Good reading for the start of new year, even this interview is not so new.
Why Henry Sy believes the Philippines is not Hopeless
By Wilson Lee Flores MANILA, JUNE 5, 2006 (STAR) BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET
"I am optimistic that we can achieve a better future. It is not true that the Philippines is a hopeless case," 82-year-old SM Group and Banco de Oro founder Henry Sy recently told The Philippine STAR. "I am an immigrant who came here at 12 years old, spoke no English or Tagalog, but I came to appreciate the natural beauty and many economic advantages of the Philippines more than many other people do, and I kept working and investing with positive thinking."
The exclusive three-hour interview took place at his simple but elegant bungalow in North Forbes Park, Makati City, and at Tanabe Japanese Restaurant in his SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
In the over two decades I have known the legendary rags-to-riches taipan and shopping-mall pioneer, Henry Sy has become more mentally sharp and energetic than ever before. He is strong despite his weak knees, which occasionally forced him to use the wheelchair when we briefly toured his newest pride and passion at the SM Mall of Asia.
PHILIPPINE STAR (PS): Congratulations on the success of the SM Mall of Asia. What did your competitors say about your biggest shopping-mall project yet?
HENRY SY: I called Robinsons mall boss John Gokongwei Jr to personally invite him to the blessing of the SM Mall of Asia, but he said he couldn't make it. Even though we are competitors, I do not think Gokongwei has any complaints about me.
PS: Your executives tell me that one million people came to the SM Mall of Asia on your first day, May 21, then 400,000 came the next day, Monday. Why are people coming here, when this location is not along a highway like SM Megamall or at a crossroads like SM North Edsa?
HENRY SY: A lot of the customers to this mall came from the provinces and they enjoy touring the place. It is not only constructing the place that creates a good mall, we at SM create destinations using continuous research, studies and new ideas to match the needs and wants of the people. Doing a mall is not only construction of the physical place, what's important is the merchandising mix. We strive to serve the convenience of the public. We want shopping at our malls to be a unique and an enjoyable experience.
PS: Why did you build an Olympic-size ice-skating rink in this mall?
HENRY SY: Very few people know this: I love skating and bowling. I used to roller skate a lot in my youth on Taft Avenue, Manila. That's the reason why there's always a skating area in all my SM malls. I want more people to share my love for skating.
PS: When you were a kid, what was your original ambition?
HENRY SY: I have always wanted to be a businessman. No other ambitions, I just wanted to be in business, even when I was a child in Fujian province, south China.
PS: Why did you invest P7 billion in Mall of Asia's 500 outlets, 180 restaurants and other facilities, at a time when the Philippine economy is not that strong?
HENRY SY: It's investment that manifests my strong confidence in the Philippine future. I hope this biggest mall project will have a positive impact on the Philippine economy and I hope to encourage other business people to invest, too. Not everything I do is purely for money. Of course, as a businessman and as head of publicly listed companies, we have to earn, but at this point in my life, there are other considerations more important besides just money. I took a risk and invested in SM Mall of Asia because I wanted to create something that could contribute to Philippine tourism growth. If I am only after profits, the easiest way is for me t o construct high-rise condominiums here along the seashore facing Manila Bay, or I could just develop high-end subdivisions here and subdivide the lots to cash in quickly with big profits. But constructing this mall is a long-term investment; it is proof of my faith in the future of the Philippine economy. I wanted to build a beautiful destination for shopping, wholesome family-oriented entertainment and leisure. That church outside this mall, I donated it to everything from the structure, the land, to the interior furnishings and decor and it's not for profit.
PS: What else do you wish to achieve after the SM Mall of Asia? What other big projects can we expect from you?
HENRY SY: My biggest wish is for government, the private sector and all of us to work together to make the Philippines the best tourism destination in Southeast Asia. This is the reason I am always optimistic that the Philippines is not a hopeless case, contrary to what a lot of cynics claim. What Thailand can offer in tourism places and services, we in the Philippines can match, except for our past reputation in peace-and-order problems. That's what has held back our tourism growth. Philippine economic prospects are very good; we just have some problems in the investment environment which the government is now rectifying. Other export industries often rely on imported raw materials and the Philippines often only earns the labor input, but in the tourism industry, the Philippines can earn as much as 80 percent for every dollar spent here on food, shopping, entertainment, hotels, transport, etc., while 20 percent probably goes to imported liquor and other luxury goods. I am into tourism with Tagaytay Highlands, Taal Vista Hotel. We shall keep investing in new tourist-friendly malls, we are now master-planning a new 5,700-hectare seaside tourism project called Hamilo Coastal in Batangas, and many others.
PS: Why do you think the Philippines is ideal for tourism?
HENRY SY: First, there's the location: we are just two to three hours from all the major Asian cities like Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and others. Second, our people are famous for the best service in Southeast Asia. Third, people here are proficient in English. Fourth, the Philippines has many naturally beautiful tourist destinations, beaches, thousands of islands, unique flora and fauna, vast fishery resources, and others. Fifth, the Philippines is excellent in entertainment, which is important in tourism. Look at the singers and bands in top hotels, from Shanghai to Seoul to Tokyo, many of them are Filipino entertainers. Sixth, you do not need much capital or foreign investments for tourism development. Seventh, Philippine hospitality is better than others in ASEAN culture just look at the people's smiling faces. In our Chinese language, we call this "ho khe chieng", or people who are warm and hospitable in welcoming clients and guests. There are many more advantages. I could spend all day and all night talking to you about the tourism potentials of this country.
PS: What are your suggestions on how to build up Philippine tourism?
HENRY SY: I have a very simple formula based on common sense that will help accelerate Philippine tourism growth: the government should improve the peace-and-order situation as well as the international image of the Philippines on this crucial issue. The government should upgrade infrastructure, there should be a strong information campaign worldwide to promote the Philippines as an ideal tourism destination. In a recent event of HSBC, a TV talk show host of CNN asked for my advice to politicians and I shared only a few words of advice: work more, talk less. Government every year claims over two million tourist arrivals.
PS: What do you think should be the ideal number of tourists coming to the Philippines annually?
HENRY SY: Our target should first be to attract five million tourists in the first five years, then go for over 10 million in 10 years. Every time I meet President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I always tell her this dream of mine and my excitement about Philippine tourism potentials because I know she really wants a better Philippine economy. In this era of globalization, SM is also going international like the western multinationals Walmart, Carrefour, Metro and others.
PS: What are your plans in China?
HENRY SY: We have four major projects in China. In August or September this year, we shall inaugurate our new mall in Chengdu City, the capital of the 100-million-people Sichuan province. China is a dynamic place, it is amazing in progress.
PS: Why is it that your children did not grow up spoiled, and seem to have imbibed your work ethic and business acumen? How did you train them?
HENRY SY: I think it’s their innate natural drive. I also trained them in the importance of hard work. Even while they were in high school, my children used to spend their free time working at our SM Department Store in Makati.
to be continued