The Critical Role of the Fourth Generation

The entry of the fourth generation in the late 1990s signaled Royal Selangor’s need to cater to the tastes of younger markets. “Pewter has a new attitude”, is their mantra and the fourth generation has a lot to do with this strategic move. As to who will eventually succeed patriarch, the family remains reticent. The family is fiercely protective of control over Royal Selangor but the family business leaders understand the importance of hiring professional managers.

Globally, only 10 to 15 per cent survive up to the third generation, according to a study by Family Business Prof. Randel Carlock of Insead.  But there are a handful of home-grown companies which have beaten the odds and are now into the fourth generation. 

Prof Carlock told “The Business Times” that many firms don’t last more than three generations. They go bankrupt, merge or close down because they just can’t face the competition.“But working with family, people can sometimes get emotional, and so you need professional management. It’s all about combining family sentiments with professional management,” he added.

Associate Professor Chung Chi-Nien from the NUS Business School said that business leadership needs to be selected based on competence and not just by traditional family hierarchy. He said: “My study shows that ideally, family members should not make up more than 60 percent of the department heads. The rest should be non-family professionals. The family members, have vested interest and have a more long-term view of the business, while non-family members, with different capabilities, will bring new ideas and perspective to the business.”

This is the case with Royal Selangor.  Chen Tien Yue, a Gen 4 successor candidate says,  “Four of us from the fourth generation of the family are currently working in the Royal Selangor group of companies. Our leadership team at Royal Selangor consists not only of family members but also non-family managers with decades of Royal Selangor experience working closely with dynamic young department heads. The Department heads are all in their 30s. This is the team taking us forward for the next 20–30 years.”

Family Business expert Dr Chung said that ownership structures are commonly used in Taiwan for dynasties.  In an ownership structure, the founder divides the shares of the various companies equally among his children.  For example, if the family has three companies run by three different sons, each company will own about 30 per cent of the other company.

He said: “In this case, no one has total ownership of a company. This prevents fighting within the family after the founder dies and ensures that there is a balance of power.”

A trust can also be an effective way to ensure that shares in a business can continue to be held together for the benefit of all family members, said HSBC Private Bank’s private wealth solutions managing director, Mr James Aitken.The family members are obliged to manage the assets and act in the best interests of the beneficiaries, guided by the wishes of the patriarch. The governance document sets the rules as to how the various family members participate in the business – both in terms of management and as shareholders.

Business owners often are busy with the daily routine in their business operation, leaving little time for business succession planning. We conclude that succession is one of the most important things business owners can do for their dependents & shareholders to ensure corporate longevity. This is one of the topics I will extensively discuss in a seminar entitled Family Constitution: Your Wonderful Gift to the Next Generation. It is on August 5 at the Tower Club in Makati and open to the public.

(esoriano@wongadvisory.com)

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