“Preserving corporate history for future generations” by J. Carlitos G. Cruz (July 25, 2011)

SUITS THE C-SUITE By J. Carlitos G. Cruz
Business World (07/25/2011)

British philosopher and historian Robin Collingwood once said, “History is for human self-knowledge. Knowing yourself means knowing, first, what it is to be a person; secondly, knowing what it is to be the kind of person you are; and thirdly, knowing what it is to be the person you are and nobody else is. Knowing yourself means knowing what you can do; and since nobody knows what they can do until they try, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done. The value of history, then, is that it teaches us what man has done and thus, what man is.”

Each of us has a personal history because we live our lives differently.

Companies are made up of individuals with rich histories and, collectively, they also create a unique life story that becomes their legacy.

SGV & Co. this year celebrates 65 years of making history and, to preserve the firm’s contributions to the accounting profession and to the country at large, it embarked on a year-long project that resulted in the opening of the SGV Museum.

In reflecting on what has transpired in nearly seven decades, juxtaposed alongside events that shaped the Philippines and the world, the SGV leadership decided to preserve the SGV story for posterity by archiving and showcasing its many milestones.

One of the strong values of the firm is stewardship, which means that the current partners are merely taking care of the company for future generations; that no one person or group owns SGV. Stewardship, then, was a main driver in investing in this museum that houses our legacy of hard work, discipline, integrity and passion for excellence — a legacy that generations to come can learn about and, hopefully, emulate.

Actual work on the SGV Museum began with a meeting with the Ayala Museum. It was decided that if we were to do this correctly, we would need the assistance of experts. Unfortunately, while auditors may have some of the abilities required of curators (such as attention to detail and an ability to reconstruct historical date), we are not quite adept with the artistic side of museums. What resulted was a dynamic synergy between our two institutions.

The Ayala Museum was asked to develop the museum concept and to manage the realization of the SGV Museum. To build it, we needed a blueprint. While it is a work in progress, the current SGV Museum plan is clustered around three main components. These work together to preserve both the Firm’s history and institutional memories.

First is the Washington SyCip Room that houses our Founder’s many awards, photographs and his fabled collection of owls, turtles and roosters. One enters this room through either of two doors that flank the original hardwood elevator door of the old Trade & Commerce Building in Binondo, where the first SGV office was located in 1946. It serves as a reading room and small, informal meetings can be held with an old world ambience.

Second is the Main Hall that showcases a selection of the SGV Foundation’s art collection. Paintings by National Artists such as Cesar Legaspi, HR Ocampo, J. Elizalde Navarro and Jose Joya hang alongside other Filipino and Southeast Asian artists. The art collection was acquired through the years and also mirrors the local and regional reach of SGV.

Third is the Memorabilia Room where anything and everything about SGV has been selectively preserved. These include samples of its publications, from commemorative coffee table books to the long-running Tax Bulletin that first appeared in 1956. There are items that speak volumes of a particular generation — a wristwatch, tie pins, a plush teddy bear, paper Christmas cards, a slide rule and many other ordinary office items that are now deemed vintage.

To supplement the artifacts that are on display, the museum team also worked on an interactive component. There are digital modules that narrate the SGV story from its beginnings and with attention given to some of the exceptional people who contributed to its legacy of leadership in professional services.

All in all, it took 12 months to compress 65 years’ worth of history.

It was not an easy task because of the voluminous material available — hundreds of the firm’s publications, thousands of photographs and video footage, and immeasurable memories of the more than 32,000 men and women who have entered SGV’s doors.

Winnowing the data to determine what would be included or excluded was a daunting task, but the result was well worth it.

The SGV Museum was opened in time for the 90th birthday of Washington SyCip late last month. At its opening, Vicky Garchitorena, president of the Ayala Foundation (under which the Ayala Museum operates), made the following remark, “Many of our corporations and NGOs celebrate outstanding teachers, students, policemen, OFWs, entrepreneurs and almost every other conceivable sector of society. Except, perhaps, accountants…We [at the Ayala Museum] look forward to this continuing partnership in an effort to ensure that young Filipinos can have hope that it is possible in this country to dream big dreams and to succeed professionally, financially and socially without compromising one’s integrity; that it is possible to create international corporations and be globally competitive; that it is possible to do good and do well.”

As Robin Collingwood articulated, each person has to live history in order to understand it. In turn, this can teach others about who they are. The SGV Museum is home to the achievements and memories of thousands of Filipino professionals who have done the firm — and to a certain extent, the country — proud. It is now open to those who wish to learn of and from their lives. In preserving a company’s history, current and future generations will be able to understand why corporate values endure.

(J. Carlitos G. Cruz is the Deputy Managing Partner and Assurance Head of SGV & Co.)

This article was originally published in the BusinessWorld newspaper. It is for general information only and is not a substitute for professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant. The views and opinion expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of SGV & Co.