Henry Sy Sr: 3 Lessons We Can Learn From the Life of The Philippines’ Retail King

Henry Sy Sr

From being a shoe seller after WWII, Henry Sy Sr. rose to become the Philippines’ Retail King, expanding his empire to over 200 businesses in over 60 years.

The founder of the SM retail chain died peacefully in his sleep in 2019 at the age of 94. Despite his death, his legacy lives on through the lessons and principles he imparted.

We listed 3 lessons that we can learn from the rags-to-riches story of “Tatang Henry.” These are some of his principles in life that shaped how he became a successful businessman.

1. Work Hard & Determination

This may seem simple and basic, but Tatang Henry believed in hard work so much that he passed this principle to his children.

Born in Xiamen, China, Tatang Henry, and his family moved to the Philippines in high hopes of a better future. He was 12 when he started working at their store. Unfortunately, their sari-sari store in Quiapo got destroyed due to World War II. His father decided to return to China, but the young Henry was determined to succeed.

With only 10 centavos, he stayed and continued his education in the Philippines. He graduated with a degree in commercial studies from the Far Eastern University.

He opened his first store in Quiapo, Manila, in 1948. The hardworking entrepreneur was quoted by Philstar saying, “In good times, I do my usual work. But in bad times, I work harder.”

According to his daughter Teresita Sy-Coson, Tatang Henry also trained them to work hard at an early age.

“We were expected to work on Saturdays when most of our classmates were often out having fun. We had fun too, working, because we did not know any other kind of fun. During those days, my dad, who was demanding, was always driving us to work hard and to do our best,” she was quoted in Inquirer.

2. Find Ways

Tatang Henry decided to sell shoes because he knew that many needed those after the war. He knew how to look for an opportunity in any situation. With many American soldiers in the country, he started selling surplus GI boots which became a big hit.

His finances improved, and he was able to establish his first ShoeMart. It caught the attention of many customers because it was the first airconditioned shoe store in the Philippines.

Jose Sio, SM Investments’ long-time chief financial officer and a trusted family adviser shared what Tatang Henry used to advise him about business.

He quoted the tycoon saying, “I’m just a college graduate, but I always think out of the box because Harvard theory may not always be the best theory. You’ve got to find better ways than Harvard.”

3. Know Your Customers’ Needs

Since opening his first SM Mall in 1985, Tatang Henry moved and opened more malls. In 1994, SM Prime Holdings Inc handled all the mall operations. Despite how big their empire is, their heart remains the same– to serve the customers.

According to Sio, Tatang Henry’s success in retail was because his businesses were customer-focused.

He said, “We are basically a retail group, so he always says: Focus on what customers need, focus on where customers need. It is not we. It’s not you who will determine what they want. You should not determine what price you want to sell. Look at the customer: What they need, how much they can afford, and it’s our responsibility to make those things for them.”

From the humble Chinese shoe seller to a business tycoon leading a billion-dollar empire, Tatang Henry died as the wealthiest person in the Philippines. He once described his success in life as, “I started with shoes, and with hard work and discipline, the business prospered.”

Tatang Henry’s inspiring story is a firm reminder of how important it is to be not just a dreamer but also a doer in life.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Share this post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *