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The Colossal Success of Henry Sy: Cobbler Turned Retail Tycoon

The Colossal Success of Henry Sy: Cobbler Turned Retail Tycoon

"There is no such thing as overnight success or easy money. If you fail, do not be discouraged; try again. When you do well, do not change your ways." – Henry Sy

Henry Sy is the richest man in the country and has been for six straight years. The founder of SM Group has an estimated $13 billion in assets spread over a variety of industries including retail, banking, hospitality, education, healthcare, and mining.

Blessing in Disguise
Sy came to the country from China at the tender age of 12. He helped his father run a sari-sari store at Echague in Quiap. It was during this time that young Henry learned the true meaning of hard work and how it pays off. As a boy, Sy showed an aptitude for business and an acute awareness of the need to fill market needs. He helped the family-owned store earn more by applying the concept of tingi, which turned out to be a hit to customers.

These early years, however, marked a monumental event in the boy’s life. It was a time of war and there was an incident when Henry was hit with a shrapnel while he was selling. Fortunately, a good friend came to the rescue, taking him to the hospital using only a kariton. Henry never forgot the help and treasured the friendship. At the onset of his road to success, he made the said friend a partner in his first shoe store and the partnership lasted for more than 40 years.


Being Unique
In his early 50s, Sy found more ways to increase his income. By this time, he is already managing three shoe stores where he sells imported American shoes in partnership with friends. Henry started to study the market and felt that he needed to do something different. He was already selling shoes and other leather goods but he wants the market to look at the shoe business in a different way. He decided to go to the East Coast and stayed there for a long time. When he came back, he was brimming with a lot of ideas.

Henry opened the first air-conditioned shoe store in the country and called it Shoe Mart, or SM for short. He wanted to built a unique shopping environment where everything appears inviting and at the same time relaxing. It came to a point when he was able to open more stores, but then, suppliers became a problem. Suppliers initially weren’t supportive of Henry’s idea for a specialised shoe store, but this didn’t deter Sy from realizing his ideas.

Faced with a road block, the tenacious businessman that he is looked for another route. Sy then ventured into selling apparels and other merchandise, with the help of his wife.

Today, every Filipino knows that SM Malls are the ultimate place to find anything you need. The brand Henry founded has become a household name in the Philippines.


Timely Investment
The construction of the first-ever SM Mall started in1983, a time of crisis for the country. The Phiilippines was in the midst of a debt moratorium and hyperinflation—as it was around this time when Senator Ninoy Aquino was assassinated.

A lot of finance giants predicted Sy’s loss. Being a firm believer of wise saving and investment, he never doubted that it is his time. He pursued with the construction and in 1985, launched the first SM Mall. It had a department store, a supermarket, and a handful of tenants. It was an economically problematic time, but the employees were influenced by Sy’s optimism—and there is no Filipino today who isn’t aware how this story turns out.

Seeking Opportunities
Henry Sy’s story teaches a valuable lesson about how problems can be turned into golden opportunities. When he was hit by the shrapnel as a boy, he treasured the friendship and built his first business with the same friend. When he can’t afford to further his studies, Sy went to different places and found learning elsewhere. When he was deprived because people didn’t believe in his ideas, he innovated and made full use of what he had.

The 89 year-old businessman’s rag-to-riches story is well known in the country, where almost every major city houses an SM mall. Henry Sy is the embodiment of determination, discipline, wise-saving, and investments—values that enabled him to reach success. Sy remains a huge influence and inspiration to the Filipino people today and for years to come.

About the Author
This article was contributed by Mark Yasay of MoneyMax, Philippines leading comparison website. This portal helps individuals in saving money by comparing credit cards, personal loans, insurance and broadband plans.


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