Washington SyCip is gone at age 96, but his towering legacy in the business and educational fields in the Philippines will live forever.
It is not generally known that I worked with the accounting and management services firm of SyCip, Gorres and Velayo (SGV) from 1967 to 1970. This may come as a surprise to many, because I am neither an accounting graduate nor an engineer.
I graduated from San Beda College with a bachelor’s degree, major in Philosophy and English, and a Masters of Business Management degree from Asian Institute of Management.
In my three-year work with SGV, I had only a few brief encounters with Mr. SyCip, or Wash as he’s called. He seldom interacted with staff members, but was often seen coming to the office and leaving. Many bumped into him in the elevator or in the corridor—and he always managed to greet or at least smile at them.
Although he was not often seen by ordinary staff, his presence was palpable, like that of a ghost. Although SGV also stands for the partners SyCip, Ramon Gorres and Alfred Velayo, it is with Wash that the company has always been associated.
SGV hired only the best and brightest employees. That’s why competition for work excellence was high. Work must not only be completed on time, but must also be of excellent quality. If one graduated either magna cum laude or summa cum laude of whatever course, he or she was sure to be hired at once. During my time, there was a staff member with a master’s degree in history, and another in sanitary engineering.
Although it had a reputation for not paying the highest salary for those at the bottom of the ladder, it paid better as one rose higher in rank. The company was considered good training ground for new graduates.
Employee turnover in SGV was high. Many clients preferred to pirate their consultants and accountants from SGV. But this was not discouraged.
During the martial law regime, President Marcos recruited many SGV staff members and consultants into government. Among them were SGV partner Cesar Virata, who was named prime minister, and Jimmy Laya as secretary of Budget and Management, later secretary of Education and Central Bank governor.
Bobby Ongpin, who was SGV’s Management Service Division head, became secretary of Department of Trade and Industry.
I was initially hired by SGV as part of the editorial team which reviewed and edited reports from its various departments before they were sent to clients. I was transferred to Management Services Division as consultant, where I handled general management, human resources and management audit cases.
Incidentally, my wife, Yolanda, a certified public accountant (CPA) and an MBA candidate, also worked at SGV, as did my son, Jaime Raphael, who graduated cum laude from the University of New Hampshire and is a member of Mensa, the high IQ society.
Among the more notable and memorable consultancy cases I handled were the personnel audit of a large food manufacturing company in Cagayan de Oro and the reorganization of the general administration of a large foreign tobacco company.
But the most interesting and unforgettable assignment I had was the management audit of the National Mental Hospital, which was commissioned by then First Lady Imelda Marcos through the Philippine Jaycees. That’s why I used to tell people that I was in and out of the mental hospital for three months, and they thought I was joking!
That report I wrote became a national sensation. It was picked up by the major newspapers at the time including the Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle. The World Health Organization (WHO) requested 10 copies of the report. It resulted in an overhaul of the National Mental Hospital and an increase in its budget.