Tag Archives: VUCA world

Nothing is Certain Except Death

It is a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous (VUCA) world out there! I am constrained to add that on top of the uncertainty of business, the demise of a family business leader can cripple the enterprise overnight.

The sudden death of a colleague in 2015 was a stark reminder that life is fleeting.

A year earlier, we were exchanging notes and quite excited about our planned collaboration to “gain a beach head” by setting up businesses in emerging ASEAN member economies. Then suddenly, I received news that he became terminally ill and given a few months to live… six months to be exact. In a blink of an eye, his health deteriorated and went downhill. He was gone at 64. Death came so swiftly like a thief in the night. He left behind a wife, three children and a 2,700 plus workforce.

My friend passed away without preparing any leadership transition and as the family grieved, the children struggled to consolidate his estate comprising assets, liabilities including the three core businesses. And as if on cue, worried creditors swooped down like vultures, naturally demanding for answers on how loans will be repaid.

For the three children (all in their 30’s), they were obviously unprepared, untrained and used to the good life generously provided for by their visionary father. With the death of the patriarch, they were now fearful of an uncertain future and the “what’s next”. I realized that the family needed help so I volunteered any assistance but my offer was politely turned down.

When the youngest child was diagnosed with a certain form of mental disorder and had to be hospitalized, the other siblings continued to manage the business but their apparent lack of training and limited skills worsened the situation. Sensing a bleak future, employees started to leave the company.

The business suffered its biggest setback when their credit lines were discontinued. Clearly, everyone where at a loss due to the sudden void left by the demise of their leader.

Four months after, the children pleaded for help and requested my intervention.

The six months that followed was probably one of the most challenging times the family members experienced under my brand of governance… and a test of patience for me and my team as well. I almost gave up on a number of occasions. The family members were stubborn, indecisive, arrogant and distrustful of our turnaround initiatives. Worse, they were incredulous and hardly contributed to the efforts.

I felt helpless when they could not decide on critical issues and in my quiet moments I would lay the blame on their deceased father for overprotecting and raising entitled children. Their actions were extremely frustrating and a disservice to the values of hard work and tenacity that the father displayed when he was alive.

At the onset, the only way to appease troublesome creditors was to install a management committee primarily tasked to manage a tight cash flow.  We also brought in specialists to “hold the fort” until the situation normalized. My title was “caretaker CEO” but in reality I played a conductor role by making sure alignment of plans continued without disruption.

After 2 years of playing catch up, the firefighting became less frequent and the business showed signs of recovery.  When we finally saw steady growth, we knew a turnaround was in sight. We also saw creditors renewing their commitments after cash flow and new investments were already showing favorable results.

It was a close call and for year three (2018) to five, the enterprise is now geared for growth and expansion.

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Nothing is certain in Life and in Business

Geoffrey Gaberino, the 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist once remarked, “The real contest is always between what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing.  You measure yourself against yourself and nobody else.”

If family businesses around the world strive for future prosperity and family survival in an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, how did the next generation business leaders of dominant conglomerates like the 184-year old Ayala and 130-year old LKK managed to keep pace with an ever-changing VUCA world?

Even with a great idea, leadership and many hours of hard work, one rule still applies:  Nothing is certain in life and in business.  No one can unfailingly know if an enterprise will fail or reach a century or whether a startup will survive past the one-year mark.  So, how can one increase the odds?

To dream and aspire in becoming a 100-year old enterprise, the business must be relentless in staying relevant. But how?

Firstly, the business leader must create a clear vision of where he or she wants to take the business in 10 to 20 years. Next is future proofing a succession plan. It is important that this shared vision must be well-defined, replete with measurable objectives and supported with very clear lines of communication and accountability, especially with the natural entry of next generation siblings and cousins.

I was in Boston last week for strategic coaching work and in between engagements, pursued collaborative studies at Harvard on how to create a resilient and dynamic organization of the future. Expectedly, VUCA is here to stay and family businesses must evolve to overcome these dramatic changes!

So beyond the perks, entitlement and glamour of being an SOB (Sons and daughters of Business owner), successors must fully embrace the commitment, the hard work, the long hours and the pursuit of a strategic “big idea” that goes with the succession plan. This is what strategic planning is all about.

Jane Hilbert-Davis, a Boston based consultant, defined strategic planning as “simply creating a plan of action. Originally from the Greek roots, ‘STER’ which means to spread out, usually in a military sense, and AG to drive or to lead, the word ‘strategy’ conjures up images of preparing for battle, or competition.  It’s different from ‘vision’ which is a future imagined, a hope of how things can be in the ‘farther into the future’ horizon, 10-20 years from now. “

A strategic plan describes how you can get there. It’s about making decisions in the present for the future and usually involves a 3-5-year time frame. It is both written and lived. It cannot be pieces of paper stuck in a drawer and forgotten, but must be thought through carefully.  It should reflect a flexibility and readiness to whatever the future may bring.

So I pose this challenge to business owners: What is your vision, your shared values—and your mission? What strategies should you follow to reach your goals before passing the baton? What structures and people do you need for the business to succeed? What is your succession plan? What are your contingency plans in handling a business crisis? How about a death in the family? Sibling rivalry? Questions related to ownership, management of shares, who are qualified to own, inheritance, entry of in-laws, extended family members?

Many business owners recognize the importance of ownership and management transition, but few know where and how to start in developing collaborative leaders that will take the business to the future.

To be continued…