Henry Sy Sr. — PH’s richest man and philantrophist — passes away at 94

By Daxim L. Lucas, Doris C. Dumalo/inquirer.net – Taipan Henry Sy Sr. — the Philippines’ wealthiest man and also one of the country’s most generous philanthropists — passed away on Saturday, according to a member of the Sy family.

Sy was 94 years old.

“[He] passed away peacefully in his sleep early Saturday morning,” according to a statement released by one of the conglomerate’s officials, adding that the particulars of the retail magnate’s wake and interment were still being worked out.

Sy had been the country’s richest man for 11 years in a row, according to Forbes magazine, which estimates his net worth at $19 billion.

He was the founder of the SM Group and was the chairman emeritus of SM Prime Holdings Inc., SM Development Corporation, and Highlands Prime Inc., BDO Unibank Inc., and honorary chair of China Banking Corporation.

First SM store

Sy opened the first ShoeMart store in 1958 and has since evolved into a conglomerate with three main lines of businesses – retail, banking, and property.

He was also a generous donor to charitable causes, allotting millions of pesos each year to finance the college scholarships of thousands of deserving but underprivileged Filipino youth, among others.

Sy changed the Philippine landscape with his shopping mall empire, turned SM into a household brand and malling into a national past time, and redefined the limits of banking.

“He was a happy man knowing that he left our world a better place to live in,” SM Investments Corp. chair Jose Sio said in a text message.

Icon in Philippine retail

“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,” Sio said.

The Sy family-led SM group owns three of the most valuable companies in the country: flagship conglomerate SM Investments Corp., SM Prime Holdings Inc. which is now a leading property developer in Southeast Asia and BDO Unibank.

These days, the SM group owns over 200 companies in the Philippines and runs close to 80 local shopping malls plus another six in mainland China. SM has become a household brand and it’s a running joke that the country’s capital is now “SM City.”

While Sy had built a massive fortune in one generation, leadership at the SM group has long transitioned into the second generation before his death. All six children (by order of birth): Teresita (Sy-Coson), Elizabeth, Henry “Big Boy” Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley who are now working to expand the business empire and train the next generation of shareholders.

Sy, the migrant

Sy left his hometown of JinJiang in China, once an impoverished city, when he was barely a teenager to live in the Philippines with his father, Xiu Shi Sy, who was operating a small-time grocery business. During World War II, his family lost everything, which prompted his father to go back to China.

Sy decided to stay in the country, initially getting into merchandise trading and eventually striking a gold mine in retailing and shopping mall development. BDO Unibank, once a niche banking player, became the biggest player in his lifetime.
Details of his wake will be announced soon.

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