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Washington SyCip: A man for all seasons

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Jose T. Sio visiting Washington Z. SyCip at his Makati office

By Jose T. Sio

Chairman of the Board, SM Investments Corp.

My journey with my mentor, Washington SyCip, started a little over five decades ago when I joined SGV after graduating from college. I was assigned to the Mindanao and Visayas areas for a year and was called to the Makati main office because Mr. SyCip wanted someone who can speak Chinese. This gave me the opportunity to be one of the prime movers in setting up the firm’s first overseas office in Taiwan.

Setting this up was not an easy task as Taiwan then was not quite progressive. We had to sleep on our desks, take a bath in a very small bathroom and be ready to perform multiple tasks as messengers, typists, secretaries, auditors. But this goes to show how important a leader is to the growth of a company, to a nation and even to the growth of a family. From nothing, Mr. SyCip was able to create one of the leading, internationally renowned, most reputable and professional accounting firms in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

After four years of working abroad, Mr. SyCip sent me as an SGV scholar to the New York University where I got my Master’s Degree. He’s always believed in the power of education. After two years of scholarship at that time and being a young, ambitious professional, I was torn with the idea of staying in the US and going back home. I saw a better potential of living and working overseas at that time. But Mr. SyCip called me up and said, “Joe you owe it to the Filipino people. You owe it to SGV to come back and teach and lead our professional people here.” So I came back. 

I believe that Mr. SyCip has found fulfilment in his chosen path in life and that is to serve and to enhance the education and the development of professionalism in the Philippines. He always cared about the quality of education and for Filipino professionals to be competitive anywhere in the world.

The lessons I learned from working with Mr. SyCip are something you can’t get from school or read from books. He taught me the indomitable nature of the human spirit, the value of hard work and the strong commitment you must have to your profession and above all, to be foremost, of service to the clients. He molded me that way and I still carry those values up to these days.

His principle of running SGV is mainly based on meritocracy — how much quality work can you give and how much can you contribute rather than who you are and who you know.

He is also a man of great pride and independence. Oftentimes I’d offer to help him during our board meetings at Banco de Oro where we both sit as Advisers to the Board. But he would tell me, “I can handle myself.”

Over the years, my biggest lessons from Mr. Sycip are: Be humble and down to earth, be caring to others, work hard and be trustworthy.

I have been very fortunate to be mentored by two of the greatest icons in the Philippine corporate world. If Mr. Henry Sy, Sr. is the guru of business entrepreneurship, then I would say, Mr. Wash SyCip is the guru of Philippine professionalism. He is a mentor to some. He is an adviser to others but he is loved by all. He is a man of all seasons.

What is the common denominator between the two gurus? I would say it’s hard work and trustworthiness. These great men do what they say and say what they do. No IFs. No BUTs.

To Wash, I know you are happy. You may not be with us physically but I know you are here with us. Wash, thank you for what you have done to me, to the professionals, to your contribution to education and to our country, the Philippines.

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