OBITUARY | Wash Sycip, pillar of PH business, dies at 96

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The young Wash SyCip (L) when he was starting out in a career that would shape Philippine accounting for decades; and at right, a much older Wash chatting with schoolchildren--helping the bottom poor acquire education was a passion. (Images from www.washingtonsycip.org)

MANILA – (UPDATE2, 11:14 P.M.) Washington SyCip, who co-founded in the fifties the country’s biggest accounting firm and pillar of the local business community, died enroute to New York Saturday, former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said on his Twitter account. He was 96.

Family members confirmed that the tycoon and philanthropist had travelled to Canada recently and was apparently planning to go to New York.

SyCip, born June 30, 1921, had announced his retirement from SyCip, Gorres and Velayo (SGV) at the firm’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2003, after half a century of leading and shaping the institution, turning over the reins to a new breed of managers.

He did not slow down, however, remaining active in the lecture and academic circuit, and publishing his book Asian Perspectives on Business Management, Economic Success and Governance in 1996.

A lifelong student, he would lend his insights on a myriad of issues outside of his core business – wading into multidimensional aspects of poverty, micro enterprises, rural health, peace and development in Mindanao, among others.

In 1996, he was honored by the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) when it set up the W. SyCip Policy Center, which would be a fitting venue for formal training and discussions on the many issues and advocacies that SyCip had tackled and continued to embrace.

AIM statement

On Sunday, the AIM issued this statement on SyCip’s passing:

The Asian Institute of Management (AIM) mourns the loss of its Founding Chairman and Chairman Emeritus, Mr. Washington SyCip who joined His Creator on October 8, 2017.

A staunch believer in education and its critical role in uplifting lives and eradicating poverty, Mr SyCip was one of the key proponents behind AIM’s full-time MBA program that was attuned to a developing Asian region. His passion for excellence and commitment to mold business leaders, combined with his unfaltering generosity, led to the foundation of the Washington SyCip Graduate School of Business at AIM, which will celebrate its 50th year in 2018.

Mr. SyCip was deeply involved in AIM’s ongoing transformation to revitalize its role in an emerging ASEAN, and strongly supported its efforts to rebrand and expand program offerings for the next wave of business leaders.

His passing is a great loss to the institution and the country’s business community, but his legacy will live on in the AIM alumni who strive to be ethical and responsible business leaders, and live up to Mr. SyCip’s call to LEAD, INSPIRE and TRANSFORM.

Farewell Mr. SyCip, you will be forever missed.

Former Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima’s tweet announcing demise of the much-admired Wash SyCip,

Youngest son

According to his official website set up by SGV, SyCip was born to Albino and Helen SyCip in Manila in 1921, while his lawyer father was defending a case in Washington DC in the United States. He was the youngest of three sons after David and Alexander. Two sisters, Paz and Elizabeth, followed.

SyCip spent the early years of his boyhood with his grandmother in Shanghai, and returned to Manila at the age of five.

In 1927, he enrolled at Padre Burgos Elementary School, where most of his classmates were ethnic Filipinos and the language of instruction was English. He and his brothers walked to school or rode the bus instead of being transported in the family’s automobile, a luxury uncommon among their fellow students, according to www.washingtonsycip.org.

The brilliance revealed itself early: the young SyCip was accelerated three times in elementary school, thus graduating from P. Burgos Elementary School after just five and a half years instead of the usual seven.

In 1936, he graduated from Victorino Mapa High School at age 15, and excelled in physics and mathematics.

Being high school valedictorian earned him automatic entitlement to admission and free tuition at the University of the Philippines, then on Padre Faura Street in Manila. UP, however, did not seem a good fit for the course he wanted, accounting.

“It (UP) offered a liberal arts program where you could major in business or something,” he said. “I did well there, but I don’t even remember having any accounting.”

Thus, after only a semester at UP, the young man transferred to the University of Santo Tomas (UST), where he graduated with an accounting degree.

On to New York

In 1940, the young SyCip obviously knew what it was to pursue one’s dreams. He took a journey of 23 days to New York City, and entered Columbia University.

SyCip concentrated on his studies and moved quickly toward his degree, according to his website. He had fulfilled all the requirements except his dissertation when news of the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines reached him.

His and wife Anna’s first child, Victoria, was born in 1951 while they were still living in a Quonset hut, the quarters built by Americans right after the war.

They moved into a new home soon after their first born came.

Their home in South Forbes Park was one of only four houses in the neighborhood.

By 1951, SyCip opened his first branch in Cebu, and his accounting firm had grown to 26 employees. They all shared the passion that drove them to work through Sundays, noted www.washingtonsycip.org.

Two years later, the firm that would bear his name – SyCip, Velayo, Jose & Co. would be born. Thomas Farnell , the senior partner of Henry Hunter Bayne & Co., a company that set up in the Philippines in 1906, sold his practice to two Filipino accountants, Arsenio Reyes and Ramon J. Gorres.

After some negotiations between SyCip and the two accountants, their respective companies merged to form the largest accounting firm in the Philippines – SyCip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV & Co.)

Expansion continues

SGV continued to expand in the ‘60s, opening a branch in Bacolod, and later in Iloilo.

In 1963, SyCip bought a 1,200-square meter lot along Ayala Avenue for P200 per square meter, where two years later, construction of SGV I was finished and the company moved in.

In the same year, 1965, the branch in Iligan was set up.

In 1967, SGV & Co, purchased the building next door, which subsequently became SGV II.

In the same year, the Management Association of the Philippines named SyCip “Outstanding Management Man of the Year” for 1967.

The next year, he helped set up the Asian Institute of Management.

PBSP, overseas reach

Besides AIM, SyCip would use his knowledge, influence and resources in helping mold good business leaders not just through the academe (AIM), but also through continuing involvement of businesses in nation-building. In 1970, he became instrumental in setting up the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).

The SGV Group further expanded its reach to Singapore and Malaysia in 1970.

SyCip passed on his responsibilities as Managing Partner of the Philippine member firm to two other partners – Roberto V. Ongpin and Rodolfo B. Jacob – in 1972, and focused on his task as Chairman of The SGV Group.

More branches were set up in the seventies: Cagayan de Oro in 1973; Zamboanga in 1975; Bataan in 1976; and much later, in Baguio.

Retirement

As SGV marked its 50th anniversary, SyCip announced his retirement from the accounting firm he co-founded, but was far from retreating from public life.

He remained active in the lecture circuit and spoke at numerous local and international business forums, lending his wisdom and expertise as the region went through various game-changing events, including the 1997-1998 Asian crisis.

In 1996, his book “Asian Perspectives on Business Management, Economic Success and Governance,” was published by the UP Press.

He was much sought after, not only for his wisdom and experience, but also for his wit and generosity in sharing his time. That persona – suitable as role model even for the young – was recognized by another Filipino business leader, Ben Chan, who in 2015 cajoled Sycip into appearing as Bench poster model on giant billboards at EDSA. SyCip chuckled to a family member, “I’m now the oldest poster boy in town!” According to a story by ABS-CBN’s Cathy Yang, he agreed to be a model on condition that his fee would go directly to his advocacy: education for poor children.

The wit was evident everywhere he went. In 1998, gracing a forum by the Philippine Press Council, the chair of the PPC asked him to pose with the journalists then present and quipped that the photo would be captioned, “WASH AND PRESS.” SyCip chuckled and said, he’d repeat that joke each time he meets journalists.

In 1996, AIM honored Sycip by establishing the W. SyCip Policy Center, a fitting act for a man who spent a lifetime molding future generations of business leaders and professionals.

In the same year (1996), the Columbia Business School awarded SyCip the Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics and in Ethical Practice in the Profession in 1996.

In 1982, SyCip was elected President of the International Federation of Accountants, becoming IFA’s first Asian president. He was also President of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Soon after, his alma mater UST gave him an honorary doctorate in Accounting Education. In 2001, he received his second honorary doctorate degree, this time from former University of the Philippines President Francisco Nemenzo Jr.

Global network

The SGV Group member firms in Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand in 1985 became member firms of Arthur Andersen & Co., Société Coopérative (AASC) or the Andersen Worldwide Organization (AW), one of the largest professional service organizations in the world.

There was never a shortage of people recognizing Wash’s continuing, selfless efforts to mold ethical, competent and patriotic businessmen and professionals. In 2000, the Professional Regulation Commission gave him the Golden Medallion of Professional Excellence and Business Leadership.

In 2002, the AIM W. SyCip Graduate School of Business was launched, an event graced by former president Cory Aquino.

SyCip received the 2004 New Silk Road Award from the California-Asia Business Council in San Francisco.

In 2004, he received the Y.C. James Yen Citizen of the World Award from the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.

In 2006, the Federal Republic of Germany conferred on SyCip the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit.