Life Lessons from Washington Sycip

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October 10, 2017 | BY Philippine Tatler

With the passing of one of the pillars of Philippine society, we recount some of the lessons he imparted



We faced Sunday, the 8th of October, with a heavier heart than usual, as we awoke in shock to the devastating news that our nation has lost an inspiration. Washington Sycip is dead, departing in the most peaceful way―in his sleep, in the sky nearer heaven, if you will a shallow imagery of being on an airplane.

Instantaneously, the communication lines were clogged with paeans for a great man. Moments, memories of magical encounters with him poured from traditional as well as social media, the latter non-existent at the time this nonagenarian was born. Who, pray tell, would not be affected by the awe of merely being in the same room with greatness?

At 96, death was just a matter of time. And yet, the death of Wash still threw a shroud of immeasurable grief because, perhaps, we wanted him to live forever or not to leave on our watch.

Wash will be one name that the Philippine Tatler will have to reluctantly cross out from its annual list of Philippines’ 400. He will also be one presence that will be missed at the Philippine Tatler Ball on November 19, a regular presence at the ball that recognized him as an Icon of Industry in 2011. He has always supported the Philippine Tatler―attending its events and always agreeing to be featured when asked. Seeing him in our pages, sharing and inspiring us with words of both profundity and common sense, is now an opportunity lost.


Beyond his achievements in the world of business, he is also known as a staunch advocate for excellence in education, effective governance and alleviating poverty. Here are some of the life lessons we can pick up from his life:

Life Lesson #1: “To solve poverty, the key is education”


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In his interview at the Asian Institute of Management, he stressed the importance of basic education. He identifies the need the strengthen education from the Grade 1 to 6 levels. He sat on the board of trustees of Synergeia Foundation – an organization dedicated to reducing the dropout rate of children in elementary school.


Life Lesson #2: “Strong leadership generated the organized efforts that yielded better results than the fragmented heroic and generous acts of individuals.”


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After Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in 2009, he spoke at the 8th Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility. There, he emphasized how good and effective leadership is rooted in how management “walk-the-talk” in developing and inculcating a culture of service and social responsibility.


Life Lesson #3: “The success of any organization would have to depend on the quality of its people.”


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Not many people know that he served in the military during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. In 2010, he spoke to the Philippine Military Academy Alumni Association about integrity. He shared his experience in the military and went on to describe how he brought the lessons of military discipline in the tough training programs of SGV, of positive reinforcement for top performers, and of how striving for excellence began with the quality of leadership. He is very much known for his strong beliefs on meritocracy and banning his children from working at SGV & Co.


Life Lesson #4: “If you are effective, you will be popular.”


In the pilot episode of Ramon Magssaysay Foudation’s Asian Leaders Talk, noted journalist Cheche Lazaro asked him, “Do you have to be popular to be effective?” He posited the response that effective leadership will gain popularity. The interview dealt with his views on politics, governance and leadership.


Life Lesson #5: “I would not want to choose who I want to be president, what I would like to see is a continuous drive on reduction of corruption.”


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He was interviewed by ANC back in 2015 to get his input on the economic state of the country and his thoughts on the 2016 election. Having lived through 14 presidents in his lifetime, he has a unique take on politics and the country’s leadership.  For those who knew him well, he is known for his distaste for corruption and his contributions on inspiring better governance. One of his more famous quotes is how he believes that sustainable democracy only occurs when the people voting are no longer in poverty and are educated.


Life Lesson #6: [I am] “a fairly decent guy, I guess.”


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Humility is one of the key traits that he is known for. In an interview with Karen Davila’s show, Headstart, back in 2013, he was asked “What words would you say to describe yourself?” He shied away and with a quaint chuckle, he described himself as a fairly decent guy. At the end of the day, once a person passes, he is not remembered by the wealth he accumulated but by his character and values. True to his words and more, Washington SyCip will be remembered as not just a decent guy, but a monument of a life well lived in the service of others.


In Memoriam, words by Chit Lijauco | Life Lessons, words by Charles Bautista