Henry Sy, Sr. would have stopped cutting Baguio's pine trees

Posted at 04/12/2012 10:18 AM

(Editor's intro: Raissa, foreign correspondent for South China Morning Post and Radio Netherlands, is an independent blogger.)

Having watched SM grow from one Manila shoe store into a giant conglomerate today, I believe the founder Henry Sy Sr. would have stopped tree-cutting as soon as he saw the sharply negative reaction of Baguio residents.

I believe this because it was not all business with Mr Sy, who willingly spent millions just to house a giant ice skating rink inside his mall in this tropical country.

I’ve noticed a sea change, though, after his children took over. They are not that hands-on like their father, who took the trouble to walk through his giant malls every day looking for things to fix here and there.

That was how I got to talk to Mr Sy – by approaching him in one of his long walks in SM Megamall in late 1997. I introduced myself as a reporter and asked him how long he thought the global financial crisis would last for the Philippines. He said, well into the next millennium – about four or five years. He was right.

Now that I recall, no bodyguard had stopped me from approaching him although I assumed they must just be about somewhere because it was also the height of the kidnapping crisis in the Philippines.

Mr Sy is now in a wheelchair and his children are running the business. Of course the takeover of the new generation has led to the influx of more professional managers unrelated by blood to the family owners, and to a rapid depersonalization of the business.

The move has enabled the SM group to grow by leaps and bounds but it could also be a source of weakness. And that is seen in the way the SM Group is now mishandling the issue over the pine trees inside its shopping complex in Baguio City.