- Washington Sycip rose through the public school system, entered university at fifteen, was a Certified Public Accountant at twenty, pursued a master’s degree at Columbia University when war broke out and served with the United States Army in India and Burma. At war’s end Sycip returned to Manila and launched his accounting firm.
- Sycip himself exemplified the excellence of his company, winning respect for Asian business and steering new investments to Asia and to the Philippines. Despite his US citizenship, Sycip has for decades been one of his native country’s most effective private ambassadors and institution builders.
- He has engaged Philippine business community in meaningful acts of social responsibility by leading in the establishment of the Asian Institute of Management, now the region’s premier business school, participated in founding Philippine Business for Social Progress and the Philippine Business for the Environment.
- The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his fostering economic growth and mutual understanding in Asia through professionalism, public-spirited enterprise, and his own esteemed example.”
The world economy, as we are so often reminded these days, is borderless: the free flow of capital, technology, knowledge, and even labor can be restrained by protective governments only in part, and only for so long. Indeed, it now seems clear that Asia’s rising tide of prosperity depends on its ability to compete in the world. Grasping this truth decades ago, WASHINGTON SYCIP led his consulting company to preeminence by keeping it abreast of international standards, and by helping others in Asia do the same. In doing so, he fostered professionalism among the region’s new generation of managers and helped introduce a new basis for mutual respect and cooperation.
Born in the Philippines in 1921, SYCIP rose through the public school system excelling from first to last. At fifteen he entered university; by twenty he was a Certified Public Accountant. Pursuing a masters degree at Columbia University when war broke out, he served with the United States Army in India and Burma. At war’s end he returned to Manila and launched his accounting firm.
With a partner, Alfredo Velayo, SYCIP worked doggedly to build up a clientele, making ends meet by teaching accounting in the afternoons and returning to the office for more work at night, and on Sundays. The company prospered and grew. Merger with another firm in 1953 made them ‘SyCip, Gorres and Velayo,’ or SGV — the name that stuck.
As managing partner, SYCIP found a place for SGV helping Philippine companies get off the ground in the crucial decades after the war. Realizing these embryonic businesses needed more than accounting and tax services, he recruited specialists of all kinds and placed them at the service of an increasingly wide range of clients. Their success was his success. SGV became the largest consulting firm in the Philippines.
In partnership with professional colleagues in Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere, SYCIP built the pan-Asian SGV Group, beginning in 1964. He sent his best managers to strengthen the new affiliates and groomed the latent executive talent in neighboring countries to be world-class managers. Learning was the key. In-house training was an SGV hallmark; but SYCIP also encouraged his young proteges to seek advanced degrees abroad. As a result, the SGV Group’s consultants outpaced the competition in the Philippines and the rest of Asia.
SYCIP himself exemplified the excellence of his company and became much in demand as an adviser and board member to corporations, educational institutions, and professional organizations around the world. In these positions he won respect for Asian business and, at the same time, steered new investments to Asia and to the Philippines. Indeed, despite US citizenship, SYCIP has for decades been one of his native country’s most effective private ambassadors and institution builders. He led in establishing the Asian Institute of Management, now the region’s premier business school, and has been its board chairman from the beginning. Moreover, through his participation in founding Philippine Business for Social Progress and, recently, Philippine Business for the Environment, he has engaged the Philippine business community in meaningful acts of social responsibility.
Today, 71-year-old SYCIP is a restless frequent flyer who raises his voice the world round on behalf of the Philippines, Asian business, and mutual cooperation. “From government on down to individuals,” he reminds us,”our future prospects are a function of how effectively we can act together.”
In electing WASHINGTON SYCIP to receive the 1992 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his fostering economic growth and mutual understanding in Asia through professionalism, public-spirited enterprise, and his own esteemed example.
I am indeed honored to be the recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding. This award is particularly meaningful for me as I had the privilege of knowing President Magsaysay. Let me just narrate two incidents that show how quickly he acted when projects would help those most in need.
My father approached him with the idea of providing artesian wells for rural areas where safe drinking water was not available. President Magsaysay enthusiastically endorsed the idea and actually transferred some U.S. government assistance funds for these wells. These were then called the “liberty wells.” Many friends donated funds for such wells on their birthday or on other occasions when they would have otherwise spent the money for a luxurious dinner.
On another occasion, I brought a director of Carnation, who was interested in setting up a milk plant, to see President Magsaysay. He said, “This will lower the cost of milk and will benefit the masses so you can start building the plant immediately!” Right then and there, he called the Central Bank and gave instructions to get the project going.
President Magsaysay was returning to Manila from Cebu on a Saturday evening to attend a lunch the following day given by Mr. Yulo in Canlubang for Harold Helm, chairman of Chemical Bank. Having been a close friend of the Bank for many years, I was taking Harold Helm to Canlubang on that tragic Sunday morning when the car radio carried the news that the president’s plane was missing. During the very sad lunch, information was received that the president did not survive the crash.
The Philippines lost a great man. But all of us are thankful that the Rockefeller family set up the Ramon Magsaysay Awards to give further meaning to the life of a man who did so much for his country.
Washington SyCip’s family was a typical overseas Chinese family of the early twentieth century, although more fortunate than most. His grandfather had migrated to the Philippines from Fujian Province in China, joining the great movement of Chinese into Southeast Asia in the late 1800s. Albino Z. SyCip, his father, came of age during the early years of American rule in the Philippines and, through the good offices of the Methodist Church, studied law at the University of Michigan. Helen Bau, Albino’s wife, hailed from a prosperous Chinese Presbyterian family in Shanghai. (Their publishing company, the Chinese Commercial Press, says SyCip, operated “the largest printing press in Asia” at the time.) Like Albino, young Helen also pursued a college education in the United States, studying music at Oberlin College. The couple met and courted aboard the steamship that bore them both slowly back to Asia. Afterwards, they made their life in the Philippines, but strong ties to China remained.
By the time Washington SyCip was born on 30 June 1921, his father had prospered in the law. Indeed, Albino was busy arguing a case before the United States Supreme Court at the time of his third son’s birth. (Judicial decisions in the colony could be appealed, in those years, in the metropolitan power.) Elated over his victory there, he chose to name the new child after the capital of the United States—although SyCip likes to note that the boys in the family (David and Alexander preceded him) seem to have been named after a king, an emperor, and a president. Two sisters, Elizabeth and Paz, were born after the boys.
Bowing to the wishes of his maternal grandmother, his parents took Washington to Shanghai to live in her household, where he thrived for five years under the loving care of his maternal relatives. He learned to speak Shanghainese, a language he can still speak a little of today. His mother visited frequently from Manila and, as the time for his formal schooling approached, she brought him back to the Philippines.
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