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Obituaries

Philippines' wealthiest man Henry Sy dies

Chinese immigrant built the nation's most valuable conglomerate

Business tycoon Henry Sy built the Philippines' first modern shopping mall in the 1980s, part of an empire that today spans retail, property and banking.    © Reuters

MANILA -- Henry Sy, the Philippines' richest man who made his fortune by building his shoe shop into one of the country's most valuable listed companies, has died at the age of 94.

Sy, who had a net worth of $19 billion according to Forbes, is the founder of SM Investments, a conglomerate with interests ranging from shopping malls to real estate and banking. SM Investments was valued at 1.15 trillion pesos ($21.82 billion) at Friday's market close.

According to a company statement, he died peacefully on Saturday morning.

Sy emigrated to the Philippines from the Chinese province of Fujian as a child, and worked in his father's mom-and-pop store where he slept on the counter at night. Later he began selling shoes imported by U.S. soldiers after the second world war. He opened his first ShoeMart shop in downtown Manila in 1958, according to the company's website.

In the 1970s, he transformed the initial business into a department store and in the early 1980s built the country's first modern shopping mall.

Having survived the turbulence of the Marcos dictatorship, and helped by his six children, the venture snowballed into a conglomerate that investors often use as a proxy for the Philippine economy because of its large and deep exposure in the country's robust consumer sector.

SM's major subsidiaries include SM Prime Holdings, the Philippines' largest integrated real estate and shopping center developer by market capitalization; BDO Unibank, the nation's largest bank by assets, and retail leader SM Retail. SM Prime also runs shopping centers in China.

In an interview in 2006, Sy said his ambition had always been 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," he is quoted as saying in the Philippine Star.

Sy's children currently occupy executive and advisory positions in various SM subsidiaries, while his wife, Felicidad, oversees the company's philanthropic and spiritual initiatives.

In recent years, SM appointed nonfamily professional managers to lead key subsidiaries. In 2017, Sy officially retired from SM and became chairman emeritus. SM appointed Sy's longtime associate Jose Sio as chairman and former investment banker, Frederic DyBuncio, as president.

 

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