SyCip, RVO bury hatchet
Despite having closely worked together during the early days of what is now the SGV & Co. audit and accounting powerhouse, Washington SyCip and Roberto Ongpin often found themselves disagreeing on key issues.
From the strategy on how, in the 1970s, to chart the growth of SGV—which was co-founded by SyCip and later run by Ongpin—to later corporate disagreements and hurt feelings, both gentlemen have managed to find themselves on opposite sides of the table.
In fact, one such disagreement continues to this day, and was brought to light when Ongpin, now 80, hosted a testimonial dinner for the 96-year-old SyCip, whom he acknowledged as his greatest mentor and the main source of his professional advancement.
“Wash (SyCip’s nickname) hired me when I was 26 years old, and he tells this story which I think is not true and we have a disagreement about it,” Ongpin said during the dinner held in Makati City, attended by the country’s tycoons, top businessmen and bankers, and ranking politicians.
“[Wash] says that when he first interviewed me, I asked him, ‘How old are you?’ And he said, ‘Why?’ [And Ongpin supposedly replied] ‘because I want to know how long before it is I can take over the firm from you,’” Ongpin said recounting SyCip’s version of their first meeting.
“You know, that’s just not true, but he just thinks it’s true.” he explained, adding he was just a 26-year-old associate then. “I was a young guy. I was in great awe of him. In fact, I was very nervous when he first interviewed me. But, he believes that I said that thing, so we just agreed to disagree about that particular fact.”
Later that evening, SyCip repeated the incident as he remembered it: “When I asked him to join, he said ‘How old are you?’ No one who is joining me asks me ‘How old are you?’ I told him my age, and then he said, ‘I have a chance to succeed you one day, so when you retire I will take your place and that is the truth.’”
So that disagreement stands to this day.
But the more pressing source of discord—the 1999 boardroom coup that led to Ongpin being ousted from Belle Corp. (with Ongpin feeling he did not get enough support from his fellow director SyCip)—seems to have finally been put behind them at last month’s dinner, almost two decades after.
Present at that dinner to witness the burying of the hatchet were former President Joseph Estrada and Senators Sonny Angara, Chiz Escudero, Juan Ponce Enrile and Frank Drilon, and former Senator Ed Angara. Also in attendance were Makati Mayor Abby Binay-Campos, Rep. Martin Romualdez and five former finance secretaries: Cesar E.A. Virata, Cesar Purisima, Gary Teves, Ramon del Rosario Jr. and Titoy Pardo.
Key members of the diplomatic corps were also present, led by Washington’s ambassador to Manila Sung Kim, and Manila’s ambassador to Washington Babe Romualdez, as were leaders of the academe like Ateneo de Manila University president Jet Villarin S.J., De La Salle University’s Bro. Armin Luistro and Asian Institute of Management president Jikyeong Kang.
Tycoons also came like Ramon Ang, Lucio Tan, Helen Yuchengco-Dee, Marixi Rufino-Prieto, Erramon Aboitiz, Injap Sia, Alfred Ty, Ben Chan, Michael Tan and Joselito Campos Jr., to name a few.
Bankers and auditors were in attendance, as well, led by BDO Unibank president Nestor Tan, JP Morgan’s Philippine chair Roberto Panlilio and auditor/business consultant/dealmaker Roman Felipe Reyes.
During his speech, Ongpin managed to reveal another gem about his former mentor: “I always thought that Wash SyCip was named after George Washington.”
“Then shortly after I was with the firm, somebody asked him, ‘Why is your name Washington?’ He said, ‘My name is Washington, because my father was in Washington D.C. when I was born,’” Ongpin continued. “So, if his father had been in Buffalo or Peoria, Illinois, or Des Moines, he could have been called Buffalo SyCip!”
Despite the ribbing and roasting, Wash in his speech made sure to express to his host and the assembled guests just how pleased he was with how things went that Friday evening.
“One thing that I wanted to let you know is that I’m very happy about tonight,” he said, pointing out that he was seated at the dinner between Ongpin and San Miguel president Ramon Ang, and recalled that he had worked as an adviser for the conglomerate many years ago —together with then lawyer Juan Ponce Enrile—when it was still under Col. Andres Soriano.
And ever the business sage, SyCip ended his speech with advice for everyone in the audience that evening:
“Anyway, I just wanted to give you my point of view,” he said. “Seated between Bobby and Ramon Ang reminds me of a Chinese saying that, if you are negotiating and you’re buying, [act as if] as if you are selling. If you’re selling, [act] as if you are buying.”
It may sound like gibberish to the layman, but it is sage advice for the wise business leaders in the audience.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.