The Health Secrets of Billionaires

BULL MARKET, BULL SHEET By Wilson Lee Flores (The Philippine Star)
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Oscar Lopez, Henry Sy Sr., Vicente Ayllon, John Gokongwei Jr., Socorro Ramos, Washington SyCip, Emilio Yap and George SK Ty
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If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it.— George Burns (1896-1996)

What are the secrets to longevity of some of the most successful business leaders in the Philippines?

It is interesting that although I am still young and even when I was still a student, I’ve always preferred talking to the oldest and often wisest people, whether they’re businesstaipans, political leaders, writers, or others. I have the highest respect for old age; maybe it’s part of our Chinese tradition to revere people with more years compared to Westerners who seem to celebrate youth more?

Longevity Secrets of Oscar Lopez & Henry Sy

Recently, this writer had a lively chat with Education Secretary Armin Luistro and Knowledge Channel Foundation founder Rina Lopez Bautista about their joint efforts to promote distance learning via TV to the far-flung rural barrios and isles of the Philippines. In the middle of the conversation, I asked Rina what her 81-year-old father and conglomerate patriarch Oscar Lopez is busy with these days.

I was surprised when Rina said that her dad was planning to climb Mount Kinabalu in Sabah (which is historically part of Philippine sovereignty due to its ownership by the Sultanate of Sulu) of Borneo island, Malaysia, this coming May.

Wow! An 81-year-old tycoon climbing the 4,095-meter-high Mt. Kinabalu when someone like me, who’s half his age, hasn’t even climbed Mt. Makiling yet!  Oscar Lopez leads a healthy lifestyle, eats healthily and exercises regularly.

Instead of going to parties or nightspots, Lopez is known to be a scholar and book lover with an impressive library at home. By the way, Mt. Kinabalu is the 20th highest mountain on earth by topographic prominence.

Whether we are billionaire tycoons like Oscar Lopez or an ordinary Juan de la Cruz, we should never let age or any obstacles limit our dreams. Age is only a number, and we can be forever young with our positive thinking, hard work, healthy lifestyle of no smoking or hard drinking, and regular exercise.

Recently at a birthday dinner hosted by beauty salon tycoon Ricky Reyes for GMA-7 top executive Wilma Galvante at his mansion in Pasig City, Reyes told me that during a recent visit to his old friend, SM and BDO founder Henry Sy, at the end of the lunch, the self-made taipantold him to buy a condo unit from his son Henry Sy Jr.’s SM Development Corporation. Ricky Reyes laughed that even at the apogee of economic success and at his advanced age, the 87-year-old Henry Sy still thinks of business always.

Century Properties Group boss Ambassador Joey Antonio also told me he respects Henry Sy so much that he recently visited his home during the Chinese Lunar New Year to present a gift. At the end of the visit, Antonio was very curious and told Sy that the business leader had already achieved so much, what else did he want to attain? Joey Antonio laughed when Henry Sr. replied, “Give me a good deal.” Antonio told me, “That is the reason Henry Sy and his family are immensely successful; they have dedication and focus.”

What is the secret to longevity of Henry Sy, who I’ve known ever since I was a college student? I heard that the Shopping Mall King likes to walk around his malls every day — even during holidays — to inspect and keenly observe SM’s operations for efficiency and customer satisfaction. He describes this as “management by walking around.”

On Girls and Gokongwei’s Naps

Last year at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Philippines’ biggest homegrown life insurance giant Insular Life at Meralco Theater, I approached the then 79-year-old Insular Life chairman Vicente “Ting” R. Ayllon to ask him for his secret to longevity. He was pleasantly surprised at my question, smiled and whispered to me: “Marry a young wife, Wilson, that’s my secret!”

Every time I greet SGV Group founder Washington SyCip (who will turn 90 on June 30) to ask about his longevity secret, the brilliant business whiz will wink at me and jokingly tell me in our Hokkien dialect, “Appreciating the beauty of women.” I heard the true secrets to his longevity are his personal discipline, nonstop work even after formal retirement from SGV, and his healthy lifestyle.

Wash SyCip’s late father, the top banker and prewar Chinese Chamber of Commerce president Dr. Albino SyCip, shared his longevity secret with then-young Enrique Cheng — future boss of Landmark Department Store: “Eat less to eat more,” meaning eat small meals and not too much food in order to eat many more times through a longer life.

JG Summit Holdings, Inc. founder John Gokongwei Jr. is two years younger than business competitor Henry Sy Sr. and will turn 85 years old this August, yet he still goes to the office every day and travels to Shanghai every month to look at his diverse businesses. What I noticed from this remarkable business visionary is that he can eat anything, from steak to chicharon, in moderation, and that he is disciplined with daily treadmill use and swimming.

Another health secret I learned from Gokongwei, which unfortunately I have not yet started to practice, is his taking an afternoon nap every day after lunch, ever since he was a young entrepreneur in Cebu before coming to Manila in 1950. In the early years, he said he’d just doze off in his office chair and cover his face with a newspaper.

Like Gokongwei, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) president and flour mill/sugar mill taipan Dr. Alfonso Uy also believes in taking afternoon naps, or what scientists call “micro sleep.” Other achievers in history who practiced napping include America’s legendary tycoon John D. Rockefeller, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, inventor Albert Einstein, artist Leonardo da Vinci, the greatest British leader Winston Churchill, and US Presidents John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

Work, Exercise Regularly & Never Really Retire

Philtrust Bank boss Emilio T. Yap also once replied to my question on his longevity by saying, “Having a clear conscience, so you can have good sleep every night.” I heard people close to him say that he eats healthily and exercises regularly, always going to work.

National Book Store chain founder Socorro C. Ramos told me one of her secrets is never to retire, to keep on working somehow and to keep yourself busy. John Gokongwei Jr. agrees and pointed out Singapore statesman Lee Kuan Yew and SGV Group founder Washington SyCip as examples of people who still keep busy. People may retire as bosses of their firms but not be idle; never retire from being busy.

Hong Kong’s famous billionaire, media taipan and philanthropist, 104-year-old Sir Run Run Shaw reportedly drinks ginseng soup, an ancient Chinese herb, as part of his longevity secrets, which costs him HK$300,000 per year. Every morning at 5 a.m., he walks for one hour for exercise, then he does the ancient Chinese exercise qigong (pronounced as “chi-kong”).

Sir Run Run Shaw only retired as the boss of his media conglomerate when he reached his 100th birthday.

Last but not least, another business leader who is a health buff with discipline is Metrobank, Toyota Philippines and Philippine Savings Bank boss George SK Ty. Under Chito Sobrepeña, his Metrobank Foundation also won the grand Anvil award.

What are the health secrets of George Ty? Like John Gokongwei Jr., Ty doesn’t usually attend parties or socials. In fact, the taipan told me he turns down all invitations to parties and socials, but he hosts one annual dinner party at his residence every year for friends and clients.

George Ty is known to swim every day as exercise. When I asked his two hardworking and obedient sons Arthur Ty of Metrobank and Alfred Ty of Federal Land if they are as disciplined as their dad in daily morning swims, they both smiled and replied that their father is definitely more disciplined than they are.


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