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Building A Championship Culture In The Words Of NU's Alpha Bulldog, Hans Sy

Hans Sy speaks about transforming a university's sports culture in Forbes Philippines article.
by John Paulo Aguilera | May 8, 2015
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The NBA's New York Knicks—which finished with the worst season in team history (17-65) in 2015—could learn a thing or two in team building from business magnate Hans Sy, the son of mall mogul, Henry Sy.

Since the SM group acquired National University in 2008, Hans has transformed the school's deplorable sports programs and teams into legitimately-feared, podium-finishing powerhouses. In his current stint, the 58-year-old CEO of SM Prime Holdings, Inc. has been able to stamp out their reputation as perennial doormats with cold, hard proof: championship trophies. The National University's teams in men and women's basketball and lawn tennis, men's badminton, and in cheering currently reign as UAAP champions.

How did Hans reverse the school's fortunes quickly? The answers can be found in a feature appearing in the maiden issue of Forbes Philippines, which was formally launched last May 5.

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In the issue, the NU patron talks in length about the school's astounding rise, propelled not by merely changing personnel or tweaking the training regime, but by fostering a championship mentality as well. And here we've picked out some of the most insightful things we've learned from the Forbes article.

If you're planning to build your own neighborhood team or are Phil Jackson trying to pull out the Knicks from the muck they've sunk in, listen well to these words of wisdom:


Photo via Forbes Philippines

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The primary objective of the Sys when they decided to wasn't to trophies; it was to increase NU's dwindling enrollment. "If I advertise that ‘National University is under new management,’ so what? Instead I said, 'Let’s look into the sports program because when people talk about schools, they talk about sports,'" says Hans. From accomodating a peak of 14,000 students in the '60s, only a thousand applicants were recorded in 2008—with a fire in 1998 that brought down four buildings that certainly did not help.

To expedite matters, the new owners shelled out an initial P400 million for staff management and the construction of a new academic building, as well as a multi-purpose gymnasium, which houses an NBA-sized basketball court, and a volleyball court. A jogging oval and badminto court was also put up. "Of course, we want to improve academic quality, but that takes time. Students graduate after four years. A basketball season is just four months. If we do well, we get a winner’s tag immediately," NU President Teodoro Ocampo explains.

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The success of the sports teams, not coincidentally, has reflected in the school's enrollment numbers: 

Chart via Forbes


Ask wealthy as the family was—with his father Henry Sy still considered the richest person in the country—Hans understood they cannot do this all by themselves. He convened with SM's loyal contractors and mall locators and asked each of them to manage a team. "I told them, 'Look, you guys always tell me you want to show your gratitude to me by giving me gifts, which I always turn down. This time I need your help. You help me develop the teams.'"

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Photo via Forbes Philippines

New Golden City Builders' Manny Sy, a long-time contractor of SM buildings, was put in charge of the main basketball team, the Bulldogs; Ever Bilena's Dioceldo Sy for the Lady Bulldogs; Hyundai Elevator's Sergio Yu for the Bullpups, the junior team; and Hans’ younger brother, Herbert, for the women’s volleyball team. "I would tell them to present their budget, and I would also share with them on those budget. Once I have agreed with their program, I let them handle the team on their own." That's what you call teamwork!

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As part of the sports program, SM's provincial malls became recruitment spots for student-athletes. Hans shares that some recruits even asked for academic exemption, which he didn't allow. "To play well, you have to be intelligent," he says.


Hans seeks to add managers and put up new facilities for other sports such as swimming, track and field, judo, fencing, to usher in the "next stage of NU's transformation."

"We would also like to be known for producing top caliber graduates," the magnate says. He hopes that his business-like approach to extra-curricular endeavors such as sports would be applicable in improving the university's status in the academic sense.

Expect to see more of Hans at the Bulldogs' future games.

For the full story, grab a copy of Forbes Philippines, now available in bookstores and magazine stands nationwide, and on online bookstore,

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