The V in SGV

Wilson P. Tan

The S in SGV was a business icon in the person of Washington SyCip. Last June 30, SGV celebrated his centenary which coincides with the Firm’s 75th anniversary.

On August 26th, SGV celebrated another centennial milestone — that of our Co-Founder, Alfredo M. Velayo. They were born just 57 days apart in 1921.  The two met when they were five years old on the first day of First Grade in P. Burgos Elementary School. They then remained friends for the rest of their lives — they were the original BFFs even before the term was coined.

Mr. SyCip convinced Mr. Velayo to return to the Philippines after the Second World War.  Mr. Velayo had migrated to California with his young family at the time. Seizing the opportunities of post-war reconstruction, Mr. SyCip had started a one-man accounting firm in 1946 and not long after, wrote to Mr. Velayo to join him.  That historic correspondence is considered the firm’s first recruitment letter and is now proudly exhibited in the SGV Museum.

Together, Mr. SyCip and Mr. Velayo worked hard to grow the company. They shared the same values of integrity and excellence; the same vision of helping in national development; and above all, they shared the same deep love for the Filipino people.  In just two decades under their joint leadership, SGV had grown from 5 people in a one-room office to more than 2,000 professionals in member firms throughout Southeast Asia called The SGV Group.

The growth of SGV was phenomenal and it can be attributed to the balance that Mr. SyCip and Mr. Velayo brought to the practice.  Each of them had their roles cut out for them. While both were heavily involved in client work, it was Mr. SyCip who focused on much of the external requirements of the young firm. On the other hand, it was Mr. Velayo who was depended on to take care of the house. He was affable and his winsome ways encouraged a familial work environment.  He took very seriously his role as mentor and steward. His legacy in this respect is embodied in SGV’s Purpose to nurture people and leaders. In fact, when people think of Mr. Velayo, the first thing that they recall is the largeness of his heart.

While Mr. Velayo retired from SGV when he was only 50, his presence was larger than life in SGV. He would faithfully attend all our events and he also chaired the SGV Foundation. He was also a client of the firm and that is how I personally got to know him. Two months ago, I had shared in this column some of the life lessons learned from Mr. SyCip. Here are some nuggets of wisdom that Mr. Velayo imparted to us.

The first is to strive for perfection.

Mr. Velayo was a man of precision — he always started and ended every activity on time. He was also a man of accuracy, which can be attributed to his being an accountant.  Many who had worked with him in numerous Boards recall how he would come prepared for every Board meeting with questions that demanded exact answers. Being an eloquent person, he was impatient with people who could not articulate themselves properly. Mr. Velayo was also always impeccably dressed and looked like a movie star.


The second lesson is to care for your people.

While Mr. Velayo believed deeply in the value of hard work, he believed even more strongly in the importance of taking care of his people in SGV. He focused on finding ways to bring out the best in people and letting their inner strength shine through. He famously said that SGV does not give people jobs, they are given brighter futures.

Caring for others can also be shown in small acts of kindness.  He would tell us that little things matter — a lot. Take, for example, a thank you note to someone who had given you a gift or had done something nice. That short scribble can go a very long way.


The third lesson is to give back or pay forward.

When Mr. Velayo retired from corporate life, he didn’t stop working. Instead, he directed his formidable energies and intellect to finding ways to help and create opportunities for those in need. Not only was he the chair of the SGV Foundation, he also became president of the William J. Shaw Foundation. Both foundations support public educational institutions among many others.

Looking back on his roots, Mr. Velayo was also inspired to support the schools that gave him and Mr. SyCip their educational foundations. At his instigation, they made numerous donations over the years to the P. Burgos Elementary School, the Victorino Mapa High School, and the University of Santo Tomas (UST).

His passion for education shone through both as a student and teacher. During his early years in SGV, he would teach evening classes in UST. Little did he know that more than 60 years after he graduated from UST, the school would honor him with the creation of the University of Santo Tomas — Alfredo M. Velayo College of Accountancy — an institution that now carries on his life’s vision to educate and care for future generations.


The fourth lesson is to have a sense of humor.

This was his trademark — he loved to make people laugh. While he was very serious when it came to business, Mr. Velayo always managed to see the lighter side of things. He never ran out of jokes and anecdotes on any occasion. Of course, some of them were recycled over time but, because of his masterful storytelling, everyone would always end up in stitches. Mr. Velayo enjoyed the company of people. He would host luncheons or dinners for small groups where he would narrate his fascinating life stories peppered with jokes.

The V in SGV is no other than Mr. Alfredo Velayo. The V in SGV stood for his vivaciousness and vitality. The V in SGV represents his values of integrity, excellence and compassion that have endured the test of time. The V in SGV is the vision that our co-founders so carefully crafted and worked for which is to nurture Filipino professionals who can contribute to national development.

Thank you, Mr. Velayo, for your legacy that continues to inspire us in our SGV Purpose to help build a better Philippines.


This article is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.

Wilson P. Tan is the Chairman and Country Managing Partner of SGV & Co.

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