Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 11 October 2017


His life began with a triumph. In 1921 around 96 years ago, his father, Albino SyCip, a lawyer of great renown in the American colony of the Philippine Islands, had just won a major legal victory arguing a case in the US Supreme Court in Washington DC.

Almost simultaneous with that great legal victory was the receipt of a telegram from his wife in Manila that a son had been born to them. To mark the two happy occasions, the SyCip couple would name their newborn, Washington!

There were five children, three boys. The other two boys were named after kings, David and Alexander. The youngest was named after a place!

A whiz kid and much more. A member of a high-achieving family, Washington himself was a precocious child. A whiz kid through and through. He would also become a whiz person in the many stages of his professional and post-business career through his long life of 96 years.

The outpouring of testimonies to the good and useful deeds he has done attest to a life well-lived. That life involved a search for excellence with hard work and good example. In his post-retirement years that were far-extended, he devoted not only missionary zeal, but also visionary passion to stress the virtues of education as an escape from poverty.

His elementary schooling was shortened to five and a half years as a result of deserved accelerations in class. He was valedictorian of his high school class in the public school system when public schools were of high quality.

In two and a half years of collegiate study, he finished the accountancy course in college that he aspired to learn, graduating as summa cum laude. At the age of 17, he would teach the course in accounting, even substituting in the senior course that his professor had taught in college. At 18 years, he would pass the CPA examination.

The break of wartime would find him already studying for the graduate degree that could have led to the PhD at Columbia University in New York. But the war interrupted his studies and he donned the uniform serving the US military, in the intelligence service as a cryptologist in the war against Japan.

In 1946, back in the Philippines, he established an accounting company that would in time become the SGV — a partnership known as SyCip Gorres Velayo. Within a short-time, the company under his leadership would became the largest and dominant accounting firm in the nation.

A visionary business leader. His visionary leadership and keen understanding of business opportunities led him to expand the services of his bookkeeping firm beyond the traditional confines. He created a management services and consultancy branch to cater to clients needing professional help and business solutions to their operational management and development problems.

As a result of these efforts, he not only built a window to the world for the Philippines. He helped to put the Philippines within the radar of many investors and all those who had projects to put up in the East Asian region.

Through this involvement, his company became a focal point for rendering advice, studies, and clincher for decisions that eventually benefited Philippine economic development.

I learned how critical his role was in the expansion of the pineapple and banana export industries of the country while I was preparing my work on the life of Cesar Virata. His efforts and the work of his firm helped influence decision in the setting up of major semiconductor and electronics companies that invested in the country. The entry and setting up of some major BPO companies was catalyzed by his foresight and insight. These are only part of his legacy and influence.

Washington SyCip leveraged his professional success to become one of the influential leaders of Philippine business. In this role, he coaxed Philippine business leaders to become more charitable and caring about social issues and to contribute toward improving educational opportunities.

Thus, he also helped to build institutions of great value to our national life. Among the most prominent of these projects are the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). His charities are well-known. He has been cited from all corners for his charitable, social and educational work.

A consequence of the success of SGV in accounting and management services consulting would bring him into the orbit of a far wider group of influential people – important businessmen, foreign investors, government leaders, and, most of all, with the presidents of the country from Elpidio Quirino (the second president).

The success of SGV as an enterprise was the product of Washington SyCip’s penchant to recruit from the best that he could hire into his firm, to instill in them disciplined work and high standards of performance. The roster of alumni and active workers of SGV speak for itself.

Not only has he given some of the most interesting challenges of work to a lot of professionals in the field of accounting. He helped train, nourish, and recruit business leaders for the nation’s industries and government as well. There is a long list of national leaders who came and learned their art and practice, mentored by his example and dedication to his work at SGV. The list is a veritable gallery of high achieving former partners. In the private sector, many of them are leaders and movers and managers. In the government, we find them as heads of departments, bureaus and corporate agencies.

A distinctive quality of this relationship is that no former SGV alumni who joined the government ever is allowed to return to the SGV to take up an official post again. That is part of the Washington SyCip ethos.

Washington SyCip’s domain of achievements and focus of his life has remained the Philippines, the country of his birth though he has remained an American citizen.

In the preface to his authorized biography by Jose Y. Dalisay Jr., Wash: Only a Bookkeeper (Asian Institute of Management, 2011), Washington SyCip wrote that his life’s journey was marked with “rich experiences, unique opportunities and inspiring people.”

Humbly, he further quoted a Chinese saying, “There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same.” He did not say that any path to a high mountain is difficult enough!