By Krista A. M. Montealegre
PHILIPPINE business icon and philanthropist Washington Z. SyCip passed away on Saturday night, people close to his family confirmed, leaving behind a legacy of excellence and integrity.
He was 96.
Mr. SyCip — one of the most revered industrialists in the Philippines and in Asia — turned a one-man organization built after the war into SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV), the country’s biggest professional services firm and now a unit of global accounting giant Ernst & Young. He was also one of the pioneers of the Asian Institute of Management, one of the most prestigious business schools in Asia.
“My mentor, the mentor of thousands, Wash SyCip passed away last night…Wash was 96 years old and lived a very full and meaningful life. We will miss you WS!” former Finance Secretary Cesar V. Purisima said in a social media post early Sunday.
SGV separately confirmed the passing of its legendary founder.
“Mr. SyCip went quietly while on a flight to Vancouver from Manila,” SGV said.
“The SyCip family requests for some private time at this moment. Information on memorial services to follow. Please pray for the eternal repose of his soul.”
Long retired from SGV, he sat on the advisory board of many Philippine and international companies and was still regarded as “the man to see” for businesses keen on expanding in this part of the world.
Small in stature and slightly stooped, Mr. SyCip referred to himself as “only a bookkeeper” despite being a titan in the Philippine business landscape.
“His wisdom is sought after by global and regional businessmen, politicians, civil societies, educators and even the religious. His knowledge is expansive and he continues to be curious about anything and everything that is new. He is always on the lookout for what is good in the Filipino, be it a talent, a product, a song or a dream,” former SGV Chairman David L. Balangue wrote in the foreword of Mr. SyCip’s memoir, Wash: Only a Bookkeeper.
“He was generous not only in sharing his wealth but also with his wisdom, advising captains of industry, Philippine presidents and many others who sought his counsel,” Edgar O. Chua, chairman of Makati Business Club (MBC), said in a statement.
“Wash has fulfilled his journey of his life. I know that he was contented and happy with his quality and meaningful life knowing he had left a legacy of admiration and respect,” SM Investments Corp. Chairman Jose T. Sio, who used to work at SGV before Henry Sy, Sr. hired him to work for SM in 1991, said in a mobile phone message.
“Personally, I lost a boss, mentor and fatherly care. He always aimed high and fulfilled it. His perspective is wide and far-reaching. Wash, I bow and salute you.”
Belle Corp. Vice-Chairman Willy Ocier will remember Mr. SyCip for his hard work and integrity. “At Belle Corp., we always set our board meetings according to his availability. We will miss him,” Mr. Ocier said in a separate text message.
The esteemed accounting guru was the recipient of the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding for his efforts on “fostering economic growth and mutual understanding in Asia through professionalism, public-spirited enterprise, and his own esteemed example.”
Despite his US citizenship, Mr. SyCip has been one of the Philippines’ “most effective private ambassadors and institution builders,” according to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.
Mr. SyCip’s retirement from SGV in 1996 allowed him to actively engage the business community in meaningful acts of social responsibility, focusing his energies on pressing social needs such as basic public education, micro finance and rural health to help fight poverty in the country.
He conceptualized the Zero Dropout Education Scheme, which is implemented by an audit client of SGV, the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development-Mutually Reinforcing Institutions, a social foundation that aims to send the poorest Filipino children to school.
He was also involved in Synergeia, the foundation led by former Finance Undersecretary Milwida M. Guevara that seeks to transform basic education in collaboration with local government units, parents and the private sector.
Mr. SyCip was a product of the Philippine public school system, graduating from Padre Burgos Elementary School and Mapa High School before enrolling at the University of Santo Tomas and completing a bachelor’s degree in commerce, summa cum laude, at the age of 17.
“Being a public school graduate, I have always maintained that education is the greatest of equalizers. We all can help in improving the lives of our people through better basic education,” Mr. SyCip said in a 2013 interview with BusinessWorld.
He became a certified public accountant at the age of 19.
Believing he was too young to receive a professional license to practice, he pursued a doctorate degree in the United States at Columbia University.
He returned to Manila at the end of the World War II to be reunited with his family.
He set up his own accounting firm W. SyCip & Co. in Manila’s Binondo district and took in new partners — his childhood friend Alfredo M. Velayo and accountant Ramon J. Gorres — then renamed the firm SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co.
‘NOTHING LESS THAN HARD WORK’
“Values such as excellence and integrity are intangible assets that define a person or company,” Mr. SyCip said in a 2011 column published in BusinessWorld.
“Breathing such values into life is nothing less than hard work.”
Tributes poured in for Mr. SyCip shortly after his death.
“He was a man who radiated intelligence and inspired respect, and while he was of slight physical stature, he towered over all of his contemporaries. He was the ‘Sage of our Age,’ and was one of the persons I greatly admired,” Senator Grace Poe said in a statement.
“Mr. SyCip was a leader, advisor and guiding force behind many other Filipino businesses and philanthropic organizations, and an advocate for poverty alleviation, public education and economic freedom,” said Philippine Airlines, where he sat as a director.
“For those of us who had the privilege of working with him and under his guidance, Mr. SyCip was a legendary mentor who inspired us to strive for the highest measure of excellence and integrity in the conduct of our business, and in serving the Filipino public. We feel his loss keenly, and will greatly miss his wise counsel and commanding presence.”
For BDO Unibank, Inc. Chairperson Teresita Sy-Coson, Mr. Sycip “has been a highly valued adviser to the board of directors of BDO Unibank.”
“We will always remember him for his guidance over the years.”