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The Sy family of dentists: Three generations

When Dr. William Sy Ting Pang was just starting his own practice half a century ago, he was puzzled why some patients complained the anesthesia was not working.

“I became a dentist because I want to stop people’s pain,” says Dr. William, 80.  “Since I could not seem to help them, I sent them immediately to other dentists.  I did not want to try any procedure on them.  Patients are not guinea pigs!”

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But Dr. William did not stop there.  At first, he thought the drug was probably ineffective.  But no, other dentists succeeded, he thought.  So he figured it must have been faulty technique on his part.

He asked help from others, and finally, a pharmacy head handed him a book on “Mastering Mandibular Block,” which he studied carefully.

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Dr. William decided to experiment first, but not on patients.  He borrowed skulls from the university and diligently practiced on them, until he was satisfied.  Only then did he feel that he had done all he could.

“No one is perfect,” Dr. William says.  “But we should all strive for excellence.”

His sons Dr. Winston Uy Sy, 51, and Dr. Walter “Wally” Uy Sy, who will turn 50 this year, are also both motivated by the same passion.

“Sometimes my patients will say they are already happy with what I have done,” says Dr. Wally.  “But no, I tell them not yet, I will only consider my work good enough only if other dentists are satisfied also.”

Once, when Dr. Winston was doing a crown for my tooth, I was struck by how meticulous he was.  For hours, he tinkered not just with the fit, but also with the shade, so that the crown would blend evenly with the rest of the teeth.

Even when I could no longer differentiate between the various shadings, Dr. Winston was still working on the veneer.  He did not stop until he was satisfied.  By then, of course, no one could tell that one tooth has a crown!

No Favoritism

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In many family businesses, the younger generations chafe at the perceived restrictions imposed by the founders or elders.  Fearful of letting go, the latter often keep a tight hold on the reins, and insist their ways must be obeyed.

“We hear about young people not happy with living under the umbrella of their parents,” says Dr. Wally.  “But we don’t mind the umbrella, because we continue to learn from my father.  He is strict when it comes to quality, but he is a very open person.

“With so many patients, he has learned to accept people for who they are.  He does not compare his children or his grandchildren.  He does not make us compete against one another.  He loves us for who we are.”

I candidly ask Dr. Wally if he ever feels shortchanged in any way, because his brother had taken the opportunity to study abroad while he had not.

“I don’t mind at all,” Dr. Wally smiles.  His father teases, “Winston is more studious.  But you should meet Winston’s eldest son. His head is always buried in a book!”

“Not all children will be equally studious,” I laugh.

Dr. William nods.  “My sons and their children each have their own strengths.”

Speaking of strengths, Dr. Wally is also great at drawing and cooking.

Next Generation

When Dr. Wally’s son Matthew, who just finished Grade Seven, enters the clinic, he immediately gives his grandfather a peck on the cheek.  When I ask Matthew if he also plans to be a dentist, he enthusiastically nods.

“It’s fun!” he says.  “You can help people.”

I am amazed.  Matthew’s sentiments were the same as those of his grandfather’s, his father’s, and his uncle’s.

“Our father made dentistry seem like fun for us, so I do the same to my kids,” says Dr. Wally.  “The clinic is their second home, and they grew up here.  No pressure, but they see we love what we are doing.”

It’s no wonder his two children are following in their footsteps.  Dr. Wally’s daughter Ina is also now doing well in dentistry at the University of the Philippines.

When I ask Dr. Winston what the future holds for their family business, he mentions Ina, his niece, who will likely be the first in the next generation to enter the practice.  There is genuine camaraderie among the multi-generation Sy family.

Dr. Winston’s own children are still too young to decide on a future career, but he will encourage them to pursue their hearts’ desires.  “Whatever they want is fine, we want them to be happy.”

Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the Board of Directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center.  Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail [email protected]).  E-mail the author at [email protected]

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