It is often amazing how some of the biggest things around could start from the smallest beginnings. There is the Biblical example of the mustard seed; and then there is the story of the little shoe retail shop in Quiapo back in the 1950s that would become the seed of a mighty Philippine retail empire. The store’s name was Shoemart, brainchild of Fujian-born entrepreneur Henry Sy Sr., and from shoe sales it expanded into a chain of department stores and ultimately, supermalls that bear the moniker “SM”. The primacy of SM among Philippine malls can be attributed to the marketing brilliance of Sy, who had passed away just this weekend.
Business World Online reports that Henry Sy Sr. died last Saturday, January 19, at the age of 94 years. According to an official statement released by SM Investments Corp., better known as the SM Group, Sy passed peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of the preceding weekend, though the conglomerate shared no further details regarding the death of the man whom they called the company’s “Father”. Sy served as chairman of SMIC until stepping down to emeritus status on 2017. During the past 11 years he has been named by Forbes as the richest man in the Philippines.
A separate statement from the Sy family expressed thanks to the condolences given by Filipinos as soon as word of their patriarch’s death was made public. “We are truly grateful for the outpouring of sympathy on the passing of our father, Henry Sy, Sr.,” announced a spokesperson for the family, adding that the Sys are currently in reflection and making arrangements for the funeral, and are therefore asking for privacy.
Henry Sy Sr. or Sy Chi Sieng (Shi Zhicheng in modern Hanyu Pinyin), was born 1924 in Fujian, China. His family moved to the Philippines in 1936 to operate a store. When the closing months of World War II saw their business destroyed with much of Manila, the Sy family returned to China except Henry, who finished his education at Far Eastern University and started his business career by selling surplus US Army boots. This eventually led to his opening of the Shoemart shoe store, and the rest is history.
The current SM Prime Holdings mall chain is now only one part of the larger SM Group, which includes real estate developments, hotels, convention centers and a sports arena, and two banks (BDO and Chinabank).
No details on Sy’s wake have been disclosed as of yet. At present, his children Henry Jr., Teresita, Elizabeth, Hans, Herbert and Harley hold controlling positions at SMIC, though the current chairman is Jose Sio.
Image courtesy of Philippine Star