Family Businesses at their Best

In my last article, I warned about the dangers of ignoring and abetting the red flags in family owned businesses and the natural confusion the dual role family members play both in the family and business ecosystem.

In today’s article, I will cite family businesses at their best and how they continue to remain resilient after overcoming generational challenges and family conflict.

The strengths of a family business are plentiful. In terms of organizational metrics, family owned businesses outperform non-family owned companies in sales, profit, and other growth measures by a mile. Some of the inherent characteristics unique to family members are their high commitment as business owners, their willingness to work long hours and their natural instinct to reinvest profits into the business that will enable long term growth.

Indeed, family businesses provide a good opportunity for wealth creation and the secret lies in a well-structured governance system that promotes harmony, improves communication and promotes accountability.

The reality is this, as the family and business become more complex, effective governance structures increases. Unfortunately, as the business leader continues to generate wealth for the business, governance and succession takes a back seat.

So when a major event or risk happens (Illness/death of key family figure, major fight among siblings, among generations) the business goes into a free fall. For some businesses that I have helped, it can be a daunting task to reverse the tide. For a handful, it has become irreversible.

To quote the 8th generation successor of the Philippine’s oldest conglomerate, Jaime Zobel de Ayala, when asked how they have managed to survived two world wars and still came out stronger, he said:

“Ensuring the continuity of a multi-generational business is not easy. It is a challenge in itself to run a business successfully, while family dynamics and relations can often be very complex. Each generation introduces new challenges. No family leader can plan beyond one or two generations, but if each one values continuity and the legacy that has been passed on, they will always look for ways to strengthen the foundations for the next generation.”

Without any question, the Ayala model of governance is something every family enterprise must strive to emulate. They have stayed the course and relentlessly pursued governance through the years.

Today, Ayala is a preferred brand by investors promoting “shared value”. As Jaime succinctly puts it, “Promoting shared value means aligning company success with social progress.”

Another Asian model for governance is the 130 year Hong Kong based Lee Kum Kee Group (established 1888), the world leader in sauces and condiments. Misunderstanding on the way the business was run, unclear succession plans, greed and power almost took the life out of the LKK family business in the 3rd and 4th Generation.

After two successive buyouts, the next generation leader finally decided to exact governance and raised compliance and accountability standards by introducing unorthodox rules like prohibiting members from sitting in the board if they married late, engaged in extra marital affairs, etc.

With more rules introduced, the group extended their longevity streak. Undoubtedly, one very important value that is at the core of LKK is their concept of “Si Li Ji Ren” or “Put others First Before Yourself”. The traditional and overseas Chinese also refer to this powerful value as “Xian Ren Hou Ji”.

These rules, safely embedded in their family charter and reinforced by a Family Council continues to educate, regulate and inspire the 5th and 6th generation family members to be stewards rather than owners of the LKK Group.


What If You Died Tonight? Part 2

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I am challenging the family members to heed my call on the importance of preparing for a future event like death or disability.

Procrastination as they say is a thief of time and has no place in any organization.

Let me be straightforward. Are the issues below happening? If left unresolved, any one issue can trigger an avalanche of conflict among family members that can spillover to the next generation.

Family members have limited communication skills and are unable to handle a future conflict especially when you are gone

  • There is a brewing conflict
  • There is an urgent need to establish harmony within the family
  • The goals and values of the family are unclear
  • There is no clarity on Roles and Responsibilities
  • There is no accountability
  • There is no Formal Succession Plan
  • There is a huge gap between generations in terms of work attitude, mindset, and values
  • Senior generation control is triggering tension
  • Next Generation sense of entitlement is triggering more tension

Planning the family’s business future is a process and there are several stages that must be initiated.

Firstly, the patriarch or matriarch must address critical issues related to family involvement in the business.

Family members wear many hats all at the same time. How does a business leader distinguish between his or her role as president of the enterprise and his or her role as mother or father?

How can a parent distinguish between his/her unconditional love over his/her children and a parent/business leader exacting performance over them?

The same question goes for the younger generation. Do they expect special treatment because they wear son or daughter hats?

To address the dilemma, the family must develop a family constitution or a charter that highlights shared values and vision as the cornerstone of the family agreement.

A constitution can only be effective based on two areas: it should have specific policies governing family-business relationships and it is activated immediately right after signing lest it becomes a useless piece of document. Sadly, every month without fail, my firm in Asia, the Wong + Bernstein Family Business Unit has been approached by family members complaining why their family constitution prepared by other consultants remain ineffective.

Thirdly, a constitution reinforced by a shareholder’s agreement should be prepared. The latter is a legally and enforceable document that regulates shareholder behavior and act as a deterrent for erring family members/shareholders. Without a Shareholder’s agreement, the constitution is empty!

And lastly, the senior leaders must prepare a 5 to 10-year succession plan that can prepare the next generation members to assume leadership based on a future event.

Why are these interventions non-negotiable? Even the best family businesses that I have coached must work hard at governance and relationship building. It does not end with the signing of the agreement.

In many instances, next generation members appear confused and cannot reconcile why I would always advocate a shift in owner mentality to a professional manager mentality when for many years the parents have ingrained ruinous statements such as “someday this business that I built from scratch will be yours”.

An understanding of what the company’s mission is, what its short and long term goals are, and solid job descriptions can be a good starting point for businesses that are going through some form of “natural tension”.

When done right, the transition from parents to young children entering the business phase can be a wonderful opportunity to embed governance and define the boundaries of family and business. Good, open communications fostered by the parents can help build good relationships throughout the different phases.

What If You Died Tonight?

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When you’re dead, you’re dead. 

What happens to your business, however is another story… if you planned the leadership and ownership transition, I congratulate you! In your memorial service, you will be remembered fondly!

Wait a minute!  No plan? That can be chaotic for your family, children, employees, partners and the business itself — a completely avoidable mess. Don’t expect to be remembered fondly!

It is not only scary but too daunting to think of a likely scenario where the founder or patriarch dies without planning the future of the enterprise. In my recent family business coaching engagement in the US and Canada last month, the death of a patriarch was just too much to bear for family members who were caught unprepared.

During our first session, I was peppered with so many questions coming from practically all family members and creditors!

  • What would happen to the business?
  • What would happen to the ongoing projects?
  • Who will take care of the family members?
  • How would this affect our respective families?
  • Will there be conflicting priorities and future plans for the business between other shareholders and the deceased’s family?
  • How do we make decisions amongst us siblings?
  • What will happen to Mom with Dad gone?
  • How much is the total value of our business?
  • Do we need to sell some properties to pay for Dad’s estate taxes?
  • As heirs, how do we go about getting our inheritance?
  • How much and how do we settle our total liabilities?
  • Where will we get the money to pay creditors? Are our loans secured?
  • Where are the list of assets? Who is in charge of safe keeping the Titles?
  • Who will assume the leadership role?
  • Will suppliers and creditors extend the same credit and terms of business they always have or will they begin to pull back?
  • Will customers maintain their confidence in our products and services?
  • Will key personnel suddenly begin to leave?

It is difficult to imagine, especially after working so hard and then all of these questions are raised because you never planned your death or disability. In unfortunate events like this, businesses are liable to fall apart if the proper planning and agreements are not in place.

Sadly, you are not alone though. In a Wong + Bernstein Advisory internal research, fewer than 30% of business owners have a succession plan in Asia!

You can prevent losing all that you worked so hard with a good and enforceable plan.

The key is preparation! Founders, second generation leaders, patriarchs or matriarchs always think of themselves as superheroes and take the inevitability of death lightly until one day he or she discovers something that will forever change his or her perspective about life and living.

And then in a blink of an eye, the mortal faces death and reflects on the family and the family business and the “what ifs” and the ” what should have been done”.

But in all likelihood, it will be too late.

Thus, it is no surprise that the Chinese saying, “Wealth Shall Not Last Three Generations” will continue to consume and haunt families in the event that death suddenly occurs in the family.

Any death can disrupt a functioning family and can mercilessly cause the family business to jolt and veer off course. At worse, the lack of preparation and the entitlement of the family members can cause the family business to fall apart and disintegrate.

How then should family businesses deal with such a powerful emotional event?

Without Communication, There is No Relationship (Part 2)

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“Without respect, there is no love. Without trust, there’s no reason to continue.” This was the overarching message in my last column.

Today’s article will highlight the importance of communication.

In a growing multi-generational family similar to the “A” family featured last week, communication is no longer a benefit, it is mandatory!

This coming June, a timely and very important topic where family members are eagerly looking forward to is the topic related to M&A’s (mergers and acquisitions) and IPO or Public listing. I personally handpicked the topic to create awareness on the need for the family business to understand the concept of enterprise value and also to raise the bar on performance and accountability.

The topic last December was also relevant as the subject focused on the Tax Reform Law and its effects on the enterprise.

And as a fitting finale, being the family’s business coach and growth advisor, I intend to conduct a 30-minute session that focuses on three important areas related to governance.

Three C’s (Communication, Compliance, Commitment), three R’s (Roles, Rules and Responsibilities) and three G’s (Governance, Goals, Growth). 

It is also a wonderful venue in addressing possible questions many families wonder about. How do we educate our family members so that they can be effective owners and contributors to the family legacy? How can family members’ voices be heard if they have issues within the business? Who can work in the family business?

Sometimes, the family decides on a certain philanthropy, foundation or service (community project) to support as well as acknowledge accomplishments and milestones of family members. The last part is spent sharing wonderful stories together.

The meeting usually wraps up in less than four hours. When there are no more issues or topics raised, the whole clan is treated to a sumptuous buffet lunch, the much awaited raffle of travel certificates and their honorarium or per diem for attending.

What the family is employing is a process that prepares and plans the family business’ future. It is called communication. Communication also brings to the table openness and transparency. When these meetings are properly managed, it breeds goodwill, trust and respect both for those active and non-active in the family business.

After helping reverse an emotionally charged conflict among Richard’s children that lasted four years, I felt that creating a communication platform with regular Family and Business council meetings plus a middle of the year gathering was the best “fire wall” approach to deter and eliminate any possibility of renewed conflict.

Additionally, the discipline to meet on a regular basis and the opportunity to embrace “take home values” or new knowledge has positively reinforced their commitment to protect the business.

With a stewardship mindset slowly being embedded among family members, the culture of long term thinking has effectively discouraged personal interests to take root.

Expectedly, while the family continues to experience “rough patches” in terms of their relationships, the fact that they can address the issues in a safe and open manner has given them a certain level of maturity and closeness that was not evident before the meetings were initiated.

For the “A” family, open and honest communication during meetings was the foundation for a better future.

As a final message, do not underestimate the importance of good communication — among members of management, among family members, and particularly between the generations. It is an investment in the future!

Without Respect, There is No Love

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“Without respect, there is no love. Without trust, there’s no reason to continue.”

This is a powerful quote from Paul Chucks that must resonate to all family members torn by strife and conflict. It is also a timely reminder as we celebrate the month of hearts!

For the past six years after its founder Richard’s passing, the “A” family typically gathers for their mid-year family and business council meeting every third Sunday of the sixth month. The family calls it Code 36 representing the third Sunday of the sixth month. It is an event combining family and business performance review with a segment on ownership alignment. I normally add flavor by injecting governance, strategy and growth during the session.

This activity is separate from their regular family and business council meetings. In the Family Constitution that my advisory firm, Wong Advisory drafted six years ago, the members of the Family Council must meet for a total of 20 hours a year spread over five to six meetings while the Business Council members are required to meet every month.

My firm added Code 36 together with the other governance councils before the founder passed away primarily because the family and the business almost fell apart due to major conflicts on many areas (entitlement, in law participation, decision making, power struggle, conflict of interest). The infighting was so intense that it grounded the business to a halt for several years and caused so much heartbreak for the founder. 

In this year’s forthcoming gathering, a total number of 23 members of the second and third generation are expected to attend. Their age ranges from 61 to 15 coming from the founder’s five children and their families. Those below 15 years old can join but are not obligated to be in the function room.

Relevant topics are sorted months before but the objectives are four fold:

  • Evaluate the state of family and the business
  • Review mid-year performances of the operating units
  • Develop long-term goals for the business
  • Evaluate policies to govern family- business relationships

The overarching core messages remain the same and revolve on five powerful values handpicked by the founder himself: Communication + Respect + Trust +Unity = Growth

Just like the last gathering in December, the meeting usually starts with the clan’s Gen 2 anointed leader reiterating the family’s shared vision and values and a story about the growth of the business since its humble beginnings in the 1960’s.

The objective is to remind the younger generation and the extended family members how their grandfather Richard and his wife jointly founded the business through hard work and honest dealings with customers and suppliers. Then a short seven-minute video of the family history will be played. The emotional video instantaneously reconnects the deceased founder to all the members of the two generations and reminds everyone that through regular and open lines of communication, the family enterprise can overcome temporary setbacks.

After the talk, a Gen 3 member usually in charge of finance will report how the business performed over the last quarters and the outlook for the succeeding quarters.

Then the legal counsel, a non-family professional will then provide a quick review of the ownership structure by way of educating newly inducted family members on the importance of stewardship as well as shareholder qualifications and responsibilities. Recently employed family members are those who were invited, signed the constitution and are now full-fledged family assembly members.

To be continued…

Unlocking Your Full Potential

In one of my coaching engagements for a mid-sized family business last year, I recall censuring a next generation business leader in a QBR (quarterly business review) for failing to deliver on his performance targets.

The results were dismal and instead of owning up to the debacle, he ended up pointing fingers at his subordinates. While he was trying to absolve himself of any responsibility, I stood up and showed him two slides.

Slide 1 came from Tom Landry

“A Coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who makes you see what you do not want to see, so that you can be who you have always known you can be.”

Slide 2 came from

“Accept Responsibility for your actions. Be Accountable for your results and Take Ownership of your mistakes.”

The role of a Business Coach is to challenge business owners by way of visioning, accountability and encouragements. It also helps organizations enhance their operations, sales, marketing, management and so much more. Most importantly, just like a sporting coach, a Business Coach will make you focus on the game.

Business coaching is extremely effective in creating successful actions designed to move the business owner in a positive direction.  It is the partnering of client and coach in an extraordinary relationship aligned towards achieving big goals set in milestones. In my years of experience coaching organizations all over the world, a good example of a focused plan is to align organizations and its executives toward a possible listing in the stock exchange in the immediate future.

So, what exactly is business coaching?

Business coaching is for clients who are READY to make changes and improvements in their business. It gives the entrepreneur a business partner who doesn’t necessarily share in the business profits.  Anyone who’s ever had a business partner knows that partnerships are rarely equal. With a Business Coach, you’ll receive unbiased strategic advice for a retained monthly fee usually covering a number of hours, not 50% of your profits.

Business coaching is about SPEED, ACTION and ACCOUNTABILITY. Think about all the workshops and conferences you have attended where you learned a new technique or strategy that was never implemented. Your Business Coach will help you get it done and hold you accountable, but you must be ready to take action. The client does the work, not the coach.

Business coaching CHALLENGES the status quo and exact GOVERNANCE. Your Business Coach asks, “What are your challenges?  What are you NOT doing?  When are you going to do that?”

Business coaching promotes CLARITY OF ROLES between the owner and the professionals consistent with corporate as well as personal values.  When your values are aligned with your business, greater success is possible.

Business coaching helps the business owner create a SHARED VISION AND MISSION for the organization.  A business owner with a Vision is much more likely to succeed than one that doesn’t know where he’s going.

Business coaching helps the business owner identify OPPORTUNITIES.  A Business Coach can help you to see an opportunity you may have passed up.

Business coaching helps the business owner see his business through a DIFFERENT PAIR OF EYES.  A Business Coach can see what you don’t see.

Business coaching brings out the BEST in the entrepreneur.  Have you ever had someone truly interested in your success? Business coaching will push you out of your comfort zone, take you to your limits and in the end you will embrace it!

The Role of an ASEAN Business Coach

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TORONTO, Canada. A Harvard University news material articulated it clearly… “The demand for business coaches has never been greater. With business moving at breakneck speed, frequent job shifts, and limited in-house training, professionals of all levels are often grappling with changes. As a result, organizations are in dire need of leaders who can guide their colleagues through workplace challenges, help them improve performance, and lead them through career decisions.”

Business Coaching is critical in the life of an organization, more so of a family enterprise. Companies engage them to purposely challenge senior executives to raise the bar and partner with the CEO or business owner to exact standards of performance on everyone. They are also referred to as change agents that are sticklers for “best practices” standards.

An experienced business coach is an enabler and offers the organization with a very clear picture where they can pivot and boost profits. They can also help in untangling certain dynamics amongst owners and executives so they can make better decisions about everything related to human resource, operations all the way to accomplishing the annual and three year strategic plans. In the same breath, if the C-suite executives underperform, the business coach can also be unforgiving.

Business coaching is regarded as one of the fastest growing industries in the world, following the technology industry. As reported by IBIS World, an online market research outfit, it is estimated that 88,000 people work as business coaches in an $11 billion market. The industry is forecasted to grow at an average of 18% per year.

The first use of the term “coaching” to mean an instructor or trainer started around 1830 in Oxford University (slang for a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam).  The first use of the term in relation to sports came in 1831.

Historically, the evolution of coaching has been influenced by many other fields of study including those of personal development, adult education, psychology (sports, clinical, developmental, organizational, social and industrial) and other organizational or leadership theories and practices.

And because of the booming market in Asia including the emergence of unifying trading blocs like ASEAN and APEC, business coaching has developed into a more independent discipline that is focused on enhancing the skills set of the owner/entrepreneur, the preparation of a three-year growth plan, relentlessly getting the family business to transition to a governance driven organization and the education of the next generation leaders to become stewards more than owners.

The key ingredient in making the coaching work effective between the owner and the coach is when the values of the family and business are aligned and the shared vision is unequivocally communicated to all the family members and professionals.

Business Coaching is very similar to sports coaching. In sports, a coach pushes an athlete to achieve optimum performance, provides support when he/she is exhausted and teaches how to execute plays that competitors do not anticipate.

A sports coach will make you run more laps and make you work harder than you would on your own, even when you don’t feel like it. A sports coach will tell it like it is.

Fortunately, a Business Coach does many of the same things, but in a way that is focused on creating a successful business minus the challenges or conflict among family members. An effective coach uses simulations, models and various platforms suited to the organization’s ability to adapt to external events as well as regulatory challenges.

To be continued…