Tag Archives: Wong and Bernstein Advisory Group

Family Commitment is Non Negotiable

Family values and business values are usually not aligned.

While a business exists to create customers and achieve financial success, families have an entirely different motivation. They typically bring a less profit-centered focus alternating financial gains with trust, relationship and a lifetime engagement. These non-financial goals represent the bedrock of the family business ecosystem.

For one, family-owned enterprises are more community driven. They go out of their way to help their trade area on various social advocacies. Internally, the employees see the enterprise as an extension of their family and vice versa.

One good example was when a Philippine based businessman (net worth US$3B) went out of his way to do a headcount of all his employees affected by Super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). He then secretly met and surprised each one of them with financial support under a “pay when able” scheme and encouraged them to go back to their hometowns so they can be with their loved ones while rebuilding their homes. As a PWC report stated in one of their studies, it “is the injection of this very human element into the mix that makes family businesses unique.”

I want to share another success story of how family and business governance can work for as long as the family remains committed.

Family Business A is a trading company I have been coaching for the past five years. It was founded in the 1970’s and now distributes its products across the Asia Pacific region. By industry volume alone, the business is ranked 8th in Asia Pacific.

The business is currently being run by second generation members composed of five siblings. Due to the lack of systems and internal structures, confusion and petty misunderstandings among siblings became more frequent. Even non-family members were always caught in the crossfire, unclear on whose instructions to follow.

Recognizing the need to overcome the generational curse, the family agreed that the eldest son would take the lead and address governance in the areas of family, business and ownership (shareholding) structures.

“We used to have heated, nasty disagreements, but because we have set some rules in place now, we can resolve problems in a more professional manner minus the emotion” said Johnson.

Jenny the other sibling also remarked, “The advantage of having a family council and being constantly reminded by a family governance coach is that our disputes have become less personal. We were made to realize that we were brought up under the same roof and our father always reminded us that when conflicts do happen, we should always hold on to our values like respect, honesty and unity.“

As in most of my engagements, my intervention with this family was never a walk in the park. In my first year, it was clear that my initiatives would solely focus on family governance. It is extremely important to galvanize family commitment first as a squabbling family will never progress to embracing business governance.  Forcing a disunited family to transition to business governance is a double edge sword.

In the course of a little more than a year, we finally signed the family agreement. Immediately after, I made them formulate business governance policies to include hiring of non-family key personnel, performance metrics including entry and exit rules.

With professionals in place, meetings became less emotional and family members saw it as a challenge to raise their performance standards.

When every family member is fully committed, it sends a strong message to everyone to put the interests of the family business first before their own.

esoriano@wongadvisory.com

 

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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.

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.

esoriano@wongadvisory.com

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?

esoriano@wongadvisory.com

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!

esoriano@wongadvisory.com

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…

esoriano@wongadvisory.com

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 lightboxleadership.com

“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!