Business Lessons from SM Founder Henry Sy

Having built his empire from a small shoe store called ShoeMart to the Philippines’ largest chain of malls, the late Henry Sy Sr. was truly an admirable man! Before his passing, he was declared as the country’s richest person, with an estimated net worth of $20 billion.

He left a legacy that continues to inspire so many people. The following are some of the business lessons from Henry Sy Sr.

Photo credit: PhilStar

Think Outside the Box

I’m just a college graduate but I always think out of the box, because Harvard theory may not always be the best theory. You’ve got to find better ways than Harvard (formula),” Sy said.

This was best exemplified by Sy’s purchase of a land that was too far from the urban center. A lot of property developers had looked at the same lot but didn’t buy, saying that there’s no way this can be profitable. Sy bought the land, built an SM mall, and the rest as they say is history.

Think Big, Start Small but Move Fast

Don’t be afraid to think big, start small and move fast. If you don’t do that, others will just be ahead of you,” Sy advised.

It helped that Sy’s private company is run by the family.

Decisions can be made in one hour, even in one minute. If I have an opportunity worth looking into, I discuss it with the family board. That time, a decision is made: To go or not to go,” he said, adding that in the government or other corporations, decisions might take several months, even over a year.

Be Ambitious, Set a Long-Term Vision

Sy revealed that at SM, they don’t just think about the next 6 months or 1 year. They set a long-term vision and could plan for the next 5 years. That’s why they were able to build an online store ahead of the competition, seeing that e-commerce will be the next big thing.

Seek Market Leadership

Even with his small companies, Sy sought to be the market leader. Thus, savings bank BDO grew into the country’s largest bank, SM Development Corp. became one of the largest property firms, and SM malls are, of course, the biggest and most popular malls in the country.

Photo credit: Eastern Securities

Go Public

If you want to move ahead, let’s go public. Use other people’s money. By going public, you can get as much as 30 times of your income. Use that money and go public, then you can move faster,” Sy said.

The move obviously worked.

Work Hard

No matter how good your plans are, if you don’t work hard these plans will be nothing. Moreover, Sy taught his children to be hardworking, too. Thus, unlike many family businesses that fail because the second and/or third generation are lazy, Sy’s children are as hardworking as he was.

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