Shī ZhìChéng, (Henry’s Chinese name), was born on December 25, 1923, to an impoverished family in Jinjiang, a town near Xiamen, China. The entire family left China for good in 1936, so they could be with their family patriarch who was then a proprietor of a thriving variety store in Manila. Henry remembers having to clear the store’s counter, which served as his sleeping place, after helping his father run the store for 12 hours.
Unfortunately, World War II came and their family store was burned down; but the war’s aftermath gave him the opportunity to earn income by buying and selling post war goods including the shoes of some enterprising G.I. Joes. The success of the shoe-peddling business later gave the young man from Jinjiang, China, the idea of opening his own shoe store.
This was how Henry Sy, Sr. came to be the founder of the Philippine’s largest retailing company known as SM. The acronym stands for Shoe Mart, the name of the small shoe store business he started in 1958 at the “Avenida”, which was Manila’s most popular commercial district during the post war era.
Initially, however, the young businessman encountered difficulties in finding a local shoe manufacturer who would cooperate with his ideas on the kind of shoes to sell. He was quite determined and confident in pursuing his plans because they were mostly based on his own research. He continuously learned from his customers, his employees, and his suppliers and practically studied the growing needs of the Philippine market.
Henry never lost sight of his goals even as he succeeded with his shoe store venture; he pursued a college degree in one of Manila’s top universities, because education for Henry was a means to learn more ways on how to augment his income.
Today, after more than 50 years, the shoe store has evolved into becoming a network of 44 large-scale shopping malls not only in the Philippines but throughout Asia and lays claim to three of the world’s top ten shopping centers: the SM City-North EDSA (ranked 3rd), the SM Mall of Asia (ranked 4th) and SM MegaMall (ranked 7th), which are all located in the Philippines. The malls have become typical destinations for family weekend recreation and leisure regardless of social stature, since the stores are strategically scattered throughout the country.
Henry Sy, Sr. was listed by Forbes in its 2010 edition as the richest man in the Philippines and was honored by the prestigious magazine in 2009 for being one of the Filipino Heroes of Philanthropy. Through the SM Foundation, solutions to social problems for health, education and spiritual assistance have been extended to people in remote areas, by way of mobile health and dental clinics, scholarship awards, and contributions for building public schools, Catholic chapels and youth centers.