Special Feature

By Josielyn Luna-Manuel, Special Features Editor

The trustworthy chairman

Posted on May 23, 2017

Almost three decades ago, SM Group’s founder Henry Sy, Sr. told one of his most outstanding employees during an informal interview that he should promise him two things: he will work hard and he will prove that he can be trusted. That man is Jose T. Sio, the new chairman of the board of SM Investments Corp. (SMIC).

Jose T. Sio

Mr. Sio served as the conglomerate’s chief finance officer (CFO) for the past 27 years. He played a key role in the phenomenal success of SM and its subsidiaries, introducing “strict financial discipline across all businesses that later helped the company achieve optimal results even as the whole group maintained a sound and stable financial position.”

In various years, his achievements didn’t go unnoticed as he received a number of Best CFO in the Philippines and in Asia citations from several Hong Kong-based business publications. Among these awards is the CFO of the Year bestowed upon him by the Financial Executives of the Philippines (FINEX) in 2009.

The 77-year-old chairman, a certified public accountant with a master’s degree in Business Administration from New York University, knows too well how his predecessor, Mr. Sy, who is now SMIC’s chairman emeritus, worked hard to make the conglomerate what it is today.

Mr. Sio describes Mr. Sy as a very committed and detail-oriented person. “He really goes down to the roots,” Mr. Sio told BusinessWorld in a recent interview. It is from Mr. Sy where Mr. Sio learned the value of working hard and being trustworthy, among many other things he learned from the man he considers the “guru of entrepreneurship.”

Another big influence in the career and personal life of Mr. Sio and whom he also regards as his mentor is Washington Z. SyCip, founder of SyCip, Gorres Velayo & Co. where he formerly worked as a senior partner before joining SM in November 1990.

According to Mr. Sio, Mr. SyCip, the man he calls “guru of professionalism”, also taught him the value of hard work and of doing things that make you happy no matter what. At the age of 94, he said Mr. SyCip still attends board meetings and encourages him to continue reporting to office. “Some people might say that is crazy but from the viewpoint of Mr. SyCip, he enjoys doing it. So as long as you are happy about what you are doing, continue doing it because that will prolong your life, your health, and everything.”

Mr. Sio’s almost 30 years of serving as SMIC’s CFO allowed him not just to understand well the dynamics of the business but more importantly, to build healthy relationships with the people he has worked and has been working with -- the Sy family, partners, executives, bankers and the SM people.

He shared the same value with Mr. Sy as he is also good at dealing with people and emphasized that it is vital to have good relations to gain the trust and respect of those around you.

“At a certain point in your life or in your career, you will realize that it is not a question of how much you know or who you know but it is a question of how you relate to others especially to the people near you,” he said.

Mr. Sio also credits his success to his faith in God which guided him along the way, adding that he is fortunate to have stayed in the seminary for two years. He believes that “if you do good things, you’ll have a good life. If you do bad things, you’ll have a bad life. That’s to me is the essence of life.”

The new SMIC chairman recalled that before he became the SM Group’s CFO 27 years ago, he had a friendly deal with Mr. Sy that he will only serve the company for 10 years. And on his 10th year in SM, he reminded Mr. Sy about their agreement telling him that he already wanted to start his own professional firm. However, Mr. Sy simply told him, “Why don’t you just stay here? We’ll just retire together.”

Mr. Sio hasn’t left the company since then and has been a witness and a great contributor to its continued growth. Now, he has been entrusted by Mr. Sy and the SMIC board of directors to lead the conglomerate in the years to come.

He shared his conversation with the SM founder just this week. He reminisced and asked him, trying to make him laugh, “I thought we will retire together. Why did you retire earlier?” Mr. Sio shared that Mr. Sy looked at him and smiled.

Mr. Sio, with the help of Mr. Sy’s six children and other professionals who are now part of SMIC’s board, plans to continue on fulfilling the vision of SM since it was founded 59 years ago: “to build world-class businesses that are catalysts for development in the communities we serve.”