Henry Sy, tycoon (1924-2019)

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Henry Sy Sr.

Eighty-two years ago, a 12-year-old boy had 10 centavos in his pocket when he traveled from China to Manila. In his prime, he was the richest man in the Philippines for 11 years in a row. By the time of his death, he was ranked 53rd wealthiest person in the world with an estimated net worth of $19 billion according to Forbes.

That young boy was the famed business tycoon Henry Sy Sr. who passed away last Jan. 19 at the age of 94.

According to a statement released by the SM Group, Sy “passed away peacefully in his sleep early Saturday morning.”

Sy was born in Fujian, China in 1924.


By 1936, Sy moved with his family to the Philippines. The move was intended to help them avoid the Sino-Japanese War, which broke out in 1937 and eventually engulfed Fujian in bitter fighting.

According to the New York Times, once they settled in the Philippines, Sy’s father set himself up as a merchant by opening a small store selling a variety of wares.

“At his father’s shop, Mr. Sy helped sell rice, sardines and other household merchandise,” NYT reported.

Unfortunately, the war they avoided in China caught up with them when Japan conquered the Philippines in 1942. By 1945, Sy’s family was “left with nothing when Manila was destroyed” during the U.S. liberation of the Philippines.


According to the NYT, his family decided to return to China but he chose to remain in the Philippines to pursue a business degree at Far Eastern University in Manila.

While in college, he made ends meet by selling surplus boots in a small store, which he opened in 1946 in Quiapo. Four years later, he earned his Associate of Arts degree in Commercial Studies from FEU.

In 1958, he opened his trademark store ShoeMart. A decade and a half later, this simple shoe store became a department store known as SM in Quiapo. He expanded this department store with several branches in different parts of Metro Manila.


According to Forbes, he bought Acme Savings Bank in 1976, which he renamed Banco de Oro Savings Bank and Mortgage Bank. Twenty years later, it became Banco de Oro Universal Bank, popularly known as BDO.

In an article in the BusinessMirror, BDO is reputed to be the country’s lender today.

By 1985, his first mall, known as SM North Edsa, opened in Quezon City. According to reports, the SM brand has grown into “62 department stores, 56 supermarkets and more than 200 smaller grocery stores” and an additional six malls in China.

He opened his flagship mall known as SM Mall of Asia in 2006. By 2016, his SM business had a reported revenue of $6.7 billion by 2016.

By 2017, he handed over the reins of his business empire to his children and trusted associates.

According to the BusinessMirror, Sy is survived by his wife Felicidad Tan-Sy and six children, namely Teresita Sy-Coson, Elizabeth Sy, Henry Jr., Hans, Herbert and Harley; and several grandchildren.

Teresita Sy-Coson is today the vice chairperson of SM Investments and chairperson of BDO.

The BusinessMirror reported that “Sy has always been supportive of Philippine education, giving away millions to build school buildings even to established schools such as Dela Salle University in Manila, a building for the University of the Philippines’ satellite schools in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig and in Miriam College in Quezon City.”

In 1993, Sy established the SM Foundation’s college scholarship program. The program supported 100 scholars on its first year.

SM Foundation’s college scholarship has supported almost 4,000 scholars. SM scholars can choose among courses like accountancy, engineering, information technology and education, among others.



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