Dubbed as the Warren Buffett of the Philippines, Wealth Securities and Philequity Fund founder Wilson Sy wasn’t always the stock investment virtuoso he is known to be today.
Sy remembers fondly his days at Xavier School and his education under the Jesuit priests. He credits Xavier School and the Ateneo De Manila University for the values these two schools inculcated in him.
Through the rigorous English lessons, theology classes and liberal arts education, he learned the importance of focus, discipline and hard work.
Working even on holidays and during Christmas break when everyone else was on vacation, Sy would wake up at 8:30 a.m. to help out in the family store, selling such products as soap and toothpaste. At a young age he learned the value of money.
“You don’t just throw away money, it isn’t that easy to earn. For every Colgate I sold, I’d earn one centavo. You then realize that everything counts,” he says.
These childhood lessons came in handy as soon as he landed a summer job at Multinational Bancorporation where he worked in fixed income, money market and equities—his first foray in investment banking. He moved on to investment banking pioneer Bancom after finishing a Management Engineering degree at the Ateneo.
After the 1986 Edsa revolution, he chose to work at Wealth Securities after a seat in a stock brokerage was offered him. After one client after another asked him to manage their portfolio, Sy, with several stockbroker friends, decided to launch a fund management company called Philequity Management, Inc. (Pemi). This was in 1994.
Twenty years later, Pemi has become the distributor of the best performing mutual fund in the Philippines, Philequity Fund, Inc., with an average annual yield in excess of 20 percent.
Through the years, Sy has made it a habit to read newspapers, analyze tables on Bloomberg, give talks in investor briefings, sit on the board of big companies, and trade stocks. He tries to learn something new every day.
“No matter what your status in life is, be grounded. When you start believing that you’re the best, that will be the start of your downfall. You have to keep working hard and learning new from other people,” he points out.
“If you don’t know how to invest or manage your own money, your money will run out.”
Sy believes that learning how to invest is as important or even more important than learning how to make money.
He also stressed that the beauty in investing in stocks is that you get to become partners with the best brands, the best managers and the biggest names out there, while still remaining anonymous. Moreover, the stock market is very liquid; you can easily get out when you want to.
“Companies make mistakes and they’re stuck, but you aren’t. If you see a mistake in a company, you can easily get out of it if you’re a stock investor,” he says. “When you have something good, keep it. When your stock is doing well, hold on to it; keep your bulk. When your stock isn’t doing so well, learn to let go.”
Sy practically eats, sleeps and breathes the stock market: “When you get into stocks, you get hooked. Something new comes up every day; nothing is the same. You never get out of stocks once you get hooked because nothing is similar. Even if it’s similar, there’s always some twist that makes it different.”
The only other thing that keeps Sy awake are NBA games, as he is a big fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s rumored that he even memorizes the statistics of the players the way he keeps in mind stock price quotations.
Sy is a firm believer in education as the solution to our country’s rich-poor gap. He constantly stresses the importance of going to school and how it gave him the different values he practices to this day.
Sy tries to do his part in helping educate Filipino investors by sharing his ideas, opinions and thoughts on market trends through the Philequity Corner, which is published both on the Philequity website and in a major broadsheet.
With Philequity hitting the 20-year mark this year, Sy plans to release a compilation of his best articles, ideas and lessons on investing.
I ended my interview with Sy more inspired than ever. I had just talked to my dad’s idol and arguably the best Filipino fund manager.
The last piece of advice he shared with me: “I’m not really more intelligent than other people. It’s just that I probably have more focus. So listen to your father, keep working hard, read more, study what the best in their field do, and stay focused.”