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He practiced what he preached

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Roberto G. Manabat

By Roberto G. Manabat,

Chairman and CEO, KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co.

Like many others who have worked with Mr. Washington SyCip or WS, I benefited a lot from the experience. Some may have found him to be very strict, always squeezing the best from you but for those who are ambitious and want to move up in the organization, an interaction with WS is most welcome.

I remember one meeting with an audit client and I prepared for the audit issues facing that client. In the preparatory meeting with WS a day before that with the client, I was caught off guard when he asked me for some value-adding measures that I can recommend for that client. Delivering high-quality service that will benefit and be appreciated by the client is front and center for him. It is therefore no wonder that his views are sought after by many important people who have interacted with him.

Because he has advised many local and international corporations in doing business in the Philippines and in Asia, he has an extensive network of relationships. His help can range from complicated business-related advice to simple matters like getting the son or daughter of a businessman accepted in a graduate school in the US.

I am one of the beneficiaries of his passion for continuing professional education, having been given a scholarship for my graduate studies. To him, the main asset of a professional service firm is its people so investing in their professional development is a must. Even after his retirement from active professional life, he pursued this passion for education with more vigor through his involvement in the Asian Institute of Management and Synergeia, among others.

His demand for excellence is not resented because he leads by example. We know how hard he works. He is in the office at 7 a.m. and always has a full schedule, including after-office affairs like cocktails and dinners. I remember one time when a partner wanted to beg off from a dinner he was hosting for a client as the partner had to work on a pending project. He reminded the partner that it is in social events that you become closer to your client. The partner was also told that he should know his priorities and how to delegate so he can devote time to building relationships with his clients. Rarely will you see WS idle, I guess he didn’t mind the Metro Manila traffic as he is totally absorbed in reading while in the car which has special reading lights so even at night he reads. If you ride with him, you will notice the voluminous papers and magazines in the car. As many of us are aware, when he died, he was on his way to the US for meetings. I, myself, was in the US the week before his death and in one of my dinners with former colleagues, I was told of the reunion of US CPAs where he was to speak. In effect, he was still working very hard at 96 until his last days.

He practiced what he preached about meritocracy in the firm. Unlike the founders of many other accounting firms during his time, he did not allow any member of his family to join the firm. Many of us who made it as partners on our own even without any previous connections acknowledge the virtue of this company policy he espoused.

Now that I am the head of KPMG in the Philippines, I would, more often than not, think of how WS would have handled challenging situations that I regularly encounter. As is obvious in the foregoing, WS has imparted to me a lot of valuable lessons in my professional life.

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