Henry Sy, Sr.
Henry Sy, Sr.

While both big and small companies are facing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, SM founder Henry Sy’s life lessons help provide perspective in navigating and overcoming crisis and uncertainties.

SM Investments Corporation (SMIC) Chairman Jose T. Sio recounted that Mr. Sy saw through several crises and perceived them in positive way. Mr. Sy would never use problems as an excuse to stand still, instead, a time to look for opportunities, to find solutions and to work harder. He would say there is no substitute for hard work.

Mr. Sy once said: “In good times, I do my usual work but in bad times, I work harder.”

“There is no hard and fast rule to deal with this current crisis but this period allows us to reflect and learn from leaders like Mr. Sy and how he weathered several storms,” says Mr. Sio who has worked with Mr. Sy for over 25 years.

Across Mr. Sy’s 50-year career, there were several turning points marked by various political, economic and financial crises. His well-known stores and malls such as SM Makati, SM North EDSA in Quezon City, SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City and the Mall of Asia in Pasay City were built amid uncertainty and showed Mr. Sy’s positive thinking and belief in the country’s long-term potential.

“Mr. Sy anchored the growth of SM on this very important personal philosophy– crises produce opportunities. And during periods of uncertainty we find ways and solutions,” Mr. Sio said.

One of his protégés, Mall of Asia’s first mall manager and now SM Supermalls President Steven T. Tan said Mr. Sy’s lessons on life and business continue to inspire and steer leaders in SM.

“I would have coffee with Tatang (Mr. Sy’s moniker in the vernacular) every afternoon when Mall of Asia was just built and he would keenly observe the customers and how they behaved or what they shopped for. For Tatang, the customer is always king,” Mr. Tan said.

One of the important lessons Mr. Sy taught his team was about customer service— to make sure to serve more people and to serve them better. This was crucial especially in catering to customers’ evolving needs in the new environment.

“We always pay close attention to customer behavior on both online and on-ground. This is important in order for us to know what types of services and offerings we should provide our shoppers,” Mr. Tan added.

With the present challenge of the pandemic, SM moved quickly to adapt its businesses to the new reality with better solutions. SM introduced services such as, “Take Out and Delivery” and “Personal Shopper Services” to serve food and other essential products to its customers as well as “Curbside Pick Up” points for delivery services.

“Call to Deliver”, SM department store’s branded service, gives access to customers to order essentials by phone from select stores and have these delivered to their respective locations.  SM widened its diverse range of essential and nonessential products available online through the SM STORE’s shopping site, ShopSM and SM Markets’ site, shop.smmarkets.ph. SM likewise tapped communities on Viber to provide content and shopping options for its retail products and services through the instant messaging app.

“These hybrid shopping solutions are a testament to SM’s culture of service and innovation that was started by Mr. Sy. It is an enduring legacy that guides the entire organization,” SM Retail Inc. President Ponciano C. Manalo said.   

Throughout his career, Mr. Sy made it a point to have win-win solutions with his business partners—tenants, suppliers, small and large in his establishments. He emphasized the importance of being good-hearted, trustworthy and fair to maintain long-term relationships both in business and in life.

During the pandemic, SM waived PHP11 billion in rentals as of end June 2020 to support the continuity of operations of tens of thousands micro, small and medium enterprises.

SM launched ‘Kasama ng SM’, or from Kasama which means to join, a collective effort across the company to help tens of thousands of its MSME partners bounce back through various marketing campaigns and other immediate and long-term solutions.

As jobs were affected by the lockdown, SM malls saw a solution to partner with local governments to launch Wheels-On-The-Go and SM Riders Program in Luzon to tap job-seeking construction workers, repatriated overseas Filipinos and tricycle and jeepney drivers as delivery drivers and personal shoppers.

SM also saw that the access to various basic goods, including fresh produce, has been limited due to stringent physical distancing measures.  Meanwhile, merchants were eager to sell their products. To address this, SM Foundation and SM Development Corporation (SMDC) rolled out a community grocer initiative, The Good Guys Market, bridging SMDC residents in its various developments with affordable fresh produce in support of local farmers who are part of SM Foundation’s farmers’ training program.

“A strong sense of community and family emanating from Mr. Sy’s values and leadership   continue to motivate us at SM,” SMDC President Jose Mari H. Banzon said.

This sense of community was also apparent in SM’s contribution to Philippine hospitals through a donation of essential gear, supplies and equipment and emergency quarantine facilities.

Malasakit is at the heart of Tatang and of SM. Tatang’s legacy continues to live in all of us. This crisis drives us to pivot and become more innovative to better serve our customers and communities,” Mr. Tan concluded.