Hans Sy tells Forbes how champion Bulldogs teams won over new students for NU
When people talk about schools, they talk about sports," says NU chairman Hans Sy. Jerome Ascano

“WHEN people talk about schools, they talk about sports.”

In the article ‘Building A School of Champions’ that appeared in the maiden issue of FORBES Philippines magazine, Hans Sy reveals how he brought back National University (NU) to relevance and prominence by reviving its dormant sports programs.

Sy, the chairman of the board of NU, is widely credited with turning around the 115-year old school’s fortunes after the SM Group of Companies bought a 70 percent controlling stake in NU from the Jhocson family.

The Sampaloc-based school had by then barely been surviving since a fire in 1998 gutted four buildings in the campus, with the student population dwindling to 1,000 in 2008 from a peak of 14,000 in the 1960s.

“If I advertise that ‘NU is under new management,' so what? When people talk about schools, they talk about sports,” Sy says in his FORBES interview.

With this in mind, the SM scion tells FORBES he took a hands-on approach in reviving the school's sports program - from designing the Bulldogs’ uniforms to building the gymnasiums and other necessary infrastructure.

SM invested an initial P400 million for a new building that housed classrooms, offices and laboratories. A multi-purpose gym with an NBA-sized basketball court, volleyball and badminton courts and a jogging oval were also added.

The 59-year old president of SM Prime Holdings Inc. also turned to his friends and business partners to help him manage NU’s athletic program. Each contractor or company was not only assigned to oversee a team but to also provide their charges with a five-year turnaround strategy.

“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.’”

SM provincial malls also became recruiting grounds for potential student-athletes who were given proper coaching, housed in air-conditioned dormitories, provided improved nutrition and made to go through a tough training program. 

His efforts have paid off.

NU teams made the podium in eight of the 12 disciplines it took part in during the school year, capped by the basketball team's first UAAP championship in 60 years. Its cheerdancers also broke new ground by winning a bronze medal at the 2015 International Cheer Union’s World Cheerleading Championships in Florida.   

But the numbers that matter are these: in the 2008-09 school year, NU only had 1,698 enrollees. In 2014-15, the school has 7,755 students in its rolls.


By his own admission, Sy says all the winning is preparation for the next stage in his plan to transform NU: producing not only varsity champions but also top placers in the country’s board examinations for future lawyers, accountants, engineers and health professionals.

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