What Henry Sy Taught Me About Fatherhood

Atty. Jun Borcelis, SM SVP for Legal (seated rightmost) with his family

Some say fathers pay the highest price of parenthood with the time spent away from their families in order to support them.

The road to success was never easy for such fathers and while they often pay the steep price, some of them believe that their children stand to gain from the hard lessons they’ve learned as their children will, inevitably, chart their own destinies.

Atty. Epitacio “Jun” Borcelis, 63, who has worked for almost four decades with SM in various capacities, has learned this lesson well. Atty. Borcelis, the son of a bus driver in Bicol,  rose from the ranks, starting as a security officer in 1978 in SM Makati after he earned his degree in Criminology.

In 1979, he was chosen to perform legal secretarial duties by SM’s legal counsel, resulting in his transfer to SM’s head office at Carlos Palanca in Manila.

But he had bigger dreams. After doing his day job from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM, he would walk to the University of the East College of Law to attend night classes. His career with SM took off after he passed the bar in 1985. He, later on, moved up the ladder assuming various positions in the SM group including House Counsel, Corporate Secretary and eventually Senior Vice President for legal at SM Investments Corporation, the Sy family’s holding company which is a position he holds to this day.

Throughout his career journey, there was one man he looked up to as a father figure and mentor—Henry Sy, Sr. who taught him the value of honesty, hard work and simplicity in both lifestyle and language. Atty. Borcelis was also inspired by Mr. Sy’s own life story and his ability to dream and to relentlessly pursue that dream so it becomes a reality. Atty. Borcelis has endeavored to impart the same lessons to his four children—Angelo, 27 and a graphic artist; Jonah Lynne, 26 who is following his footsteps by taking up law; Jazzel Jane, 24 who has formerly worked in the US and is now working with Conrad Manila after finishing Hotel and Restaurant Management and Anjun, 17 who is going to start college. “I believe that a successful family man will see their children finish their chosen careers no matter what these are. That’s the only time you can say you are a successful father,” Atty. Borcelis said.

  SM Prime VP for Market Research and Planning Ronald G. Tumao (standing, third from right) and family


For former banker Ronald Tumao, 57, SM Prime Holdings’ Vice President for Market Research and Planning, time with family is very valuable. Tumao heads the department in charge of land acquisitions and development for SM Prime Holdings, SM’s propery holding firm, which requires him to take frequent trips away from home.

Despite these challenges, Tumao said he makes best use of his time with his family. Tumao has two children, Aaron, 32 who is in the information technology field and a daughter, Nika, 28 who is a banker based in Singapore.

“People say that what matters more is the quality of time you spend with your family. I think that’s partly correct. You just have to spend time, period. Our kids feel safe and secure by our mere presence even if we are not doing anything together,” Mr. Tumao said.

To be able to balance his time with his children, he tries, as much as he can, to wrap up at 6:00 PM to make it in time for dinner. On weekends, he finds happiness in cooking for his family.

Mr. Tumao grew up in small apartment in Mendiola, Manila and is the youngest of seven children. What he learned from his own father was to find happiness even in the simplest of things. “As the youngest, I always got the hand-me-downs but I had no ill feelings about that. My parents were pretty cool and from them I learned how to become thrifty and to make the most of what we have. This is why I work so hard because I want to give my children what I never had,” Mr. Tumao said.

“I tell my children, that there are phases in life. There are tough times and good times but that they should always try to remain happy. You can find happiness by simply being in the comfort of your own home,” he added.

“Spending time with my family is very important to me. Just being there with them is the best way of showing I care,” he said.

This is why he found it admirable that despite his success, retail pioneer Henry Sy, Sr. was able to keep all his six children within reach. From his humble beginnings, Mr. Sy grew his small shoe store in the 1950s to a vast business network of department stores, supermarkets, banks, malls, residences, offices, hotels and convention centers, and tourism-related properties today serving millions of Filipinos.

Sy involved all his children in his businesses being their mentor as much as their father. His children had to learn the ropes of the business from the ground up and in the process, discover the value of hard work, humility, and simplicity. And with great success came great responsibilities.

“I admire what Tatang did. By involving each of his children in the business, he made them his lifetime partners with whom he can always interact and touch base with,” Mr. Tumao said.

The greatest reward for these hard-working dads is the mere knowledge that their children turned out okay despite the delicate juggling act they had to perform between fatherhood and their careers, knowing their sacrifice was the key to securing a better future for all their children.