chairman of the board was an accomplished auditor for a large accounting firm when he got assigned to all the big businesses handled by the firm, including Sy’s. As part of the auditing process, Sio would meet with Sy to ask him questions about the business. Sy found his curiosity so infectious that he invited Sio to join SM.

“I can already see what he was dreaming about. He told me he wanted to be the biggest retailer, the biggest bank and the biggest property developer in the country. I thought, this man has a vision,” Sio said. Sio later found himself working with Sy for the next three decades.

The vision took shape, forged in a crucible of various economic and financial crises which also revealed Sy’s unconventional thinking and tenacity that led to SM’s unprecedented growth in the last six decades.

But there was more to the man than gaining success. Sio shared that Sy’s moniker, Tatang, had a deeper meaning. “It was never just about the business. He always considered what he should be giving to the community, what he should be giving back to the people.”

Sio remembers catching Sy staring blankly at the ceiling one noontime in his office at the old Makati Stock Exchange, deep in thought.

“Mr. Sy, ano iniisip niyo? Malalim (What are you thinking about Mr. Sy? It seems deep.),” Sio asked Sy.

He finally told Sio, “I’m feeling the heavy responsibility that we have so many people here (in SM). We have so many employees, suppliers, tenants, so many children, daughters and sons relying on us, that if we’re not successful, what will happen to these people,” Sy said.

From his origins in retail, Tatang has had an innate desire to make customers feel happy when visiting his store and giving them value for their hard-earned money. From customer happiness sprung the larger goal of sustaining the communities that have grown around SM’s developments.

This mindset has become rooted in the company’s values, practices and culture.

“He has always taught us his own philosophy of the value of money. This is how the retail business has grown because he wants to give value to the money of the customer.

If you go to the store, whatever it is you buy, you should feel that it’s worth it. So you would rather gain one peso and serve a million people than gain 10 pesos and serve a smaller market. That has always been his philosophy, to serve millions,” Sio said.

Source: Philippine Star