Lady of good fortune

Lizanne Uychaco | photograph courtesy of Lizanne Uychaco

Lizanne Uychaco wears many hats. She is the president of Sunshine Place, a learning and recreation center for seniors. She is also the senior vice president for corporate services of the SM Investment Corporation. And to art lovers and believers of Chinese geomancy, she
is the artist who paints images of the feng shui coin, a symbol of wealth and luck among the Chinese.

In my recent visit to the Sunshine Place, she shared with me her career highlights as a business executive and her interest in the visual arts and music. These are the two facets of her life for which she is known, respected and admired.

At home in Sunshine Place

At first glance, Lizanne, who prefers power dressing, gives the impression of a no-nonsense, tough lady. Anyone who does not know her might be intimidated by her serious mien. However, when one approaches her and she smiles, one quickly realizes that this is one gracious lady who, as the conversation progresses, turns out to be fun, articulate and relaxed. 

Lizanne is very much “at home” at Sunshine Place. Her enthusiasm shows all over her pretty face as she speaks of this gathering place where seniors meet to paint, dance, exercise, listen to talks or concerts of music virtuosos or simply converse and eat healthful food.

Lizanne Uychaco with Tessie Sy-Coson.

“This is the brainchild of Tessie Sy-Coson and her mother, Felicidad Tan Sy. This is a project of the Felicidad T. Sy Foundation,” Lizanne narrated. “Mrs. Sy envisioned it to be a wellness center for total development of mind, body and soul. So, it has a green ambiance. The restaurant serves healthy food, but it also has comfort food that the ladies look for.”

Mrs. Sy, Lizanne pointed out, “is dedicated to her advocacies  — health and wellness. The St. Luke’s Health and Wellness Center was named after her because she contributed funds for its establishment. She supports health centers all over the country. She is also active in the Catholic Church. It was she who started the Masses in Megamall.”

Tessie Sy, on the other hand, “acquired the Sunshine Place Building and was directly involved in its design and renovation. She wanted to make sure it would be a safe place for seniors. Each floor had many partitions before, so she had all these taken down to allow comfort, plentiful air and free movement for the seniors. She made sure that the furniture is sturdy for the members and their guests to prevent any accident. They can hold on to the table, to the chairs.

“Tessie would come every Saturday for meetings with engineers and architects. She dedicated her time and resources to the creation and establishment of Sunshine Place. That is Tessie, always hard working and passionate about anything she does, whether at work or in a civic

My longest job

If she could speak well of the Sy mother and daughter, it is because Lizanne has been with SM the last 15 years. Before SM, she worked with Globe, “and SM was my client. During that time in Globe, I was looking at the sales and distribution for the Philippines, as well as the international community. So, I met up with SM and tried to convince them to sell our products. So, we were able to sell through SM. SM was my valued client because they were performing very well. But also, Globe had to have a store in every SM mall. So, on that side
since I was running the stores, I was also their client. We had a relationship in the past.”

After six years at Globe, she moved to Philam Life AIA, where her boss was Ambassador Jose Cuisia. “I worked at Philam Life AIA for four years. I thought I would stay until retirement because their corporate culture was excellent. Their executives were all home-grown.”

She stayed until she was told by Cuisia that he was retiring. All the while she had been offered a job at SM, “but I didn’t want to leave while Mr. Cuisia was still at Philam Life. When he was about to retire, he told me, ‘Lizanne, it’s okay for you to go ahead. I’m anyway retiring already. I know SM is a very good company. I sit in the board of one of their companies.’”

Her friends warned her about SM and its corporate culture. “Some people were telling me, ‘You know, you’re not a fit for SM because you’re used to multinational companies. You’re used to doing everything by yourself.’ But I found out later that SM is a perfect fit for me. In fact, it’s my longest job.” She has stayed for 15 years already “and I am enjoying every moment of it. I am happy with my bosses and I am happy with what I am doing.”

When I asked her how it is like working with the Sy family members, she said, “Very easy. Because they are very clear. Alam mo ang Sy family kasi, they grew up working eh. Bata pa lang sila nagtatrabaho na sila. It’s not like when you work for a multinational company, to have something approved, kailangan it’s a whole preparation. Ang dami mong papakitaan. Dadaan ka pa sa ganon. Dito sa SM group, alam mo na. Kapag ganito, ito ang mag-aapprove. Minsan hindi ko pa tapos ‘yung sentence ko, alam na nila yung ibig kong sabihin. They can decide already. And they don’t like you to give long presentations. Simple, straight to the point.” 

Most of the time she works with Tessie. Sometimes, she deals with Harley.

Mariano Uychaco and sons

Lizanne may be her own personal creation, having made it on her own. Yet, her family and the way she was raised have been determining factors to what she has become — a successful top executive who does art as an avocation.

She related, “My mom was a Queen of Negros during her time. My father is from the Uychaco family. At the time theirs was one of the most prominent families. My great-grandfather was a founder of China Bank. In fact, our family sold our shares. We were the first to sell our
shares to SM.

The original family firm was called Mariano Uychaco and sons. Mariano was Lizanne’s great grandfather. Her grandfather was Don Carlos, who owned several buildings Binondo. The Uychacos were wholesalers of hardware. The company lived for 50 years but the family eventually closed it down. It is from her forebears that she inherited her work ethics.

Her parents made sure she would be educated well. “I went to school from kinder to college at St. Scholastica’s College,” Lizanne said. She was the editor in chief and the president of the student council.

Unlike her mom, who was an operatic singer, she could not carry a tune being tone deaf. Fast forward to the recent time, Lizanne decided to take voice lessons. She had met up with a former nun who left the convent and was offering piano and voice lessons. “I told her I am
too old and I cannot carry a tune. Sabi niya, ‘There’s no such thing. I can teach you. I have a 40-plus-year-old student.”

Every Sunday she had her teacher fetched. “We would have piano lessons and, then, have dinner. Alam mo ba, natuto akong magpiano. Tuwang tuwa ako.”

By the time her teacher left for the United States, she had already learned eight pieces, among them “Somewhere in Time,” “All I Ask Of You” and “Memories.”

Favorite Chinese coin

It is for her paintings, of course, that Lizanne is popular and has a multitude of fans and collectors. “Generally, I paint things that bring good luck,” she shared. “That’s the Chinese heritage in me naman. My favorite subject is the Chinese coin.

“I was a hobbyist. I just really enjoyed painting. I had a very good art teacher in school. Later, I kept taking classes at the Ayala Museum. What happened was Ayala launched me in a discovery series. Then, I put up an exhibit and that was how I started commercially.”

The rest of her story, of course, is her continuing success as a visual artist, with many homes of tycoons and society people giving her art works special space in their homes as they seek abundance and blessings in their lives.

Lizanne, one would imagine, has everything in life that she wants. But she still has dreams to fulfill, big and small.

Her bucket list includes “learning to sing one song. If I can go to the karaoke bar and not just listen but actually have the confidence to lift the microphone, that’s good enough.”

She has also started to take digital painting and multi-media arts. She is now enrolled at the Asia Pacific College and is taking lessons via online.

Between her managerial responsibilities, her studies and her painting, Lizanne has her hands full. She is an accomplished lady who has been blessed with good fortune. It has been her hope to share hope and faith in one’s future through her paintings, and if she has given inspiration to others, she has also received as many blessings in life. She is one fulfilled woman because she has used her talents well and, as a result, has received more.