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Washington SyCip, the bookkeeper

/ 05:06 AM October 28, 2017

Last Oct. 7 Washington SyCip joined our Creator. He was no ordinary man despite the fact that he often referred to himself as a simple bookkeeper.

I spent 38 years of my life serving SGV, and the opportunity of working with this great man is one that I will cherish forever. His notable virtues included a passion for excellence, extreme intelligence, integrity, and an amazing memory. He was also practical, very demanding, always forward-looking, a perfectionist, a true philanthropist, a builder of institutions, and a visionary.

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He may have held American citizenship and was Chinese by ancestry, but his heart was definitely all-Filipino.

I distinctly remember that in my early days at SGV, I was with my partner in charge when he proudly reported to Mr. SyCip that of the 18 or so new offshore banking units, we got the audit of 15. Much to my surprise, instead of warm congratulations, Mr. SyCip’s immediate response was: “What went wrong with the other OBUs?” He always strove for excellence and perfection, and it was these values that he instilled in the partners and staff that made SGV the top professional services firm in the country.

When I was elected chair and managing partner of SGV in January 2004, and had my first meeting with him in that capacity, he congratulated me and immediately asked: “Who is going to succeed you in case you get run over by a bus while crossing Ayala Avenue?” Though initially the question didn’t sit well with me, I guess that was simply his way of emphasizing to me the importance of succession planning—that even that early, I should find and groom my successor. He always taught us to prepare for any eventuality.

In celebration of Mr. SyCip’s 85th birthday, I approached the Zobel de Ayalas to ask if it was possible to name the alley behind the SGV Building “Washington SyCip Street.” The brothers’ response was a pleasant surprise. They said Mr. SyCip deserved something more special and appropriate. A few days later, they proposed that Legaspi Park be renamed “Washington SyCip Park.” It was truly a fitting recognition of the man.

One of my last private meetings with Mr. SyCip was unfortunately a very sad one. It was held a few days after I was removed as chair and managing partner of SGV in February 2009. While I eventually agreed to stay on with SGV at the prodding and appeal of a group of partners, I decided two days later to leave, after learning that while I would be given the title of chair, I would have no defined function other than to attend to the external affairs of SGV and no committee to actually chair.

I met with Mr. SyCip to convey my decision and to bid him farewell. He told me that I could not leave given the current conditions and reminded me of what happened to Arthur Andersen at the time when the clients were renewing their audit contracts for that year. Most of the AA clients opted not to renew the audits, and with no clients to serve, and the grand jury indictment, AA eventually imploded. Mr. SyCip said it was imperative that we provide a semblance of normalcy in the firm and that the managing partner leaving under these conditions would be very risky. It was the first time that I saw him become emotional: With teary eyes, he sternly warned me that if I left and the firm suffered, he would blame me and never forgive me for it. I was taken aback; with a very heavy heart, I realized that for the old man’s sake and the firm, I couldn’t leave.

Mr. SyCip was the epitome of a great leader. He was an exceptional man, and I will forever treasure the wisdom he shared and the personal opportunity of meeting and working closely with him. Truly, no one can ever come close to what he achieved and accomplished in his lifetime. Farewell, Mr. SyCip.

David L. Balangue ([email protected] com.ph) is chair of the Coalition Against Corruption, Namfrel and Philippine Center for Population and Development Inc.

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