Henry Sy’s rise to the top is a feel good story for the ages. In 1936, at the age of 12, he immigrated from mainland China to help run his father’s grocery in Manila, often sleeping on display counters because he had no place to sleep. The spartan life he lived probably played a big part in molding Sy’s character as a smart and calculating businessman, and that is probably why he is still a hands-on owner at the prime age of 80. He regularly visits his malls to check on how things are running, and is usually spotted wearing his trademark Hawaiian shirts.
Sy’s work ethic and determination has made him one of the country’s leading businessmen, and a prominent name in the international business scene. The boy who once worked 14 hours a day long before the 24/7 concept caught on is estimated to be worth a cool $1.7 billion, not bad for a guy who still keeps his first cash register (a brass one) in his office.
Henry Sy, Sr. opened the first Shoemart store along Rizal Avenue in downtown Manila in 1958. He conceptualized a chain of shoe stores, each characterized by a distinct merchandising layout never before attempted in the country. In the sixties, the company expanded its shoe store chain. It was one of the pioneers in the new urban centers when it opened bigger shoe stores at the Makati Commercial Center in 1953 and in Cubao in 1967.
In the seventies, Shoemart marked its shift from a shoe store to a full line department store with SM Echague, and later SM Makati in 1975. This was also the time that Shoemart became known as SM Shoemart or simply SM, a name that has become synonymous with one stop shopping excitement. SM positioned itself for growth in the eigthies, diversifying into the supermarket and appliance store businesses. Late 1985 marked the opening of its first shopping mall, SM City North EDSA. SM emerged as a key players in the shopping center industry in the 1990’s giving rise to the malling phenomenon in the Philippines.
Today, SM is a dynamic group of companies with core businesses in retail merchandising and shopping centers, and complementary businesses in financial services and real estate and tourism development. In early 2005, SM Investments Corporation, its holding company, launched what is considered the biggest initial public offering in the Philippine Stock Exchange.
SM’s 22 supermalls, 25 department stores, and hundreds of retail stores have become part of the lives of many Filipinos. More than 1.5 million customers visit SM supermalls everyday. These are places where they shop, eat out, watch movies, or simply spend fun times together with family and friends. SM Group is a retail giant with 38,600 employees and annual revenues of $1.7 billion. More than that, SM has made its impact in the local and international business community, and is recognized as one of the top companies in Asia.