Remembering the life of Washington SyCip, illustrious luminary of Philippine Business (1921 – 2017)

Washington SyCip, as his last name suggests, is renowned as the forefather of accounting firm SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co. (SGV).

An accountant by profession, he was also a dedicated supporter of education, and his vigor led him to become one of the co-founders of the Asian Institute of Management, an international business school in Makati. Fondly called “Wash”, he was close to the hearts of many Filipinos, having been actively involved in many civic engagements and advocacies. He was also a dear friend and mentor to several prominent names in the business industry.

Last Sunday, October 8, Mr. SyCip peacefully passed away onboard a plane to New York via Vancouver. He was brought to Richmond General Hospital in Vancouver thereafter where his death was confirmed. He was 96.

Friends, colleagues, mentees, and other members of the local community have expressed their grief mourning, remembering the life and wisdom of the late magnate.

Former SGV chairman David Balangue described SyCip as a smart man with a love for the Philippines, saying that he was “one of the best persons I’ve ever met”. To businessman and former Senator Manuel Villar, he was an advisor whose “legacy will remain with us after his death”.

Senator Ralph Recto also recalled SyCip’s wise words which he always told them, that “our assets outweigh our liabilities, our strengths greater than our handicap, that we are blessed with a healthy bottomline”, the lawmaker voiced in a statement.

Malacanang, through the Office of the Presidential Spokesperson, have extended their deepest sympathies, saying that SyCip “gave us all a sense of what Filipinos could be”.

 

Washington’s walk

Washington SyCip was a well-loved figure in Philippine business, his life a great help to many. A highly respected businessman in his own right, he was also known for his sound advice and has been recognized in different countries. As we mourn the community’s great loss, let us remember the inspirational and meaningful life of the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Business”.

Born on June 30, 1921 in Manila, Washington was named after the state his father, a lawyer, was at the time of his birth – Washington D.C.

After living in Shanghai with his grandmother, he returned to the Philippines at the age of 5. The young Washington then entered Padre Burgos Elementary School to which he walked or regularly rode the bus, with his siblings, despite having a family car. He was an intelligent student and was soon accelerated, three times to be exact, a feat that led him to graduate from grade school in just five and a half years.

At 15, he graduated from Victorino Mapa High School as class valedictorian which earned him admission to the University of the Philippines. However, the course he wanted was not offered at the state university that time. He transferred, after one semester, to the University of Sto. Tomas where he earned his degree in accountancy, summa cum laude. He then acquired his master’s degree from the same university, where he taught as he went to graduate school.

Wash passed the examination for Certified Public Accountants at the age of 18. He did not receive his professional license immediately, however, because he was still very young that time. From there, he opted to pursue a doctorate degree at Columbia University in the USA. He was on his way to obtaining a PhD with only his dissertation left on his checklist but World War II came and blocked the path.

After the war, where he served as a cryptographer, he returned to Manila, and set up his accounting firm W. SyCip & Co. at Binondo, which was soon renamed to the familiar SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co. as he partnered with longtime friend Alfredo M. Velayo, which soon grew to become one of Asia’s top professional services companies and currently the largest in the country.

Wash was also known as a strong advocate for quality education. In 1968, he was a key player for the foundation of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), an internationally-accredited business school. It currently houses the Washington SyCip Graduate School of Business established in 2002 in his honor. Two years after AIM, he also became instrumental in establishing social development foundation Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). He did business “with a heart”, but he was also driven to shape professionals to do the same.

In 1996, he decided to retire from his duties at SGV, which was celebrating its 50th year that time. With this he had more time for things outside the accounting firm such as his advocacies, and wise decisions as board member and trusted consultant of different companies and organizations. He also became a resource speaker for many business conferences here and abroad.

The tycoon has received many recognitions in his lifetime, including honorary doctorate degrees from local universities, one being from alma mater University of Santo Tomas, the rank of Bayani,  Order of Lakandula, and the 1996 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics and in Ethical Practice in the Profession.

He lived a full life until his death, leaving family and friends with wonderful moments they can always look back to for strength and inspiration. Of course, his wits and quirks cannot be forgotten, too — he had good humor, and the turtle and owl collection that he kept in his office is iconic.

But of all good memories, Mr. Washington SyCip will always be remembered as a wise businessman and mentor who had a heart and a hope for generations to come.

 

“Every person who comes to us possesses assets as well as liabilities; by continuous training we can increase his assets and cut down his liabilities, and thus increase his net worth.” – Washington SyCip

 

SOURCES: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Featured photo from SGV Website

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