The Gokongweis and the Leong Center
FROM 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, I will talk about family businesses at the Ateneo de Manila’s Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies.
Mr. Leong and his wife, Dr. Rosita “Rosie” Leong, are advocates of Chinese culture, thus, the talk is open to the public for free. The couple’s daughter, Jade, is married to Lance Gokongwei, the president of JG Summit Holdings.
JG, of course, stands for John Gokongwei. Though people are in awe of the patriarch’s business acumen, I admire him the most as a husband and father. His wife Elizabeth is genteel, kind, spiritual. His six children are bright, industrious, and humble.
So when Dr. Rosie asked me to do a talk, how could I refuse?
Chinese and mathematics
Several reasons have been given for the success of Chinese (and East Asian) businesses in the Philippines and around the world.
One reason may be the Confucian values, particularly, respect for elders, thriftiness, perseverance and value for education.
When young people, like Lance, are groomed from childhood to take over the family business, they are expected to perform well in school and later in business.
People say the Chinese have a natural propensity for business, and with an inborn skill in math. I disagree. Business and math sense are not genetic, but environmental.
With their children by their side, the first-generation overseas Chinese often went into retail. Arithmetic is needed to ensure businesses make a profit, so the children had to learn practical skills.
Many of the younger generation of Chinoys (Chinese-Filipinos) today are not required to help in the business while studying. Their math skills are probably not as strong as their parents’.
There is also no significant difference between the math grades of Pinoy and Chinoy students in my classes in the last five years.
Math or business skills are not exclusive to any race. I once studied the skills of Pinoy street kids, who, without formal schooling could add, subtract and multiply faster than most of my college students.
The ultimate secret to business success lies in maintaining solid relationships in the family, within and among generations.
My talk today will focus on best practices for smooth functioning, including how to handle succession and professionalization.
Successful people do not procrastinate.
Last July, upon the invitation of Billie Syling of the Mary the Queen Chinese Filipino Apostolate, I talked about family businesses and values.
I was expecting an audience of 50, but to my mild shock, 200 people showed up—mostly in their 50s, 60s and 70s.
I decided to modify my original talk, and instead spoke about what the younger generation feels.
Young people want to know the following: How to be guided in the family business, without being constantly undermined. How to learn by being allowed to make minor mistakes, without being belittled. How to balance business and family, without having to work 24/7 the way their elders did. How to professionalize, to avoid conflicts that originated with older generations. How to manage sibling rivalry, fanned by parents who show favoritism to one child.
Dr. Rosie later asked me to do a similar talk. She was resolute. I received many verbal invites that day, and the next time I checked, the formal invitation from Leong Center was first on my inbox.
Queena N. Lee-Chua is on the board of directors of Ateneo de Manila University’s Family Business Development Center. Get her book “Successful Family Businesses” at the University Press (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). E-mail the author at email@example.com.