Filipino tycoon Henry Sy is now the richest man in Southeast Asia.
According to the Forbes billionaires list released earlier today, the 93-year-old mall magnate is now the richest man in Southeast Asia with a net worth of over US$20 billion (PHP1.039 trillion), almost double his 2017 net worth of US$12 billion (PHP623 billion).
Sy placed 52nd on the list, a whopping 42-spot jump from last year’s list. He tied with American hedge fudge manager James Simons for 52nd placed and is one spot ahead of Tesla founder Elon Musk, whose net worth was estimated at US$19.9 billion (PHP1.034 trillion).
This is the tenth time Sy topped the Philippines’ richest list. He is also the only Filipino to make it in the top 100 richest people in the world, or what Forbes calls members of the “three comma club.”
Sy founded a small shoe store in Quiapo, Manila, in 1956, before opening a department store at the same location in 1972. He opened his first mall SM North EDSA in 1985.
SM Supermalls now has 67 malls across the country and seven in China.
The road to building the SM empire, however, hasn’t been one without controversy.
Congresswoman Emmi De Jesus called for the House of Representatives to look into what she called Sy’s “endo empire,” referring to the company’s practice of hiring employees under short-term contracts. “Endo” is short for “end of contract.”
In the Philippines, companies are only allowed to keep employees under probationary status for up to five months. After that, they are supposed to be given benefits like annual leave, 13th-month pay, health insurance, and other benefits.
To skirt this, SM has been accused of hiring employees for only up to five months, then rehiring them for another cycle. These “endo” jobs usually have minimum wage salaries.
According to a report in SunStar, De Jesus said SM claimed it has only 65,000 regular employees in 2016 “while at the same time claiming in an earlier period that it employs 220,751.” “Does this mean that roughly three-fourths of SM employees are indirectly employed under different contractors? Our colleagues at the House should investigate this,” she questioned.
SM Investment Corporation (SMIC) President Harley Sy denied, however, that his company practices “contractualization.” He calls it “hiring for seasons.” He explained, “we have a lot of regular employees. We have to follow the law, and we will find ways to survive.”
SMIC’s net income totaled US$6.083 billion (PHP316 billion) in 2016.
SMIC also has investments in banking, real estate, retail, and tourism.
The next richest Filipino is JG Summit Holdings founder John Gokongwei Jr., with a total net worth of US$5.8 billion (PHP301.5 billion). He placed 305 on the world’s richest list, a whole 253 places away from Sy.