‘TRULY EXTRAORDINARY’ | Biz leaders pay tribute to Washington Sycip, a generous man and an education advocate

October 24, 2017 - 7:09 PM
The young Wash SyCip (L) when he was starting out in a career that would shape Philippine accounting for decades; and at right, a much older Wash chatting with schoolchildren--helping the bottom poor acquire education was a passion. (Images from www.washingtonsycip.org)

MANILA – The late Washington Sycip was a generous man who was passionate about providing quality education for Filipinos, especially the poor, according to Phinma President and CEO Ramon del Rosario, Jr.. He was among those who paid tribute to the SGV & Co. co-founder on Tuesday at the Management Association of the Philippines’ (MAP) general membership meeting on Tuesday at the Peninsula Manila in Makati City.

Sycip, who was among the co-founders of MAP, passed away on October 7. He was the first MAP Management Man of the Year in 1967, an award bestowed by MAP on “individuals in the business community or government for attaining unquestioned distinction in the practice of management and for contributing to the country’s progress,” according to MAP. Subsequent awardees included Manuel V. Pangilinan (2005), Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (2006), and John Gokongwei, Jr. (2017).

Del Rosario said it was Sycip’s giving nature that made him “truly extraordinary,” noting that the latter helped establish and develop the Asian Institute of Management, and was a “generous benefactor” of organizations such as Synergeia, which works to strengthen basic education in poor communities; CARD Philippines, which works to provide affordable student loans, as well as microfinance; and the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), which works to improve teacher quality and to implement the K-12 program.

In PBEd, said del Rosario, they were pleased “and somewhat amazed at the level of enthusiasm and active support he gave us for the remainder of his life.”

Businesspersons can best pay tribute to Sycip not through publishing full-page advertisements or supplements on newspapers or holding programs such as the one MAP hosted, but by doing their share in enabling Filipinos to attain better lives, del Rosario stressed.

“We pay him tribute by declaring today, ‘We are all Washington Sycip’,” he said.

Sycip was respected for the “depth of his insights, the keenness of his perceptions, the breadth of his knowledge, and his personal discipline,” del Rosario added. Sycip’s advice was sought and appreciated by presidents, taipans, diplomats, churchmen, academics, and even families. Del Rosario cited Fortune magazine as describing Sycip as “the man anyone doing business in Asia must first see.”

He was one of the “truly outstanding Philippine business leaders” whose careers began in the aftermath of World War II, “who shared a strong faith in the future of the Philippines and the ability of Filipino managers and entrepreneurs to create and manage their own enterprises in competition with foreign-owned and -managed companies,” del Rosario pointed out.

“They propelled the Philippines until we were the second most advanced economy in Asia next only to Japan,” he added.

Former Secretary of Foreign Affairs and SGV & Co. Senior Adviser Delia Albert also spoke about Sycip, recalling how, in the mid-80s, she and Ambassador Ramon del Rosario formed the first “Team Philippines” at the Philippine Embassy in Germany.

“His (del Rosario’s) formula for economic diplomacy was to build trust between Filipino businessmen, led by his dear friend Washington Sycip, and the German business community,” she said.

German-Philippine relations

When then President Cory Aquino made the first state visit of a Philippine leader to Europe, she was accompanied by a business delegation led by Sycip.

“Impressed by such a high-level delegation, the German government honored the country by providing them with the German presidential plane, escorted by two… military jets to enable the delegation to go to Paris, in time for the next leg of their visit,” Albert said. She remembered Sycip telling her, “It was not really in our honor,” and that it was simply because he (Sycip) “spoke German to them.”

“To my mind, that gesture marked the highest point ever in Philippine-German relations,” Albert said.

Through the years he maintained his friendship with the business community and the political leaders in Germany. In fact, said Albert, Sycip was a frequent guest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the annual dinner of the party’s (presumably the Christian Democratic Union) economic team.

“They respected his views and appreciated his candidness,” she said.

Deutsche Bank even honored him on one of his birthdays with a dinner in the bank’s board room, an honor reserved only for heads of state and ministers.

In the 1990s, when Albert was ambassador to Australia, Sycip handed her some of his calling cards to introduce her to his friends and business associates there. These calling cards “worked like magic, like a master key that opened all doors.” One of the cards was meant for the chairman of ANZ Bank, with an “endearing” note that read, “Dear John, please take care of our country’s little ambassador.”

The audience laughed at this anecdote.

Albert said that upon her return from Australia, Sycip and his business friends honored her with a dinner, where he toasted her, saying, “To the future Secretary of Foreign Affairs.”

She responded that it would only happen if he were president, but he couldn’t run for the post because of his citizenship.

As he predicted, however, she was appointed Foreign Affairs secretary, and she handed him a booklet titled “How to reacquire your Philippine citizenship”.

“Wash followed all the instructions, fulfilled all the qualifications,” Albert said, and it enabled him to regain his Filipino citizenship.

A day after she retired from diplomatic service, he invited her to join SGV, saying that he wanted her “to continue serving the country.”

She said, “Wash, I cannot count. I cannot be an accountant.”

He replied, “You are going to come to the office and create jobs for our people.”

Sycip wanted to address the need to communicate with the global business community in their own language. So SGV “translated and produced ‘Doing Business in the Philippines’ in seven languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, Russian, and of course, German, in addition to the original English version,” Albert said.

The publication continues to reach out to the world today.

Like a rainbow

“Like the rainbow, Mr. Sycip was colorful, not only in his barong, but in his array of friends,” Albert said. One such friend was American diplomat Henry Kissinger, who toasted him on his 90th birthday as “a man who turns information to knowledge, and knowledge to wisdom.”

“Like the rainbow, he connected people. Like the rainbow, he linked the Philippines with the world,” Albert said. “Like the rainbow, he inspired hope, and life after the rain.”

Former Prime Minister and RCBC Corporate Vice Chair Cesar Virata spoke about his years working for Sycip, as well, whom he first met when he enrolled in Sycip’s management accounting class in the University of the Philippines’ graduate school in 1952. Sycip invited Virata to join SGV’s new management services division later on.

“Mr. Sycip was always trying to develop us to be good professionals, to mix with other businessmen,” Virata said.

He concluded, “I think the award that was given to him by MAP in 1967 has really set the standard for what is good management, and I’m very sure that we will always follow his advice to us so we can follow the straight and narrow path to our desired future.”