Sy-Coson on running SM empire: Majority rules
MANILA, Philippines – "We can argue across the table, or we can say yes... After years of refinement, I can say we work together very well."
Teresita "Tessie" Sy-Coson, 63, and the eldest child of mall magnate Henry Sy Sr, talked to Bloomberg about how management of the SM group has changed over the years.
Sy-Coson and her 5 siblings help one another run the businesses under SM Investments Corporation (SMIC), the company their father founded.
Just like how SM transformed from a small shoe store in Manila in 1958 into the Philippines' largest family conglomerate today, its management has also evolved – whereas before it was the Sy patriarch who used to make the decisions, now it's the "committee" composed of his children.
The 89-year-old billionaire, the richest man in the country, "no longer vetoes" their decisions, Sy-Coson was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. "Majority rules," she told Bloomberg.
"It's like Dad has multiplied to 6 people... It's a transition from a strong man to a strong board," Sy-Coson added.
SMIC is engaged in retail (department stores, supermarkets, hypermarkets and Savemore stores), banking (BDO Unibank), and mall and property development (SM Prime Holdings).
Only 3 of the Sy siblings are on the board of SMIC: Sy-Coson as vice chairperson, Henry Sy Jr as vice chairman, and Harley Sy as president.
But each of them holds several positions in the companies under the SM group. Sy-Coson handles banking, while Henry Jr and Hans are more involved in property. Harley and another brother, Herbert, play major roles in retail, while their other sister, Elizabeth, oversees anything related to tourism and hospitality.
(READ: Roles Henry Sy sons play)
Together, the siblings set the direction of the company and think of ways to get ahead of competition.
After all, they are the biggest shareholders of SMIC, owning a combined 44.3% stake, according to Bloomberg.
SMIC faces tough competition from other Filipino billionaires like Lucio Co, who owns retail chain Puregold Price Club; John Gokongwei, who owns mall and property developer Robinsons; and property giants Ayala Land of Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala and Megaworld of Andrew Tan.
To strengthen their market position locally and in preparation for aggressive regional expansion, the SM group recently consolidated their mall and property units into SM Prime, creating a behemoth that disloged Ayala Land as the country's biggest property group.
Bloomberg said SM Prime sets its sight on the Visayas, where rehabilitation work continues after Super Typhoon Yolanda hit, and Mindanao, a region businessmen are bullish about after the signing of a peace deal ending a 4-decade Muslim insurgency.
Outside the Philippines, SM continues to expand in China, where it built and now operates 5 malls.
Though the Sy patriarch has not publicly named a successor, Sy-Coson is often referred to as his heir apparent.
The Bloomberg report said Sy-Coson "didn't join the family business by choice" and that she thought business is "a man's world."
Her father asked her to work for him, refusing to pay her tuition.
Now, Sy-Coson is dubbed one of Asia's most powerful businesswomen by Forbes Magazine.
With a net worth of US$12 billion in 2013, she and Mercury Drug president Vivian Que-Azcona are the only two Filipino women included in the elite list.
Before assuming vice chairmanship of SMIC, Sy-Coson headed two of the group's most profitable units: retail and banking.
She transformed BDO into the country's biggest lender by assets, following the bank's acquisition of Equitable PCI in 2004.
Bloomberg quoted Donald Gimbel of Geneva Investment Management of Chicago as saying that Sy-Coson was the "strongest member" of the family to eventually succeed the patriarch. – Rappler.com
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