By Benjamin R. Punongbayan
WASH SYCIP was a very well known person, not only in the Philippines, but also in the whole world. He had a huge network which he persistently, untiringly, and continuously created and developed until the very end. He worked very hard and read very widely to make himself knowledgeable about practically everything in business. He was not a commercial or industrial entrepreneur, but he saw himself as the professional adviser to the entrepreneur and he did it exceedingly well. I don’t think we will see the likes of Wash for a very long time.
I consider him my mentor, not in the sense of the relationship between a principal and an apprentice in developing a skill. He was my mentor in the way I saw he conducted himself in business and social gatherings, small and large; sought and acquired knowledge; developed people; made things happen; pursued excellence; entertained guests and friends; and many more. He did these things outstandingly well. I tried to learn from him and emulate him, but I never reached his level of excellence. Wash Sycip is unique; he is one of a kind.
It was Wash who interviewed me for a job at SGV when I was 20. He advised me then to get married soon. I wondered about that. He probably wanted me to become more responsible at that young age. When I was leaving for the US to study as an SGV scholar, I saw him one day in his office to say goodbye. During our brief conversation, he was correcting my English pronunciation.
In one of his visits to SGV Malaysia where I was then assigned, on leaving the office for a client visit, he saw a paper clip lying on the office corridor floor. He picked it up and gave it to me and said that such a stray clip may be a very small thing but such a loss accumulates and therefore I should save it.
Even when Wash was longer actively participating in the operations of SGV, he still wanted all completed audited financial statements routed to him, but at that time each bundle came to me first. One day, he came to my room clutching a bundle and complaining that I was delaying the movement of the bundles as he noticed from the dates recorded on the routing slip. Of course, he told me to get the thing going quickly.
I am sure that many others at SGV had similar experiences with him. I don’t think I need to characterize these experiences any further. These illustrate clearly his strong, tenacious, persistent passion to achieve utmost excellence.
Wash’s strong desire to maintain and develop further his network continued at the same tempo up to the very end. Almost always, I saw Wash on business gatherings and receptions that I attended. And I didn’t go to many.
When Wash turned 96, we met at a dinner reception hosted by Bobby Ongpin on July 31. And behold, I saw him again at the Swiss Confederation reception the following evening. The last time I saw him was during the SGV Alumni Homecoming last month. We had a brief chat and he was telling me in a faint voice that he just met someone who had worked with me at P&A. Amazing!
I wish I was good at superlatives so I can describe Wash as he deserves and truly was. He was sublime, singular, quintessential, full of grit, a truly great man.
Goodbye, Wash. You left to many of us very wonderful and everlasting memories. May you rest in peace.
Benjamin R. Punongbayan is the founder of Punongbayan and Araullo, one of the Philippines’ leading auditing firms.