THE LATE HENRY “TATANG” SY, SR. AND HIS EMPIRE

Henry “Tatang” Sy, Sr. was considered the richest Filipino, the King of Retail, and an iconic business figure in the Philippines.

Tatang, as Henry Sy was fondly called, was a migrant from Amoy (now Xiamen) in China.

Henry Sy’s social ascent story is awe-inspiring and rousing. His vision, mission, determination, persistence, hardwork, and benevolence brought him fortune and fame and his famous empire.

Photo by Google

Henry Sy was naturally born with an entrepreneurial spirit. He dreamt big but worked hard.

After World War II, he established small shoe outlets in Manila. Then, he tied up with Senen Mendiola, a commerce graduate of San Beda College, who came from a political clan from Mindoro, whom Henry Sy supposedly derived the initials, SM.

Nonetheless, Sy still finished high school education in now Chiang Kai Shek College. Likewise, he pursued his Associate of Arts (AA) degree in commercial studies at Far Eastern University.

Henry Sy built his first Shoemart along with Senen Mendiola and Lao Kang at the corner of Avenida Rizal and Plaza Goiti.

During that time, Escolta was the hub of shopping along with Good Earth Emporium which was well known in Manila previously for having the first escalator, which was very uncommon at that time.

Later on, Henry Sy’s built his second shoe store, the Makati Commercial Center, known today as SM Makati, situated beside the famous Hotel Intercontinental.

Since the establishment of Makati Commercial Center (now SM Makati) in 1975, SM has become a household name.

Sy’s future plans of building other stores in Mandaluyong and Quezon City were shared and told to then business editor and now Manila Standard contributor and columnist, Emil P. Jurado, who was then a resident of Philam Homes, at Elysee Coffee Shop, after asking the former of his business plans.


“If I can sell a pair of shoes (for) every person, then I consider myself successful.” — Henry Sy


Subsequently, Sy set his sights on acquiring a tract of land in a swampy location filled with watercress on North Avenue in Quezon, where SM North EDSA, the first SM mall, is presently located.

Despite the economic crisis and high-interest rates the Philippines experienced during that time, Sy remained unfazed acquiring that piece of land. He rationalized and compared the strategic area from a fishnet catching people from the North and South. Further, he visualized the location as a future regional hub.

Thus, SM North EDSA came to existence in 1985, becoming the first SM Supermall.

SM City North EDSA in the 1980s

It was Henry Sy’s dream of allowing the Filipinos to own a pair of shoes and establishing SM in every corner of the Philippines—the idea is apparently materializing these days—not to mention Savemore and Hypermarket.

Taken in 2008
Footbridge on North Avenue in Quezon City in front of SM North EDSA in 2008

In 1993, the SM patriarch founded the SM Foundation Scholarship program, whose scholars are entitled to free tuition fees, matriculation, monthly allowance, and part-time jobs. Now, each scholar is given a personalized wristwatch with their names inscribed onto it on their graduation.

As of 2019, Henry Sy’s SM has approximately 79 branches nationwide and 6 branches in China and is still counting.

As time went on, Henry Sy diversified his company. Later, Sy endeavored in other profitable investments like Realty, Banking, Hotel, Gaming, Tourism and most importantly Education—as Chairman of Pacific Colleges and National University—which he envisioned for the Filipinos as early as he got into a shoe store business.

Recently, SM Investments chairman emeritus Henry Sy Sr., who has a net worth of 20 Billion dollars, was ranked 52nd wealthiest people in the world by Forbes Magazine.

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