Henry Sy and his family came to the Philippines from Jinjiang, China when he was 12 years old. Upon their arrival, they set up a sari-sari store in Quiapo which he helped manage by devoting 12 hours every day.
Living through destitution in a new place, he only dreamt of overcoming “hard environment” someday. However, through his diligence and perseverance, the string of bad experiences was converted to a company that made his name a mainstay in the most inspiring business magnates.
But what were the events that led him to become not only the richest, but the “Retail King” of the place he now calls home?
- Sold smaller portions of products in their sari-sari store
Sari-sari store business back in the day meant selling products acquired from “chay-chi-khaw” area (now Divisoria). Instead of merely reselling the goods, he thought of a way to double their income.
“He devised ways to increase his income by developing small portions of products – much like the sachets we see today in the supermarkets,” his daughter, Teresita Sy-Coson, said in a speech.
This innovation enabled Sy to generate income in a hundredfold, and paved the way for his family to save more than what they initially earned and eventually use it to come up with new business ideas.
- Stayed in the Philippines after World War II
The Sys’ sari-sari store was victimized by the Second World War. Daunted by their loss, his father decided to go back to China. Still filled with hope, Sy decided to stay.
“My father decided to go back to China and asked me to join him, but it was my opportunity to start a business; I decided to stay behind. My father was pained by the hardships, but I never lost hope,” he said in an interview with Forbes.
True to his word, he ventured to buy-and-sell business, a booming industry during that time, and saved enough money for his future endeavors one of which is the establishment of the first shoemart store — SM Quiapo.
- Hit by a bullet or bomb shrapnel
Shortly after their sari-sari store was burned to the ground, he started buying and selling to sustain their family. While doing so one day, he was hit by a lethal shrapnel and bled. He was lucky enough to be seen by a friend who brought him to the hospital using a kariton.
“Without that friend, he could have bled to death. He treasured that friendship and later expressed his gratitude after the war by making that friend his partner in a shoe store. The partnership lasted for more than 40 years until the shoe store had to give [way] to the building renovations of the lessor,” said Sy-Coson.
- Opened a mall in the midst of Asian economic crisis
Mall of Asia was initially planned to be launched in 1997. However, an economic crisis in Asia arrived in the same year. Instead of cancelling all expansion plans, Sy coveted on smaller goals so as not to stop the growth of his business.
“We grew in numbers instead of size, serving different smaller markets. We have also expanded our retail business beyond department stores to include supermarkets, hardware stores, appliance superstores, and other retail formats,” said his daughter.
Even with the onset of the crisis, Sy took a calculated risk and eventually succeeded in expanding SM one step at a time.
- He learned from his employees
Even with all these milestones under his name, he makes sure to attribute his success to the people who helped him — from his confidantes down to his mall staff.
“He also respects people from all walks of life, and never gets embarrassed to be seen even with the janitors of his mall. Having gone through a poor and struggling life himself, Henry knows exactly what it feels to live in want, thus he always gives a hand to those in need,” stated success story website, Xtraordinary.org.
The creation of his empire was not a smooth sail for the captain, but he made sure to reach his intended shore by standing firm against the waves that could have signaled the end of his business — World War II, martial law, and the 1997 global Asian crisis.
As the tycoon himself said:
“As a kid, I had the will to strive for excellence and to overcome the hard environment, but I never imagined attaining big success. Whatever I have achieved did not happen overnight; ever since my teen years I have devoted many, many years of my life to non-stop studying, diligent work, and dreaming of a better future.”
Featured photo from Philippine Primer