SM Founder Henry Sy Began with Ten Centavos and Ended Up Being Southeast Asia’s Richest Man
Most Filipinos must have heard about how Henry Sy first began business by selling surplus G.I. boots. After saving enough money from it, he then opened the first Shoemart way back in 1958.
Who would’ve thought that the small shoe store back then would turn into one of the largest holding companies in the Philippines today? Indeed, the life of Henry Sy, a native from Xiamen, is a genuine example of a rags-to-riches story.
In hopes of a better life, Henry and his family moved to the Philippines. His father owned a humble sari-sari store on Echague Street in Quiapo, but it was destroyed when the country got caught up with World War II. His father then moved back to China while Henry remained in Manila with just 10 centavos to his name.
He worked hard night and day in order to survive – all this while learning how to speak in English and Tagalog, attending school, and hurdling other challenges that came his way. Upon completing a degree in commercial studies from Far Eastern University, Henry took the leap and made his way into the shoe industry, selling surplus G.I. boots.
Eventually, the young entrepreneur managed to launch his first Shoemart. After marrying his wife Felicidad Tan, a lace vendor, he ventured next into other products such as childrenswear. Shoemart then changed its name into SM Department Store officially.
In the 1960s, Henry tried his luck into the banking business. In 1967, he bought Acme Savings Bank (Banco de Oro) and in 2006, acquired and merged BDO with Equitable PCI Bank. But it is in the 1990s that became the golden decade for SM. After opening SM North EDSA in 1985, the company opened next SM City Sta. Mesa, SM Megamall, and SM City Cebu in 1990, 1991, and 1993, respectively. In 1994, SM Prime Holdings, Inc. was incorporated and became known to the public.
This move had increased SM Prime’s funding capabilities, leading further development of SM malls and shopping centers. That being said, SM Prime also entered the Chinese industry, with their first mall launching in 2001. Currently, they have six malls in Xiamen, Jinjiang, Chengdu, Suzhou, Chongqing, and Zibo.
Not only that, SM also entered the residential market through SM Development Corporation (SMDC), launching their maiden project of a condominium named Chateau Elysée, in Paranaque in 2003. Today, the projects have expanded in Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City, Taguig, and Tagaytay, with plans to do the same among key cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.