Filipino-Chinese magnate Henry Sy and family remained in Forbes magazine’s list of top 100 global billionaires in 2014, despite a decline in the family’s net worth to $11.4 billion from $13.2 billion in 2013.
According to Forbes magazine, the 89-year-old tycoon ranked 97th among 1,645 billionaires across the world with a combined net worth of $6.4 trillion, up from $5.4 trillion a year ago. Sy was ranked 68th top billionaire last year by Forbes.
Sy’s humble beginnings from running a small shoe store in Quiapo, Manila to managing a bustling conglomerate spanning the retail, real estate, banking, education, mining, and hospitality and healthcare industries, has become a source of envy and inspiration for other entrepreneurs who dream of someday making it to the list.
Sy merged his vast empire under SM Prime Holdings to create a company with a recent market capitalization of $9.3 billion. In November, his SM Land (property unit) grabbed a $1.2 billion contract to reclaim land in Manila, next to his Mall of Asia complex.
Despite his big moves, Sy’s fortune dropped by $1.8 billion mainly because shares of his holding firm SM Investments tumbled 30 percent in the past year. The stock took a hit when the company sold some shares to institutional investors at a lower than market price. Son Henry Sy Jr. chairs SM Prime, while son Hans is group president.
Born to a poor family in Xiamen, China in October 1924, Sy came to the Philippines with his parents to flee from the oppression in his homeland. He got his start by selling rejected and overrun shoes from Tondo.
He finished his secondary education at the Chiang Kai Shek College and his Associate of Arts degree in Commercial Studies at the Far Eastern University in 1950. He founded the SM Group and is now chairman and chief executive officer of SM Investments Corp., SM Prime Holdings, SM Development Corp. and Highlands Prime Holdings, Banco de Oro where he is chairman emeritus, and China Banking Corp. as honorary chairman.
His children—Teresita, Elizabeth, Henry, Hans, Herbert, Harley and Henry H. Sy—are all deeply involved in the business conglomerate.
Sy pioneered the establishment of SM Malls, anchored by Shoemart Department Store and Supermarket, earning him the local title “Retail King.” In 2011, Forbes Magazine listed him as the no. 1 billionaire in the Philippines.
In 1958, Sy established a small shoe store in Quiapo, which in 1972 became SM Quiapo, the first standalone department store.
His first mall, SM City North EDSA, kicked off his thriving mall business, now called SM Supermalls, the biggest of which are SM Megamall in Pasig City and SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
Amid the global financial crisis in 2010, Sy earned $5 billion mainly from SM Investments Corp., which has interests in Banco de Oro.
Often called a taipan, Sy in 2006 bought the remaining 66 percent of Equitable PCI Bank, the country’s third largest lender at the time where he already had a 34 percent stake, and merged it with Banco de Oro in 2007. The merger made BDO the second largest financial institution in the country, with resources of close to $17 billion.
In 1999, Sy was named Management Man of the Year by the Makati Business Club and was conferred an honorary doctorate in business management by De La Salle University in January of that year.
His financial and business success is balanced by his humanitarian concerns through SM Foundation Inc. (founded by his wife, Felicidad) to help underprivileged and promising young Filipinos and the disabled and elderly.
Sy’s holding company, SM Investments Corp., has consistently been cited as one of the Philippines best-managed companies.
The SM Mall of Asia was built on May 20, 2006 in Bay City, a reclaimed area in Pasay City, the third largest mall globally in 2012.
In the leisure industry, Sy’s Belle Corp. is the leading Philippine developer of high-end residential and leisure properties, while Highlands Prime Inc. is engaged in developing leisure properties in the Philippines.