Mano po, Tatang: How a childhood memory inspired this employee to work at SM Store

Henry Sy, Sr. at Shoemart Carriedo

If you told Johans Juruena that he’d be working at SM 12 years after he met its founder Henry Sy, Sr., he probably wouldn’t have believed you.

It was 1978, and the nine-year-old Johans was just looking forward to his yearly summer visit to Manila. Summers from his childhood were filled with memories of hanging around at what was then Shoemart along Carriedo Street in Quiapo, Manila, where his mother, Erlinda, worked as a sales clerk.

He still vividly remembers what the shoe store looked like. “Ang ibinebenta d’un, may men’s shoes, may ladies shoes, may pambata na rin talaga. May glass showcase sa gitna kung saan nand’un yung mga naka-display na sapatos,” he said.

Shoemart Carriedo in the 1960s

(“It sold shoes for men, ladies, and children. There was a glass display in the middle where all the shoes were showcased.”)

However, there was a particular encounter that would shape his future career. During that same summer, Johans unexpectedly met the shoe store owner—Henry Sy, Sr., whom SM employees fondly called “Tatang.”

A close encounter with Tatang

Johans shared that his mother immediately reminded him to pay respect to the elderly through pagmamano: the traditional gesture of respect toward the elderly by touching one’s forehead to the back of their hand as an act of “blessing.”

N’ung bumisita si Tatang sa Carriedo para i-check yung display and items, nagkataon na nand’un ako. Isa ako sa mapalad na nakapagmano kay Tatang,” he recalled. “Nakangiti siya. Inabot niya kamay niya para makapagmano ako.”

(When Tatang visited the store along Carriedo to check the display and items, it just so happened that I was there. I was one of those lucky enough to approach him and pay my respects,” he recalled. “He was smiling. He even held out his hand for me to ‘bless.’)

While observing the store owner, Johans overheard how Tatang constantly quizzed his employees about what the customers needed. “Ano ba ang hinahanap ng customer na wala tayo?” Tatang would ask. “Ano ba ang kailangan ng customer na wala tayo?”

(What are customers looking for that we don’t have?” Tatang would ask. “What do our customers need that we don’t have?)

In that brief encounter, Johans caught what mattered most to Tatang – giving his customers what they need.

Working for SM

It was 1990, and Johans, fresh out of college, officially became part of SM. He first worked as a sales utility clerk, facing customers day in and day out.

SM City North EDSA in the 1980s

“North EDSA ang first supermall ni SM. N’ung panahon namin n’un, pag-open pa lang nang 10 o’clock, pag-roll up, yung mga customers nasa may entrance na sila. Grabe ang foot traffic ni North EDSA,” Johans recounted.

(North EDSA is the first supermall of SM. During our time, customers would line up as soon as the mall opened before 10 a.m. The foot traffic at North EDSA was really something else.)

His next encounter with Tatang happened while handling the Men’s Shoe section at the SM Store North EDSA. “Nakita ko siyang bumisita. Supervisor na ako noon sa Men’s Shoes—1996 or 1997. Yung araw na ‘yun, wala ‘yung Manager, naka day-off. Usually, ‘yung una niyang pinupuntahan yung Men’s Shoes. Naka– ready kami lahat,” Johans shared.

(I saw him visit. I was already a Men’s Shoes Department supervisor—1996 or 1997. My manager wasn’t around that day; he had the day off. Usually, he [Tatang] would drop by the Men’s Shoes [section] first. We were all ready.)

Johans distinctly remembers how Tatang reminded him to keep the sandals and other footwear clean. That way, the customers could appreciate their products better. It was a simple but important lesson that Johans would carry with him even in the decades to come.

Salute to a continuing legacy

Johans’s experience working at SM is a testament to not only the company’s decades-long commitment to top-notch customer service, but also to Tatang’s enduring legacy. Johans is now a manager at SM Store Quiapo, with people working under him and following his guidance.

Fast forward to 2023. Many things have changed, but some things have remained constant. SM is celebrating its 65th year in the industry.