Mano po, Tatang

Johans Juruena was only nine years old when he had a chance encounter with SM founder Henry Sy Sr. That brief encounter profoundly impacted his life.

It was 1978, and Juruena was looking forward to his yearly summer visit to Manila. Summers, for many youngsters, were spent hanging around at what was then Shoemart along Carriedo Street in Quiapo, Manila, Jaruena’s mother, Erlinda, worked as a sales clerk for the growing store.

He still vividly remembered what the shoe store looked like. “It sold shoes for men, ladies, and children. There was a glass display in the middle where several shoes were showcased.”

During that same summer, Juruena bumped into store owner Henry Sy, whom SM employees fondly called “Tatang.”

‘Tatang’ Henry Sy has one unbeatable formula in his business: ‘Know customers’ needs.’


Father to all

Juruena shared that his mother told him to pay his respects to Sy through pagmamano, the traditional gesture of respect toward the elderly by touching one’s forehead to the back of an elder’s hand as an act of “blessing.”

“When Tatang visited the store along Carriedo Street to check the display and its merchandise, it just so happened that I was there. I was lucky enough to approach him and pay my respects,” he recalled. “He was smiling. He even held out his hand for me to ‘bless.’”

While observing the store owner, Juruena overheard how Tatang constantly quizzed his employees about what the customers needed. “What are customers looking for that we don’t have?” Tatang would ask. “What do our customers need that we don’t have?”

During that brief encounter, the youngster became an admirer of Tatang — for his attention to what customers needed most, which also strengthened his determination to be an employee of the company just like his mother.


Working for SM

It was 1990, when Juruena, fresh out of college, became part of SM. He first worked as a sales utility clerk, facing customers, day in and day out, that honed his skills as a salesman.

“North EDSA is the first Supermall of SM. During our time, customers would line up as soon as the mall opened before 10 a.m. The foot traffic at North EDSA was something else,” he recalled.

His next encounter with Tatang happened while handling the Men’s Shoes section at the SM Store North EDSA. “I saw him visit. I was already a Men’s Shoes Department supervisor, that was then 1996 or 1997. My manager wasn’t around that day; he had the day off. Usually, Tatang would drop by the Men’s Shoes section first. We were all ready.”

Tatang reminded Juruena and the other employees to keep “the sandals and other footwear clean. That way, he said, “the customers could appreciate their products better. It was a simple but important lesson that Juruego would carry with him throughout his life.”


Salute to a continuing legacy

Fast forward to 2023. Many things have changed, but some things have remained constant. SM is celebrating its 65th year in the industry.

Juruena’s experience working at SM is a testament to the company’s decades-long commitment to top-notch customer service and Tatang’s enduring legacy. He is now a manager at SM Store Quiapo and now shares to the new employees what Tatang imparted to him.

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