SM Founder Henry Sy, Sr. lived a life of service.
As a young boy of 12, he traveled from China to join his father in the Philippines and help him with his small sari-sari store. Seeking a better life for his family, he would later on begin his own business by selling shoes after World War II.
Since the time he opened his first shoe store, Shoe Mart in downtown Manila in 1958, he always sought new and innovative ways to serve his customers, as well as his employees, whom he considered part of his extended family. Later on, he would also touch the lives of his business partners and the communities where SM was present.
As the company grew — from a shoe store to a department store to a network of shopping malls to the conglomerate it is today — he remained true to his simple goal: “To serve more people and serve them better.”
It will be inspiring for us during these challenging times to know that Henry Sy’s road to success was not an easy one. He built his business from the ashes of World War II when “business opportunities were limited.”
SM’s first mall, SM City North EDSA, was built at a time when “there was a political crisis, interest rates were as high as 45 percent, and the location of the mall was in the middle of nowhere. Many people thought that I was crazy,” he has said. But when SM City opened in 1985, the mall was an instant success and malls became part of the Philippine lifestyle.
“I have been in business for over 50 years,” he once recalled. “And I have gone through many crises: in 1972, during martial law; in 1983, the Aquino assassination; in 1987-89, the series of military coups; and — worst of all — the present Asian crisis.”Mr. Sy with scholars from SM Foundation’s College Scholarship Program, which, along with its tech-voc program, has a loyal 8,000 graduates as of 2021.
But crises did not prevent him from achieving his goals, and from serving people. “In good times, I do my usual work,” he liked to say. “But in bad times, I work harder.”
At the same time, his optimism was boundless. “Crises produce opportunities,” he has said, “And I believe, like in the past, we can handle the situation.”
As we celebrate Mr. Sy’s birth month amid difficult times this October, we recall his commitment to service, and how his legacy lives on today through SM.
To make shopping more comfortable and pleasurable, Mr. Sy had his shoe store in downtown Manila fully air conditioned, a bold move at that time that endeared him to his customers. Since that time, he sought new and innovative ways to serve the ever-changing needs of Filipinos.
Long before inclusivity and diversity became buzzwords, he embraced these by reaching out to a broad market base — people of all ages, from all walks of life. It would give him great satisfaction when he would see families and friends spending time together shopping, dining and having fun, whatever their age, whatever budget they have. “One newspaper said the SM malls were the first to treat the working man the same way as his boss,” he liked to say.
Today, in the midst of the pandemic, SM continues to serve its customers by prioritizing their health and safety in compliance with the government’s policies. Most of its stores and malls have received Safety Seals granted by local government units to buildings and establishments that are compliant with the Minimum Public Health Standards such as proper wearing of face shields and face masks, disinfection and use of accredited contract-tracing apps.
With today’s changing lifestyles, SM continues to bring a great shopping experience in its physical stores and malls, and at the same time offers thoughtful innovative online services to homebound customers. These include Curbside Pick-up Services, the retail group’s Call to Deliver, where customers can avail of personal shopping services, and SM Malls On-line’s SM Deals, a virtual shopper’s haven.SM Foundation was one of the first responders to the COVID-19 crisis, distributing over 90,500 PPEs and medical equipment in 2020.
Mr. Sy was “Tatang” to SM’s generations of employees, a father figure who not only gave them jobs so they could provide for their families, but also careers as they grew with the company. He would inspire them with his life and example, and share with them his values, which would later become part of SM’s corporate culture.
Today, SM continues to provide employment to thousands for Filipinos despite difficult times, as they become front liners in serving the needs of customers.
To achieve this, the company also makes sure that the workplace is safe and in compliance with government’s policies — with constant disinfection, monitoring and safety protocols in place. Regular testing and a vaccination drive have enhanced this. To date The SM Store has reached 97 percent of its regular and outright employees who are either fully vaccinated or have received their first dose.
In 1983, Henry Sy and his wife Felicidad started SM Foundation. They believed in empowering communities and that self- sufficiency is the answer to more effective and inclusive growth. Through Scholarship and School Building programs, Health and Medical projects, as well as Operation Tulong Express for disaster-stricken communities and Kabalikat sa Kabuhayan or Sustainable Agriculture, SM provides opportunities to create a cycle of social good in the communities it is part of.
The Foundation’s mall-based programs evolved into SM Cares, which was launched in 2004 to organize sustainability and community support efforts. Its advocacies include the environment, persons with disabilities, women, senior citizens, and children and youth.
Today, SM continues to serve communities around the Philippines, including those affected by the pandemic. SM Foundation was one of the first responders in 2020 through its COVID-19 response program — distributing over 90,500 PPE, as well as P105 billion worth of medical equipment like ventilators and X-ray machines. It also distributed 20,000 PCR test kits and 48,050 RNA test kits, and together with SMEDD, constructed six Emergency Quarantine Facilities in Metro Manila.
Its programs continue to serve communities — new scholars in its college scholarship and tech-voc programs, which had a total of 8,000 graduates as of 2021; and repair of classrooms in its 103 school buildings. Its upgraded farmer’s training continues in over 900 cities and municipalities, along with Kalinga packs distributed to families in areas struck by calamities. Recent collaborations with Goldilocks and Uniqlo Philippines brought sweet treats and food packs to frontliners, and upgraded seven of the Foundation’s 120 Health and Wellness Centers, respectively.
SM Cares continues to spearhead community advocacies, the latest of which include bike-friendly infrastructures. SM Supermalls, on the other hand, have become community centers of sorts by collaborating with government agencies and local governments to bring basic government services closer to the public.
These include international vaccine certification at the Bureau of Quarantine satellite office, National ID Registration, voter’s registration with COMELEC, passport application, Philhealth, SSS, and GSIS. Sixty-two SM Malls nationwide also serve as venues for the vaccination program of various LGUs, making it possible for 2.4 million — and still growing — to be vaccinated.
With all of these, Henry Sy’s legacy of service continues at SM.