This second week of October began with sad news for the Asian Institute of Management and many members of the business community. Washington Z. Sycip, born 30 June 1921, passed away on the 7th of October 2017 while on a connecting flight.
It is unsurprising that Wash passed away while in the middle of something. He was never one to simply mark time. He was constantly prodding those around him to do more, and especially to do more to help the country and the world. I remember he used to remind all of us at AIM that his retirement from SGV meant he could work with AIM full-time.
Wash, as he is fondly known to those of us who have had the great privilege of working with him, is probably best known for having founded Sycip, Gorres, Velayo & Co. (SGV). Perhaps less known but more far-reaching are his involvement in the founding of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP).
It makes sense that Wash was instrumental in the founding of three seemingly radically different organizations. He was always involved in both business, policy and development. Throughout his life, Wash championed the role of management and business in the economic development of the Philippines and Asia.
That SGV came to be can be traced to a conversation Wash had with his father after he was reunited with his family following the end of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. In the biography “Only a Bookkeeper”, Wash quotes his father’s advice concerning where to turn his sights: “Son, there’s a lot of work to be done here with reconstruction.” Wash, who then had a lucrative job waiting for him in New York, decided to stay.
To the question of what to do next, his answer was clear: “At the time, the big companies were British firms. Those firms were all Caucasians, and they had a fairly general policy that partners were Caucasians. From my viewpoint I was as good as anyone and should not be subjected to discrimination in my own country.”
This drive not just to get things done but to stand for something was a trait that would continue to define Wash and all of the organizations he helped found
Those who know Wash and have worked closely with him will likely repeat the same things about what he stood for.
He believed in education. SGV’s early partnership with Arthur Andersen was at least in part cemented by the American company’s belief in a formal education program for its staff. This belief in constantly learning something new led to his involvement in the founding of the Asian Institute of Management, which became the first school to offer an MBA in Asia.
Wash believed in hard work. Many of those who worked in SGV tell tales about how he was always one of the earliest at work and one of the latest to leave work. In fact, Wash continued to come in early to work on his many involvements even after his formal retirement.
Wash believed in not wasting time or resources. Wash was Chairman of the AIM Board of Trustees when I was CFO of AIM. Our meetings were precise and to the point. To our discussions, he brought an eagle eye and a sharp mind. While his questions were pointed, my experience with him was that he would always eventually listen to reason.
Wash is often described as honest to a fault. He demanded an unyielding integrity. He used to say: “If there is one – and only one – message I would like you all to remember for the rest of your lives, it is this: Be a person of integrity!”
In the later part of his life, Wash’s most abiding passions had to do with a fight for education, integrity (especially of managers and public servants), and the development of Asia. To all of these things, he brought not only his personal resources but his influence and his network of friends and supporters.
While it is easy to say that Wash had confidence and courage, it is important to understand that he was very much the businessman. His letter to Fred Velayo encouraging him to come back home ends with this exhortation: “… make up your mind – be your own boss – and come to virgin territory!” Wash had that amazing ability to both see the big picture and pick up on small details.
At the Asian Institute of Management, we always saw Wash as both an optimist and a pragmatist. In many ways, AIM was the embodiment of his belief in the Asian future. Wash was able to see AIM grow to be one of the best business schools in Asia Pacific. He was to oversee the Institute grow and struggle. At the end, he was able to see the Institute embark upon its current path, one that strikes out into the territory of the future one that acknowledges the important role business and entrepreneurs have on economic development and one that embraces learning about the best tools available.
Today, as I write this, I imagine him looking at us from the other side of the veil, still asking about goals and performance and progress. In my mind’s eye, I see him looking at AIM’s new school, the School for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (SITE). I like to think that he would look at all of AIM’s new initiatives to grasp the future, at the programs on entrepreneurship, innovation and data sciences. I like to think he would look at these programs and give us that quiet nod and smile.
Rest in Peace, Wash. We will do our best to live up to your example.
For more information on AIM’s new programs, please go to www.aim.edu. Readers can email Maya at [email protected] Or visit her site at http://integrations.tumblr.com. For academic publications, Maya uses her full name, Maria Elena Baltazar Herrera.
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