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About Henry Sy: A Biography of the Philippines' Richest Man

Biography of Henry Sy

There are numerous stories about people reaching their unforeseen success. However, the most popular rags-to-riches story everyone knows is the retail magnate— Henry Sy. His story inspires a lot of people, specifically, the Filipinos; as this is where he found and built his money empire.

He never fails to amaze a lot of inspiring entrepreneurs who he was once then. 

Quick Facts About Henry Sy’s Biography


Henry Tan Chi Sieng Sy, Sr.

Popularly Known As:

Henry Sy, Sr.

Date of Birth:

October 15, 1924

Jinjiang, Fujian, Republic of China


January 19, 2019 (aged 94)

Manila, Philippines


Far Eastern University


Business magnate, Investor, & Philanthropist

Businesses owned:


  • The SM Store
  • SM Hypermarket
  • SM Supermarket
  • SM Appliances
  • SaveMore
  • Walter Mart Supermarket, Inc.
  • Alfamart

[Specialty Stores]

  • SM Appliance
  • Ace Hardware
  • Watsons
  • Our Home
  • Homeworld
  • Toy Kingdom
  • Baby Company
  • Kultura
  • Sports Central
  • Pet Express
  • Miniso


  • SM Prime Holdings, Inc.
  • SM Development Corporation


  • BDO Unibank, Inc.
  • China Banking Corporation


  • Taal Vista Hotel
  • Pico Sands
  • Radisson Blu Hotel
  • Park Inn by Radission Davao
  • Park Inn by Radisson Clark
  • Conrad manila
  • SMX Convention Center

[Lifestyle And Entertainment]

  • SM Cinema
  • Director's Club Cinema
  • IMAX Theatre
  • WM Cinemas
  • XD: 4D Cinema
  • DX Laser Projection Cinema
  • Mall of Asia Arena
  • Blink
  • SM Skating
  • SM Bowling and Leisure Center
  • Exploreum
  • Snack Time
  • ePlus
  • SM Tickets

[Other Businesses: SM Investments Corporation has equity investments in the ff:]

  • BGC Commercial Properties
  • Philippine Urban Living Solutions
  • Atlas Consolidated Mining & Development Corporation
  • 2Go Group, Inc.
  • CityMall Commercial Centers, Inc.
  • Belle Corporation


Felicidad Tan-Sy

Children (by order of birth):


 Henry Sy, also known as Henry Sy Sr., is a name synonymous with retail success in the Philippines. His story, chronicled in countless Henry Sy biographies, is a testament to the power of hard work, perseverance, and seizing opportunities.

This Filipino retail magnate, once a young boy working in his father's store, rose to become the richest man in the Philippines. His journey is an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs around the world, and a must-read for anyone interested in a Henry Sy biography.


Photo from the wires


Early Life and Building a Foundation

Born in China, Henry Sy migrated to the Philippines with his family at the tender age of 12. He immediately began working alongside his father in their small sari-sari store in Quiapo, Manila. This early exposure to retail instilled in him a strong work ethic and a keen understanding of customer needs.

However, their life took a dramatic turn during World War II when their store was destroyed. While his father returned to China, Henry made a bold decision – he would stay in the Philippines and build a new life.

Despite the devastation, young Henry Sy didn't wallow in despair. He used his meager savings of 10 cents to invest in his education, learning English and Filipino languages alongside courses in commerce. This newfound knowledge, coupled with his natural business acumen, proved invaluable in the years to come.

He started small, selling surplus boots and gradually transitioning into the shoe trade. By identifying a local supplier and venturing into shoe imports, Henry Sy displayed a remarkable ability to adapt and capitalize on emerging opportunities.

The Birth of ShoeMart and the Rise of a Retail Empire

In 1958, Henry Sy's entrepreneurial spirit took a major leap – he opened his first shoe store, aptly named ShoeMart. Felicidad, his wife and a pillar of support, played a crucial role in managing the business. ShoeMart's success laid the foundation for what would become a retail empire. However, Henry Sy wasn't one to rest on his laurels.

He recognized the growing demand for a wider variety of products and envisioned a more comprehensive shopping experience. This vision led to the opening of the first SM Department Store in 1972, just two months after the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines.

The early years of the department store were challenging. Building a new business amidst political uncertainty was no easy feat. Yet, Henry Sy remained steadfast in his long-term vision. He viewed limited opportunities for property acquisition as an investment in the future. His calculated risks and unwavering focus on steady progress laid the groundwork for the SM brand's phenomenal growth.

The journey wasn't without its obstacles. Construction delays and the Asian financial crisis of 1997 presented significant hurdles. However, Henry Sy's unwavering commitment to his vision propelled him forward. In 1985, a pivotal moment arrived with the opening of SM City North EDSA, the first of many SM Supermalls. These iconic shopping malls transformed the Philippine retail landscape, offering a one-stop destination for Filipinos across all walks of life.

Expanding Horizons: From Retail to Banking

Henry Sy's ambition extended beyond the realm of retail. He recognized the potential of the banking sector and acquired Acme Savings Bank, later renamed Banco De Oro (BDO). His initial motivation was to assist his suppliers with cash flow management. However, this strategic move proved to be a masterstroke.

BDO flourished under his leadership, becoming a major force in the Philippine banking industry. The synergy between BDO and SM Malls further strengthened both entities. BDO branches conveniently located within SM Malls offered Filipinos unparalleled access to banking services, fostering trust and boosting BDO's reputation within the Filipino market.

Recognition and Legacy

Henry Sy's remarkable achievements garnered well-deserved recognition. He received numerous prestigious awards, including the PRA President's Award and the PCE Big Brother of Filipino Entrepreneurs Award. He was lauded as a philanthropist by Forbes magazine and was bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate in Business Management.

Henry Sy's story serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. His unwavering determination, strategic vision, and ability to capitalize on opportunities are valuable lessons for anyone pursuing success.

From a young boy working in a sari-sari store to the retail magnate who revolutionized the Philippine shopping experience, Henry Sy's legacy is a testament to the power of hard work, resilience, and a commitment to building a better future.

What can we learn from him?


Success never happens overnight. It takes days, months, or even several decades to turn it into reality; and the first step to achieve this is through reading self-growth books. This is a goal that can only be achieved when you have the essential ingredient with you: books. See a list of our collection and find which book resonates with your journey right now!