Wash­ing­ton SYCIP

95, FOUNDER OF SGV & COM­PANY, AC­COUN­TANT

Esquire (Philippines) - - NOTES & ESSAYS - IN­TER­VIEW BY AU­DREY N. CARPIO PHO­TO­GRAPH BY FRUHLEIN ECONAR

At SGV, my role was to pro­vide lead­er­ship for the firm and for the na­tion. When I re­tired I re­al­ized there was quite a lot of things that needed to be done to al­le­vi­ate poverty.

We had 8,000 stu­dents in the Yolanda area who were af­fected by the ty­phoon. They were all on a loan ba­sis. My ini­tial re­ac­tion was to can­cel the loan, but the head [of the com­pany] said no, don’t can­cel the loan. He said, the poor are more hon­est than the rich.

That’s some­thing you and I both have to learn. All the loans to the 8,000 stu­dents have been re­paid.

What I learned is re­ally not to give but to lend—for ex­am­ple, for the head of the fam­ily to bor­row money for a bi­cy­cle to take [fam­ily mem­bers] to school. The whole prin­ci­ple is the obli­ga­tion to pay back, it should be some­thing they honor.

I’d like to see 100 per­cent lit­er­acy rate [be­fore I die]. Ev­ery­one has to be given a chance to read and write.

My fa­ther was a banker. He was sent by mis­sion­ar­ies to the US to study law, and he came back and prac­ticed law and even­tu­ally be­came a banker. At the time there were very few banks. So the Ja­panese, when they came to Manila, wanted him to head up the Greater East Asia Co-Pros­per­ity Sphere. He didn’t feel like do­ing this un­der the Ja­panese, so he got locked up in Bili­bid.

So at some point you have to make a de­ci­sion, what do you do?

I de­cided to join the mil­i­tary. But the mil­i­tary at that time was the in­fantry, and af­ter three months, I was in­ter­viewed, and [they found that] I had the high­est IQ store in the reg­i­ment. So the per­son in­ter­view­ing me said, what are you do­ing in the in­fantry? He took me out and put me in In­tel­li­gence, to be able to know what the Ja­panese were do­ing. So I was put into study­ing Ja­panese and from there to In­tel­li­gence, to see how we can break the Ja­panese code. Let’s say the Ja­panese will be sent to bomb Bangkok, if you can break the mes­sage in time and send fighters to in­ter­vene, then it’s fine. In many cases, the mes­sages were sim­ple, like “we have a per­son with malaria in the unit.” But then you know the Ja­panese have a weak­ness in that unit. It’s a case where you get to know their prob­lems, their weak­nesses.

I had a very sad week. I was in­vited to go to the US to re­ceive an award from the [Rock­e­feller-founded] In­ter­na­tional House in New York. Af­ter I ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion, I re­ceived the news that David Rock­e­feller had died. He was such a part of my life that I was hop­ing he might be there when they gave me the award. But I ar­rived in time for the fu­neral ser­vices.

My fa­ther al­ways said, you must know the peo­ple here. So I went to Bur­gos Ele­men­tary, all five of us kids, then Mapa High School. Now the ques­tion is, should I have fol­lowed my fa­ther’s pol­icy? If I had to do my life over again, I would do their school­ing en­tirely here. So that their friends will be their life­long as­so­ciates. I sent them abroad mainly be­cause I wanted them to know how to make their own beds.

When I was start­ing SGV, I took a look at the large ac­count­ing firms at the time. The for­eign firms were Bri­tish and Amer­i­can, and the of­fi­cers were all puti. No Filipinos. The Filipino firms were build­ing up the firms for their chil­dren who were still in high school. I went to the schools and said, I’m start­ing a firm that is a com­plete mer­i­toc­racy. You do not re­quire money, just brains.

No Sycip can en­ter the firm. Who­ever the best per­son is will go up. When I had my chil­dren, I told them, don’t even ap­ply, you’ll be re­jected. That part has kept the best peo­ple in the firm. We have 109 part­ners, and no Sy­cips.

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