Now that Papa is dead, what should we do?

THIS is the second part of the article I wrote about the Wong family that owned Cosmos Bottling Corp. The brand was one of a handful of local beverage companies that was competing with Coke and Pepsi in the 70s and 80s. With Henry Wong’s effective leadership, Cosmos remained the only local brand left to fight the global giants.

In my previous article, the death of Danny’s father, Henry Wong, due to a malignant tumor was a major setback. It was so unexpected as Henry at the age of 53 was at the peak of his entrepreneurial career, having led the turnaround of Cosmos Bottling Corp.  from a state of stagnation to becoming a major player right after WWII.

Danny has a vivid recollection of that fateful day in 1970 and he narrates, “While attending the graduation of my other brother in the US, Papa suffered a stroke which was caused by a tumor in his brain. The stroke paralyzed half of Papa’s body. He was devastated! After the operation, the verdict was malignant. All the dreams of Papa went down the drain. I even asked myself these questions…Why him? He did not smoke! He did not drink! He ate healthy food! He played golf for his exercise! And why so unexpected?”

Six months to live

Danny continued with his story. “Papa was given only six months to live. But we were afraid to tell him for fear of making matters worse for him. We didn’t want to aggravate his state. And all the while he was hoping for a full recovery.”

It is painful and difficult for a family member to inform the patriarch about his debilitating condition, but by opting not to disclose his state of health, the family business would end up being compromised.

On the other hand, by disclosing to Henry, the family members could have worked their way toward the succession process and despite Henry being incapacitated, he would have given instructions to family members to prepare the leadership transition to the next generation.

Danny went on to share, “The day before Papa died, he could barely breathe. His second brother Hubert visited him in the hospital. Papa with a frail voice just told him, ‘Bahala na kayo’ (Please take care of things). The next morning, he was dead.

What next?

The stockholders, composed of Henry’s three brothers, a cousin, a nephew and Danny, met after the burial to decide who will succeed Henry as president.

Following Chinese tradition, the members of the immediate family would always have the preferential status over the secondary families. And Danny was next in line.

Inexperienced successor

Danny was barely a year in the business. After finishing his MBA in the US, he was requested by his father to return home to learn the intricacies of running the operations of the enterprise. Danny had the right qualifications except the experience, so expectedly, an outsider was chosen to lead the business.

Danny understood and respected the decision. In his own words, “Due to the inadequate experience on my part, and due to my relatively young age, the triad (uncles) had no choice but opted for an outsider to run the company. His name was William Ma Padua.

“Uncle William was actually a cousin of Papa who worked with him from the very start. He had the experience, was educated and a very devout Christian. And he empowered the younger executives to make the decisions and learn from their mistakes. He set the guidelines and we worked within the guidelines. The business grew and we continued with our expansion.”

But another unexpected crisis happened.

To be continued.

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