Lessons from Asia’s richest families

IN THE spirit of Lent, I purposely handpicked the sibling billionaires Robert and Philip Ng, not just because of their inspiring story about sibling and family relationships, best practices in family and corporate governance, and diversification strategy, but also because of their deep and abiding faith as Christians. I highlighted the first three lessons last week and will now complete the last seven key takeaways that will allow family business leaders reading my column to reflect and eventually thrive in a very tough and challenging business environment.

Allow me to continue with the fourth success formula:

  1. ​Acquire additional skills.

Robert Ng is not only a property tycoon, but also a trained lawyer. His brother, Philip, has a degree in city planning, as well as civil and geotechnical engineering.

New skills complement and enhance your decision making criteria. It also provides you with a deeper strategic insight by training your thoughts on the bigger picture and not just on isolated frames.

  1. Expand the portfolio.

In 2012, Philip launched Far East Hospitality, Singapore’s largest hospitality portfolio by asset value. Far East Hospitality made its first acquisition after the IPO when Rendezvous Grand Hotel was purchased for $210 million. It now has a market capitalization of $1.42 billion.

​6. Leave footprints islandwide.

They might not know it, but nearly everything Singaporeans do is associated with the brothers’ ventures — from purchasing a packet of Yeo’s winter melon tea to eating ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery to a staycation at Quincy Hotel. That’s how much control the brothers have over various industries in Singapore.

​7. Diversify investments.

When the real estate market in Singapore and Hong Kong softened and became sluggish, the Ng brothers remained unfazed despite their revenues from Far East Organization and Sino Group dipping by nearly $1 billion to $4.6 billion. They proceeded to purchase a $142 million office tower in Sydney and a $6 million island in New South Wales, before turning their focus back to the Singapore market. Under Far East Organization, Philip intends to pump in $328 million in erecting two new hotels on Sentosa’s conservation site.

​8. Harmony breeds prosperity.

You know what happens in a typical drama serial – two brothers fight over inheritance and neglect the company business. In the end, they may even have to declare bankruptcy. Too far fetched? Definitely not.

Take Yeo Hiap Seng’s (or better known as Yeo’s) case, for instance. In 1935, the homegrown beverage company started as a soya sauce firm but fizzled out in 1994 as a result of a family feud. Today, Yeo’s is owned by Far East Organization and is one of Singapore’s largest food and drink producers with approximately $945.31 million in market value.​

  1. Have faith.

Philip Ng is a Christian and believes in involving Christ in the workplace and practicing Christ-centered leadership. So what does this billionaire say about faith?

Many may have expected to hear the secrets of building business and amassing wealth. Yet, in one of his speeches, he quoted instead one of the stories from the Bible.

“When a rich man asked Jesus, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. You shall not defraud. Honor your father and mother.

‘Teacher,’ the man declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

“At these words the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

Philip went on saying, “The ironic thing about possessions is that you don’t possess the possessions; the possessions possess you.”

  1. Don’t forget your roots.

In 2011, the Jurong General Hospital was renamed as Ng Teng Fong Hospital after the Ng brothers donated $125 million to the hospital. Philip Ng said “the gift served to give back to the Singapore community as well as leave a lasting memory of our father”.

And if I may add to the success lessons attributed by the online magazine mustsharenews.com to the Ng siblings, a key barometer in measuring the longevity of any family business is how the succession process is planned and implemented. Success will never happen without a succession plan or even with a flawed plan. The secret is doing the plan early as the transition takes anywhere from five to 10 years.

The process of selection, training, supervision and allowing the next generation leader to assume an influential role with daunting responsibilities can be overwhelming if done hurriedly. Rushing the succession due to an event triggered by a death or illness of the patriarch can be destructive and will cause more harm than good.

Moral of the story? Never be afraid to dream big, keep the faith, execute plans for the long term, work not just hard but with a burning desire to make a difference and finally prepare the smooth handover to the deserving and most qualified family member!

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