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4 lessons from SM supermalls' Hans Sy

The fourth child and son of PH's richest man Henry Sy shares how he keeps the supermall brand on top of its game.
By Elyssa Christine Lopez |

ON TOP OF HIS GAME. SM Prime Holdings President Hans Sy continues to surprise its customers with innovations of the brand's supermalls. It recently opened the country's third largest supermall in Cebu, SM Seaside. Photo from Campfire Media 

 

 

 

For the man who manages the country’s biggest commercial complex operator, what can he not do?

 

As President of SM Prime Holdings, Hans Sy oversees the company’s main business: supermalls. As of February 2015, there are 56 SM malls nationwide, and six in China. This includes three of the largest ones in the country, set up as entertainment hubs and cities of its own.

 

Related: How SM malls conquer China

 

As the company breaks its own records year after year, the fourth child of the country’s richest man, Henry Sy, shared how he keeps the company on top of its game as told to Forbes Philippines in its April issue.

 

 

Be consistent yet creative

Preserving the company’s brand in all its projects demands discipline, but keeping it innovative requires ingeniousness. Hans is the man to thank by Cebuanos for SM Prime’s newest entertainment hub in the south, SM Seaside. It is the third biggest mall in the country, erected on a once non-existent land a decade ago. On a trip to Cebu a few years back, Hans found the location similar to Mall of Asia’s, perfect for a new supermall.

 

“When we were planning for the project we had in mind that this is a destination center, and learning from my father, we have to give reasons for people to come over,” Hans said.

 

The mall is the first of its kind to have a circular design, a big difference from SM’s usual malls of box-like sizes. It stands on a reclaimed land, and will also soon have an observation tower, 50 floors above the ground. The company has mastered the art of consistent surprises, managing people’s expectations in another level.

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Be collaborative

It’s been said over and over, a good leader is a good follower. Hans and his father always shared a special bond, as Hans was his father’s sidekick every time the former checks out construction of their malls. As the lone engineering graduate in the family, Hans knows the ins and outs of every SM mall.

 

These walks with his father turned out to be the perfect training ground for his role in the company today. From mall designs to people management, everything he knew about were pure insights from these important moments.

 

 

 

BREAKING RECORDS. The SM Seaside is the third largest mall in the country, strategically located in the island province of Cebu. Photo from SM Seaside Facebook page

 

 

Never stop learning

In a chance encounter with Alibaba’s Jack Ma, one of the richest men in China, Hans learned how e-commerce has drastically changed the retail game in the world’s biggest market, tallying double revenues that SM Prime currently earns.

 

“Talking to people like that makes me think that I really have to be creative or else I will lose my business,” Hans said.

 

In one of the board meetings he attended with the China Bank group, Hans “drowned” in financial terms and merely wrote acronyms he could not understand on a piece of paper. After the meeting, he talked to one of his friends who was a banker and asked what they meant.

 

Such moments give Hans the perspective on what SM can still be doing, and maintain a sense of openness to innovation.

 

 

Take it one step at a time

Hans’ quiet sense of leadership and methodical ways has given him the necessary demeanor to deal with the company’s crises several times.

 

In 2012, SM was under fire for its plan to cut 60 trees near its mall in Baguio.

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Senator Loren Legarda confronted Hans in one of the dinner parties they attended, where the SM president had to explain the situation before the Senate committee head for environment and some United Nations disaster management officials.

 

“When there’s a problem, look for a solution. Don’t even try to challenge it because it can happen again, even when it’s a mistake of ours or not,” Hans said.

 

 

*****

Photos from Campfire Media, SM Seaside Facebook account


Elyssa Christine Lopez is a entrepreneur.com.ph's staff writer/editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter @elyssalopz.

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