'A lot of rice to eat,' Henry Sy's grandchildren must prove their worth

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 21 2019 10:54 AM | Updated as of Oct 21 2019 01:54 PM

Hans Sy, president of the Philippines' shopping mall giant SM Prime addresses shareholders in Manila on April 14, 2015. SM Prime, which has 50 malls in the Philippines and five in China, plans to spend 4.5 billion USD until 2017 to develop new properties including malls and condominiums in the Philippines and China, company officials said. Jay Directo, AFP

MANILA -- (UPDATE) One of Henry Sy's 6 children, Hans, recalled challenging one of his sons to strike out on his own, outside the family business, to prove that he could one day run his grandfather's shopping mall, property and banking empire.

While the third generation of Sys have the "advantage" of getting advice from their parents, succession in the SM Group is open to everyone, said Hans Sy, who groomed a non-relative to replace him as president of SM Prime Holdings.

When his children knew that he was training a family outsider as successor, "they kinda doubled up working, wanting to show that they are qualified also," Hans said.

His eldest son, at 37 years old, "has a lot of rice to eat," Hans said, taking off from a Filipino saying on the need for preparation.

When another son was told to start a business that was not in conflict with family business, Hans said he was told: "Dad, not in conflict with business, but we are almost in every business."

"I said this is where your innovative mind should come to work. And indeed, he did," Hans said.

Succession should be open to children and non-relatives, he said.

"It depends whether they qualify or not. That has helped even the next generation to really focus and really do something about it," he said.

"If they know that it's just going to be handed to them, I don't think they'll work as hard," he said.

'PACESETTER'

Hans said he stepped down as head of the family's shopping mall empire to cue his 5 siblings that the next generation should be given the chance to take charge.

Henry Sy Sr. has 18 grandchildren, 7 of whom are in the family business, said Hans, former president of SM Prime Holdings. He remains on the board as director.

"I am the pace-setter. I stepped down. I wanted to set the pace to the siblings that it's really time to give the next generation a chance and opportunity to grow the company," he said.

Speaking at an entrepreneurship forum on family businesses, Hans described his billionaire father, who passed on earlier this year as "my mentor and my idol."

Eldest sister Tessie remains in charge of banking and retail, sister Betty is at the helm of the hotel business, Henry Jr or "Big Boy" is in real estate, Herbert is in charge of food while Harley is with SM Investments, Hans said.

Hans' son, Howard, started his Storage Mart business, the initials of which take after the SM chain of shopping malls

Another of his sons, Hans Sy Jr., is president of the SM Engineering Design and Development Corp.

When running a business like SM, Hans said "a college degree is not enough."

"College does not teach entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is looking at the business as a whole, not literally what you're taught in school," he said.