SM: Awesome at 60

"Sy had little in his pocket, little in his education, little in his future. Yet, he persevered."


Teresita Sy-Coson is at the helm of the family and team that manage that three largest companies in the Philippines in market capitalization—SM Investments Corp., SM Prime Holdings, and BDO Unibank.

When he came to the Philippines as a boy of 12, SM’s founder, Henry Sy Sr. was the poorest would-be Filipino. He had little in his pocket, little in his education, little in his future.  Yet, he persevered.  And succeeded.

Today, though ailing, Tatang, 94, presides over enterprises that are the largest in the country and with the most dominant market positions. The family wealth is estimated by Forbes at $18 billion, by BizNewsAsia at $14 billion. Daily, more than four-million people visit his 71 SM malls (as of September 2018). It’s like the whole population of each of Calcutta or Los Angeles or Taipei going to his malls on the same day.

SMIC is the leading Philippine conglomerate in retail, property and banking. It also invests in ventures that capture high growth opportunities in the emerging Philippine economy which boasts of the world’s 12th largest consumer market. SMIC is headed by long-time Sy trusted officer and friend, the veteran financial whiz Jose T. Sio. Two Sy children are vice chairmen—Tessie Sy and Henry Sy Jr. Majority of the SMIC board are non-relatives, professionals, each with splendid track record in their lines of expertise.

Henry’s holding company, SMIC is the largest Philippine company with P1.2 trillion in assets, P1.13 trillion in market cap, more than P400 billion in annual revenues, and P35 billion in annual profits.   His BDO is the largest in assets (P2.92 trillion), largest in deposits (P2.345 trillion), largest in loans (P1.959 trillion), and largest in equity.  BDO and another Henry Sy bank, China Bank, have more than 1,800 combined banking branches.

SM Prime is the leader in property development, with its portfolio of malls, residential, commercial, hotels, and convention centers.   It is, in fact, the largest property developer in Southeast Asia.  It prides itself in being the developer of “lifestyle cities” anchored by world-class malls. The group has more than 7,100 hectares of land bank.

Sy’s retailing network totals 2,212 (as of September 2018) with 2.74 million sqm of gross selling area. 

This 2018, SM marks its 60th year.  Speaking at the launch of the 60th anniversary celebration, SMIC vice chairman Tessie Sy Coson recalled how SM began:

“SM started out as the dream of a 12-year-old Henry Sy, who sought a better life for himself, for his family, and for his little community,” she said. “The history started in sari-sari stores, in buy-and-sell, and in partnerships with a few shoe stores.  In 1958, he established the first Shoemart. It was meant to be a chain of shoe stores.  In 1972, he opened his first department store because he wanted to sell more than just shoes.”

In 1975, Henry changed Shoemart to “SM Department Store.  In 1985, he opened North EDSA in the mid of a severe political and economic crisis. In between, he and his partners acquired a small bank with four branches and named it Banco de Oro (gold). It became BDO.  “This little boy’s dream has now evolved into what SM is today: Its position in retail, malls, residences, and banking,” recalled eldest child Tessie.

Tessie says: “My father trained us—his six children—to work like him, and at the same time, to work with professionals to establish the foundation for SM’s growth. Over the years, my father also gathered more friends, tenants, and suppliers. Combined, everyone we have worked with over the years makes us who we are today.” 

“For six decades, SM has become part of the lives of every Filipino family—from a kid choosing his first pair of school shoes at The SM Store, spending your first paycheck on groceries at SM Markets to treat Mom and Dad, SMDC enabling a young couple to acquire a home of their own, to sharing a fun weekend with the whole family at SM Supermalls,” said Steven Tan, SM Supermalls chief operating officer.

Preparing for the next 60 years, the SM Group did something few family-owned enterprises would dare to do—put non-family members in command.

In April 2017, Sy’s long-time finance man, Jose T. Sio, became chairman of SMIC, replacing the old man himself.  The SMIC presidency went to Frederic DyBuncio, replacing Sy’s youngest, Harley.  Dy Buncio is also the CEO.  Sy’s eldest children, TessieSy and Henry “Boy” Sy Jr. are vice chair persons.

That Sio and DyBuncio are both finance men underscores SMIC’s focus on cash, cash flow, revenues and profits.  “At the core of our scenarios is making sure our financial position is strong,” said DyBuncio in a 2017 global business forum.

“We look for businesses that can offer stable cashflows and attractive financial returns. Like the proverbial suitor, SM is attracted to companies that can capture high-growth opportunities. We like market leaders or those with potential to become leaders in their chosen sectors,” DyBuncio explained.

SMIC’s commitment to innovation, customer excellence, efficient operations and good corporate governance are the keys to creating long-term value for its shareholders, customers, investors and the communities it serves

SM’s retail operations are the country’s largest and most diversified with its food, non-food and specialty retail stores.

SM’s property arm, SM Prime Holdings, Inc., is the largest integrated property developer in the Philippines with interests in malls, residences, offices, hotels and convention centers as well as tourism-related property developments.

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Topics: Teresita Sy-Coson , SM Investments Corp , SM Prime Holdings , BDO Unibank
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