Words tycoons live by during crisis
Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp. president and CEO Alice Eduardo. Photo by Mau Aguasin courtesy of PeopleAsia magazine

Words tycoons live by during crisis

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2020 - 12:00am

Like the dewfall

There are few lines as picturesque, as articulate, and as evocative as the line, “like the dewfall...”

I hear this phrase every time I hear Mass, as it is part of a prayer.

Words that nourish like the dewfall help create business empires, make generals win wars, make doctors save lives, make women build edifices, make teachers inspire generations of students, make men seek and find redemption. For some, they help people get up in the morning and seize the day.


The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis faced by anyone spared of World War II — from senior citizens to millennials to Generation Z. It has claimed lives, halted livelihoods, and wrought untold anxiety. The future, even as I write this, is uncertain.

But despite the gloom and the doom, people are carrying on with their lives, marching forward with the most powerful arms in their arsenal — hope and the refusal to give up.

I asked five extraordinary people the words that have shaped their lives and outlook during crisis, like the dewfall…


SM Investments co-chairman Tessie Sy-Coson.

Tessie Sy-Coson is co-chairman of SM Investments, one of the country’s largest conglomerates started by her late father Henry Sy. According to Forbes magazine, her SM experience spans retail merchandising, mall development, and banking. She also serves as the chairperson of BDO Unibank, a retail bank.

Henry Sy started his shoe business in 1958. In 1972, a year of crisis leading to the declaration of martial law, he turned Shoe Mart into the SM Department Store. In 1983, another year that saw the Philippines in crisis after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, Sy opened his first shopping mall, SM City North EDSA.

Now the captain of the ship her father built from scratch, reportedly with only 11 centavos in his pocket, Tessie is steering SM through the economic crisis wrought by the pandemic. But she lives by these words her father told her: “My dad always used to tell us, ‘In good times, you work hard. In bad times, work harder’.”

Last November, when COVID-19 was just a blip in the world’s consciousness, Tessie, eldest child of Henry Sy and his wife Felicidad, told some members of the media during a thanksgiving gathering: “You know, I always look at things from the positive side. So, I’m thankful for many blessings in many areas. I do have problems here and there, but I have to always psych myself up to be on the positive side.

“I do have a lot of things to do, but whenever I complained, I thought, ‘Maybe without this, I will be feeling older’,” she said.


Ayala Corp. president and COO Fernando Zobel de Ayala. Photo by Joey Viduya

Fernando Zobel de Ayala is the president and chief operating officer of Ayala Corp., now celebrating its 186th year. He is also chairman of Ayala Land Inc., Manila Water Company Inc., and AC Energy Philippines Inc.

Fernando was named Management Man of the Year in 2018 by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), which for that year had the overarching theme, “Competing in the Age of Disruption.”

Even back then, Fernando said in his acceptance speech before MAP, “I realize that this theme remains relevant and resonant, regardless of the period.”

In times of disruption, then and especially now, Fernando, the second son of Don Jaime Zobel de Ayala and his wife Doña Bea, is guided by these words of the Dalai Lama: “Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise.”

He elaborates: “We are facing one of the most serious challenges in recent history. We cannot allow this difficult situation to overwhelm us. We have tried to leverage our knowledge and resources as a business group and as individuals to help the country.”

“With a strong sense of hope, optimism and a solid commitment to find solutions, I am confident that we can overcome any challenges that we face and come out stronger as a country in the end.”


Alice Eduardo, the Philippines’ “Woman of Steel” is president and CEO of Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp., one of the biggest construction companies in the Philippines.

And this she did by being brave enough to take on hard work, gender discrimination, personal crisis and every challenge under the sun to be the woman behind numerous edifices and virtually all the foundation work of buildings from Cavite City to Smokey Mountain, from Batangas to Pampanga, Taguig to Pasig. She has also built ports and airports; power plants, bridges and buildings; highways and Skyways. And now, she’s building a city.

She started Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp. in 1995, but in 1997, the Asian financial crisis struck, leaving Alice with heavy construction equipment that she couldn’t immediately use because of the economic slowdown. Other firms decided to sell their equipment but Alice held on to hers.

Thus, when Henry Sy decided to build his sprawling Mall of Asia and other big malls despite the crisis, Alice was one of the very few who had the equipment to undertake the construction of their foundation. Aside from building the MOA, she was also tasked to build the foundation of several other SM malls in Luzon and residential buildings like the Sea Residences, Shell Residences, Shore Residences and the SM Bay Arena at the MOA complex. When opportunity knocked, Alice Eduardo was ready!

So what are the words that are etched on steel in Alice Eduardo’s life? She cites three: “Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful” (Joshua J. Marine); “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29-11); and “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall” (attributed to several eminent men, from Confucius to Nelson Mandela).

She tells me, “I feel more fulfilled after I have accomplished something during difficult times. Challenges are really enablers for me.”

Tessie, Fernando and Alice have found guiding words, that, like the dewfall, pervaded and nourished their lives so that hope and resilience could take root, and flourish.

(To be concluded)

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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