Remembering Washington Z. SyCip: The Best Bookkeeper

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The SyCip Trademark

By Lucio C. Tan

Washington Z. SyCip with Lucio C. Tan

Outside of business, Wash and I shared a common passion: education. We both knew that only through education can the majority of Filipinos escape poverty. Thus, in our own respective ways, from the early days until his passing, we have been involved in charity works that aim to uplift the quality of education in our country.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to bump into each other in various philanthropic endeavors. Age was never a hindrance. He would brave inclement weather and drive up to Silang, Cavite to visit scholars at the Sisters of Mary Girlstown and Boystown. He enjoyed the company of youth, seeing in them the hope for the future. In fact, it was Wash and a common friend — Mrs. Marixi Prieto — who encouraged me to set up college scholarships for deserving Sisters of Mary graduates. We even built greenhouses to help pupils grow their own vegetables.

Because of our shared advocacy, I invited Wash 17 years ago to be a trustee of the Tan Yan Kee Foundation, our group’s philanthropic arm. Since then, he was actively involved in shaping and directing the course of our Foundation’s many pursuits, especially education. Among our trustees, Wash was among the most inquisitive. For him, no details were too small or insignificant. He shared his ideas on how to make our projects better and more responsive to the needs of the nation. For him, board meetings — whether on the corporate or CSR fronts — deserve the same level of seriousness and importance.

For these and many more reasons, his passing is such a great loss. He left a vacuum that would be hard to fill. He can be assured though, that his life’s work and legacy to improve the quality of education will live on. He inspired many to carry on this mission.

Washington Z. SyCip: My Mentor

By Cesar E.A. Virata

Cesar E.A. Virata with Mr. SyCip during the latter’s 95th birthday celebration on June 30, 2016.

I first met Wash in July 1952 when I enrolled in his class in Management Accounting at the University of the Philippines Graduate School just before I left for graduate studies in the United States. Four years later, we met again. I was looking for a consulting job and my uncle, Leonides Virata, mentioned this to Wash who called me for an interview. He told me of his plan to start another unit — The Management Services unit and offered me a job which I accepted. Thus began a 61-year association.

Wash was a task master but never asked for anything he did not himself give. He was hardworking — getting to the office before anyone else. On top of his heavy work schedule, he attended receptions and dinners and expected his partners to do the same. He was exacting in auditing and other reports and asked very sharp questions — training it itself for all who worked for him. He kept tight control over his supervisors — evaluating the performances of their team. He expected the company to work as a team — pitching in times of peak workloads as in inventory time. He knew the importance of training and sent staff for training abroad with other auditing firms, scholarships, executive training programs, and MBAs for special fields. He encouraged his partners and staff to obtain membership in professional societies and to attend Chamber meetings. This is how he molded top-notch professionals who would later be known as the “SGV Mafia” occupying high positions in both government and private business. This is how he built SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. into the world-renowned company that it is today.

Wash was also forward thinking. He was constantly on the alert for opportunities for additional services — Management services and additional Audit and Tax services. The Management Services expanded from accounting systems and cost accounting to organization studies, overall systems and procedures, computerization, personnel evaluation, operations research, project studies for investors such as agricultural plantations, cement plants, food processing, wood industries, construction, government functions (the Bureau of Customs, the MWSS, government reorganization). He was very receptive for proposals to expand SGV’s services. Investors both foreign and local sought his advice. For example, he was key to the investment by Dole and Standard Fruit and also United Fruit in their respective pineapple and banana plantations in Mindanao.

I left SGV in 1967 after 10 and a half years to serve in government. Throughout my years in government, Wash continued to keep me up-up-to date with what was happening in the business world. He called me about the investment of a semi conductor company which wanted to be located in Baguio. The government was able to provide the building they needed to start up the NFA warehouse. They were impressed so they became the Philippines’ largest exporter of electronic components now due to their expansion. Needless to say, this information was invaluable to me in making decisions that would affect private business and the economy in general. Wash, at 96, continued to amaze the world as he continued to travel and continued to maintain his contacts in Asia, the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom — always with the interests of the Philippines in mind.

My last meeting with him was during the dinner hosted by the Philippine-US Business Council chaired by Ambassador Jose Cuisia as belated welcome to Ambassador Sung Kim and Farewell for Ambassador Jose Manuel Romualdez. During the dinner, Wash asked me how SGV could help the UP Virata School of Business (UPVSB) in some ways and I told him that the UP Business Research Foundation continues to build up funds for Faculty development and retention, research and scholarships. Many knew that I was allowed by Wash to accept the Deanship of the College of Business Administration, UP in 1960 and at the same time be head of the SGV Management Services Division. I know his concern about the role of education as the key to human development and human capital. He has great belief and appreciation of Filipino talent and he showed that Philippine CPAs could compete on a worldwide basis.

In my case as Independent Director, in a few publicly listed companies, Mr. Sycip and I were usually assigned to the Audit and other committees. Whenever there are gaps in our formal meeting, we continued to discuss economic and geopolitical issues considering the extent of Mr. SyCip’s contacts and amazing memory. It was a privilege to know his views and advice.

The lessons from Wash will continue to guide us to the straight and narrow paths toward our preferred future.

A Purposeful Difference

By J. Carlitos G. Cruz, Chairman and Managing Partner, SGV & Co.

J. Carlitos G. Cruz with Mr. SyCip

Words cannot truly express the depth of our loss. For many of us, Mr. SyCip was not only the Firm’s founder, but he was also our teacher, mentor and friend. For those of us who started our career journeys at SGV, he was our beacon and our guiding star. From his own example, we learned our lifelong values — our deep sense of professionalism, our commitment to integrity, and our abiding devotion to serving our country and communities.

For myself, the most valuable lesson I learned from Mr. SyCip is to have a sense of purpose in whatever we do. He founded SGV with a clear purpose in mind — for Filipinos to become world-class professionals who contribute to nation building. SGV has become and will always be a purpose-led organization because that is how Mr. SyCip envisioned the Firm for it to endure. I will do more than my best to live up to his vision.

All of us from SGV, past and present, would not be who we are today if not for Mr. SyCip. His life and legacy has touched and shaped all of us, and we are all stronger for having known him. May all of us take heart and inspiration from his vision, and continue making a purposeful difference in the world.

A Biographer’s Dream

By Dr. Jose “Butch” Y. Dalisay, Jr.

Mr. SyCip with Butch Dalisay

I first met Wash SyCip when I was asked to write his biography, and we began meeting sometime in April 2006. As it happened, the book didn’t come out until June 2009, so we had a lot of meetings and interviews in between before it was all over — and in sense, it never felt like it was over, because we’d keep joking that there was going to be a centennial edition of the book. Some days it certainly seemed like it was going to happen; he got older and slower, but his mind just never stopped working.

For a biographer, Wash was both a nightmare and a godsend — a nightmare because he led such a long full life and had a stubbornly sharp memory, which meant I had to catch every word, but also a godsend because story after story just kept coming out, punctuated by an occasional chuckle. I should have expected nothing less of the country’s premier accountant; if anyone knew where all the bodies were buried, that was Wash, filing them away in the ledgers of his memory. He told me stories we couldn’t publish in the book, or eventually decided not to. “Let’s not make enemies,” he’d tell me. “It’s not worth it.” There was more than enough of what could be said to keep things interesting. In later years, he’d give me his frank and dire assessment of this and that politician; but he never lost hope in ordinary citizens, especially the empowered poor whom he passionately championed.

That book changed my life, because after it was published (and later won a National Book Award for Nonfiction), I suddenly became something of a celebrity biographer. Even people who had never read my novels or noticed my newspaper column wanted me to write their life story, because they had read my book about Wash, or had heard about it. Of course I appreciated the opportunities, and many of those projects were truly interesting and worthwhile on their own. But I don’t think any of my later subjects will object if I say that no biography of mine will ever come close to Wash’s, simply because no one else will come close to Wash.

I’m content and privileged enough to be taken into the confidence of some of our country’s most prominent personalities, with whom I’ve maintained a cordial but formal acquaintance. Only Wash, I can truly say, became my friend.

(Dr. Jose “Butch” Dalisay Jr. wrote Wash: Only a Bookkeeper, and now serves as Vice-President for Public Affairs at the University of the Philippines.)

Bookkeeper’s Table

By the Asian Institute of Management

AIM Founder Washington SyCip in mid-chuckle. Mr. SyCip’s insights into business and politics were laced with words of wisdom. He was always ready with encouraging words; or, if one were fortunate enough, amusing anecdotes of days gone by. — Asian Institute of Management

Washington SyCip was a familiar figure at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), the Institute he helped establish nearly half a century ago. Whether on centerstage at events or on the sidelines, Mr. SyCip was always ready with encouraging words; or, if one were fortunate enough, amusing anecdotes of days gone by.

Mr. SyCip’s cocktail banter went beyond small talk. His insights into business and politics were laced with words of wisdom. The AIM Founder’s reputation for not suffering fools gladly lent itself to the ethos of an Institute that, as a result, has always been known for excellence, thoroughness, and professionalism.

As soon as news of his passing reached the Institute, the AIM community arranged a simple bookkeeper’s table in the lobby of the main building as a memorial. The antique table set against the modern LED screen provided an eye-catching counterpoint that mirrored where the AIM is today: a business school founded on a great legacy now on the cusp of change.

Dr. Jikyeong Kang, AIM president and dean, said: “The passing of Mr. SyCip is a loss that will be felt deeply by those he left behind — particularly the Institute he helped to build. If there was ever a true advocate of education, it was Mr. SyCip. More than being a luminary in the business community, he embodied the image of the socially responsible leader who sought to make a positive impact in his community.”

She recalled how 50 years ago, the AIM Founder rallied the country’s leaders from academe and business to establish an internationally recognized management school that was relevant to the Asian region.

“Mr. SyCip was one of the forward-thinking individuals who called for a more Asia-focused management education — and he is one of the reasons why the Asian Institute of Management exists today,” Dean Kang said.

Meanwhile, the Chairman of the AIM Board of Trustees, Peter Garrucho, OBE, said, “Mr. SyCip has changed the Philippine business landscape with his efforts to champion the Filipino talent. As the Chairman Emeritus of the Asian Institute of Management, Wash was a source of inspiration, pushing us to pursue greater heights for the institution and innovate to respond quickly to the emerging trends sweeping the region.”

Mr. Garrucho, who took on the mantle of chairman on Sept. 11, 2017, recalled how Washington SyCip “mobilized his vast network and brought together business leaders from around the world to sit on the AIM Board of Governors, bringing their business expertise and passion for education.”

“Not only has he given a significant amount of his resources to AIM, he has also been selfless with his time to provide guidance, and ensure that graduates learned not just sound business acumen, but also professional and personal integrity,” Mr. Garrucho said.

Leaving a Mark

By Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip, CARD MRI Founder and Chairman

Washington Z. SyCip with Aristotle B. Alip

For a microfinance-oriented rural bank just starting to enter the mainstream financial scene, Mr. SyCip’s substantial deposit with CARD Bank, which he did not make a secret to many of his colleagues, was taken as a strong evidence of his confidence in what we were doing. He was instrumental in introducing CARD MRI (CARD Mutually Reinforcing Institutions) to a number of local and international commercial banks, development organizations, and the business community, who followed suit in placing their trust in us, by way of opening their doors to CARD MRI. These funds, needless to say, fueled CARD MRI’s unprecedented growth.

Mr. SyCip was one with CARD MRI in the belief that microfinance alone cannot bring poor people out of poverty. He maintained that if poor families can educate their children, starting with elementary education with zero dropout, they have a big chance to escape the vicious cycle of poverty. With his initial donation, CARD in 2011 started the Zero Dropout Program, an elementary education loan program that enabled our clients to send their children through elementary.

With his convening power, he was able to bring other funders to support the program that it now extends to clients with children in high school. As of June 30, 2017, the program has provided financial assistance to 389,683 microfinance clients with 454,405 children in elementary and high school, with total loan disbursement of P2.004 billion and repayment rate of 99.76%.

More important than the numbers, Mr. SyCip’s mentoring, which he unselflessly provided me, helped CARD MRI surmount major difficulties, and steered it to where it is now. He is a great loss to me personally and to the whole CARD MRI Family. He has left his mark at CARD MRI, and he will always be dearly and respectfully remembered.

Touched by an angel

By Dr. Milwida M. Guevara, Chief Executive Officer of Synergeia Foundation

Mr. SyCip at Synergeia’s Tipanan, a festival for children, teachers, and parents

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.

Synergeia has been blessed with Mr. SyCip’s  dreams for Filipino children. He gifted us with his time, resources, guidance, and wisdom. We are truly fortunate and we acknowledge how he has nurtured our dream into fruition with deep humility and gratitude.

He was there all the time — leading us through difficult paths. He used his influence and goodwill to bring organizations and his friends to support the cause of children. His dream was to give them the best opportunities so that they can have a brighter future. His hope was for a better Philippines where there will be no poor and everybody can become. And there was no letting go of this passion. Most of the time, he lent us strength. He held our hands. And he loved us.

We were touched by an angel. God showed us that He truly loves us by giving us Mr. SyCip for 15 years. Synergeia will carry out his work in education and local governance. We will forever keep him in our hearts. We know he will continue to help us from heaven.

Lifetime Achievement Awardee

By the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines

Mr. SyCip (center) receives the Arangkada Lifetime Achievement Award on March 3, 2015 at the fourth anniversary of Arangkada Philippines Forum.

The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce (JFC) of the Philippines condoles with our membership and the innumerable friends and the family of Mr. Washington Sycip, who passed away at the age of 96 on October 7, 2017 while en route to Vancouver and New York City.

Mr. SyCip, one of the best-known and most awarded business leaders in the Philippines and Asia, was a business icon, visionary, mentor, and philanthropist. He leaves behind him a long list of outstanding contributions that substantially improved inclusive economic growth, increased investment, and job creation for the Philippines.

In 2015, the JFC awarded its third Arangkada Lifetime Achievement Award to the founder of SGV and AIM. With his strong connections around the world, Mr. SyCip brought many foreign investments into the country, including the Bank of Tokyo, Texas Instruments, Carnation, and Accenture.

During his long career, he worked with many business groups to promote the Philippines and to bring investments into the country. In his 2015 acceptance speech, he emphasized “… there are boundless opportunities in the Philippines for both Filipinos and foreigners.”

The business community has lost a great leader but Mr. SyCip’s legacy will live on in his numerous contributions to the local and foreign business community.

With his passing, we have lost a distinguished colleague, a titan of the business community, a man of great wisdom and kindness, and a very, very good friend. He will be immensely missed.

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