NOT TOO many people know that Washington SyCip, one of Asia’s most respected business gurus, is a Thomasian. The founder of the world-renowned SyCip, Gorres, Velayo and Company (SGV & Co.) finished Accountancy in just two and a half years at the College of Commerce in 1939, graduating summa cum laude at the young age of 18.

Sycip could have been a UP graduate had he not transferred to UST. He said UP at that time was poor in business education and so he heeded the advice of UST Commerce Dean Stanley Prescott, a well-respected American business professor, to transfer to UST.

While SyCip aced his Accounting and Commercial Law subjects, Spanish was his Waterloo.

“We studied Spanish at that time,” SyCip said. “I had this classmate who was not very good in accounting so I taught him, while he coached me in Spanish.”

Unlike the other students, SyCip enrolled in a lot of subjects. He stayed longer in school to attend his extra-classes and finished ahead of time.

Although his family owned a luxury automobile, his father insisted that he and his brothers commute. So the young SyCip would travel from their home in Sta. Mesa to UST riding either a carramata or a bus.

He ate lunch alone because of his irregular schedule. “Sometimes, I would just bring some sandwiches for lunch so I could have more time for studying,” he said.

SyCip spent most of his college life studying. He was not active in sports, music, arts, and literature. Loaded with academic work, he had to sacrifice extra-curricular activities.

But SyCip still found a way to build friendships. His constant companions in UST eventually became his true friends. Alfredo Velayo, one of SyCip’s college friends who became later his partner, always commuted with him. Other friends included Cesar Virata and Chito Madrigal.

After taking the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensure examination, SyCip enrolled in the Master’s program at UST and taught for a while at the College of Commerce. He was 19 when he passed the licensure exams but was not given the CPA license outright because the law required accountants be at least 21 years of age. This prompted SyCip to leave the country and take up graduate studies at Columbia University in New York. It was here that he came to know of racial discrimination and segregation. One of his classmates in the Ph.D. program could not get a job because he was a black American. There was little prejudice towards Asians though, but the experience inspired him to study and excel all the more.

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The outbreak of World War II pressured him to leave the Ph.D. program. Eventually, he entered the United States Army and became a naturalized American citizen. As a US Army man, he served as a staff sergeant and helped in breaking codes and messages of the Japanese air force. His desire to return home urged him to formally leave the US Army.

Accounting empire

His homecoming was a turning point in his life. It was when he came back from the United States in 1946 that he founded W. SyCip & Company, his one-man auditing firm. He rented his very first office at the Trade and Commerce Building in Manila. His first clients were the other companies located on the building.

After a few relocations, the well-established accounting firm transferred to its present office along Ayala Avenue in Makati. “San Miguel Corporation was a major client at that time, so when they transferred to Makati, SGV & Co. also decided to relocate to the central business district,” he said.

When SyCip had to leave the country for some time in order to retain his American citizenship, he entrusted his growing firm to Alfredo Velayo. It was during this time when he met his wife.

SyCip decided to take in a partner due to its growing number of clients. The entrance of Vicente Jose into the partnership led the formation of SyCip, Velayo, Jose & Co.

The partnership decided to increase their resources by merging with the British firm Henry Hunter Bayne & Co., managed by Arsenio Reyes and Ramon Gorres. The move eventually became the one of the most successful mergers in Asia business history—the birth of SGV & Co.

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Considered as Asia’s largest accounting and consultancy service, SGV is still used up to the present even after the death of Gorres and the retirement of SyCip and Velayo as managing partners.

Despite the retirement, SyCip still remains the heart and soul of SGV & Co. He busies himself by sitting as director of companies. He is also at the forefront of the W. SyCip Family Foundation, which provides scholarship grants to the poor.

“For me, the equalizing factor of education (takes place) when the bottom group gains access to quality education just like the members of a rich family so they can both compete on the same level,” he said.

Eighty-one-year-old SyCip considers his family as his inspiration in everything that he does. A lot of the major decisions in his life were primarily influenced by his late father, Albino SyCip.

“My father was always emphasizing thriftiness. I remember on our birthdays, we did not have celebrations. Instead, our father would deposit money in our bank accounts. He made sure of that,” SyCip said.

SyCip’s father worked very hard to provide them with education but never showered them with luxuries even if they were more fortunate than other Filipino children. That is why he made sure that his own children were brought up with the same values.

“The best thing I have given them is a good education,” he said. “I would like to think that I have sent them to the best schools. They are all on their own now. All they have to do is work hard. I always tell them that they come from a poor country and that makes them learn to reach out. (They now enjoy) a simple life, thinking that between a Toyota and a Mercedez, it is really earning it (which matters).”

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Aside from teaching frugality, his parents also brought out the best in their children. They were constantly taught about utilizing the most of their abilities.

“Most of us in the family graduated with honors and excelled in our academics,” SyCip said.

On top

He has always been used to excellence, but SyCip is quick to note that being on top is a humbling experience. “I am used to it. But being on top makes me strive harder,” he said.

He considers his lifestyle as very busy and highly social. His morning routine includes reading five dailies—The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Business World, The Philippine Star, The Herald Tribune, The Asian Wall Street Journal—and his personal favorite, the weekly Economist.

Aside from reading, he also encourages people to stay busy and make the mind think through problems. “Anything that adds up to your knowledge, you do not get tired of it. The more you rest, the duller your mind becomes,” he said.

Being on top is his driving force towards improving a developing nation such as the Philippines. He always likes to think that SGV & Co. has done so much for the Philippine business environment. “When you see that the government is not effective in reducing the poverty rate of the country, the private sector must do their part,” he said.

“I want to be remembered as someone who just gave back what he got from his country,” he added.

SyCip said that success can be achieved by anyone who maintains integrity and exemplifies hard work. “There is no formula for my success. Just stick by integrity and work hard. Anyone can be as successful as Washington SyCip,” he said.

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