The country’s wealthiest man Henry Sy, who rose from being a penniless Chinese immigrant to leading a multi-billion-dollar business empire, died in his sleep yesterday.
The 94-year-old, from the Chinese city of Xiamen, China made his fortune with shopping center conglomerate SM group that has put up some of the largest malls in the world.
People he trusted said Sy exemplified majority of Filipinos who exert hard work with a heart for those in need.
“It is with deep sadness that we inform you of the peaceful passing of our beloved Chairman Emeritus, founder and Tatang, Mr. Henry Sy Sr. this morning. We join the Sy family in fervent prayer,” an SM Group statement read.
“He was a happy man knowing that he left our world a better place to live. He was an icon in Philippine retail, banking and real estate. Above all, he was a caring father and a God-loving man. I will miss him,” SM Investments Corp. (SMIC) chairman Jose Sio added.
Sy’s holdings also included banks, hotels and real estate as well as shopping centers in China.
He had a net worth of $19 billion as of Friday, according to Forbes.com.
Malacañang remembered Sy’s legacy and his vast contributions to the economy.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo described the taipan as a “visionary” who has served as a “pillar” in various industries in the country.
“Mr. Sy was a visionary and a pillar of the Philippine economy who believed in the potentials and opportunities of the country and pursued them with dedication, passion and hard work till their fruition,” Panelo said in a statement.
“Our people recognize Tatang, as he was fondly called, as the “Father of modern Philippine retail.” A grateful nation respects and admires the man for his lasting legacy which he attributed to hard work,” he added.
The official said how the deceased business tycoon saw opportunities in crises, as he “pioneered in the construction of malls in the country despite political and economic turmoil in the past.”
“The landscapes of major cities in the Philippines seem unadorned and incomplete minus the imposing architectural delight. He made “malling” a delightful experience as part of the urban living in the Philippines where Filipino families and the ordinary folks bond, promenade and create wondrous and memorable moments,” Panelo stated.
He furthered by urging the public to emulate how Sy dreamt big and worked hard to turn his visions into reality while also never losing sight on the importance of being a good patriarch to his family.
“Mr. Sy exemplified the hardworking Filipino. As a family man, he had moulded his children into his own image: humble, hardworking and a man of prophetic vision,” he expressed.
Passing on the baton
Forbes said he was the 52nd richest person in the world last year, beating out bold name tycoons like Elon Musk, Rupert Murdoch and George Soros.
Sy put up his first shoe store in downtown Manila in 1956, a business which later grew into a diversified empire.
He stepped down as chairman of his holding firm in 2017, assuming the title of “chairman emeritus” and leaving trusted allies as well as his children in charge of his empire.
It was a long journey for a man who came to the Philippines as a boy to work in his immigrant father’s variety store.
Store to supermalls
After their shop was destroyed during World War II, Sy’s father returned to China but Henry chose to stay in the Philippines.
He got a commerce degree from Far Eastern University and started selling shoes in a shop which would later grow into a chain named “ShoeMart.”
By 1972, his shops had branched out into selling all manner of goods, prompting the name to be changed to SM Department Store.
But it was in 1985 that Sy made history when he opened his first “Supermall” in Manila.
Spanning over 424,000 square meters (4.6 million square feet), the mall included dozens of stores, numerous cinemas, restaurants, banks and other attractions that made it a one-stop shop for millions of Filipinos.
Mall culture starts
This was just the start, as more of Sy’s mammoth malls popped up across the country, some even containing ice skating rinks, a rarity in the tropical country.
Sy helped create mall culture in the Philippines where steamy temperatures and the regular threat of torrential downpours can make outdoor shopping uncomfortable.
Sy’s holding company, SM Investments Corp. opened its first mall in China in 2001 and has been expanding there as well.
By 2018, SM said it had 70 malls in the Philippines and seven in China as well as six hotels and eight office buildings.