Straight talk from a Christian family business
Forty-something Marco (not his real name) is the youngest of three boys working in their manufacturing family business in Manila. Marco’s situation mirrors that of many Filipino-Chinese families and businesses. He and his brothers are not extremely close, but they have a civil relationship and they manage to work together.
“Our mother told us early on that she did not want to see her children quarrel. She said, I don’t care what you do, but you have to sit down and fix your problems. We decided to have a voting system. Each one of us has one vote. Majority wins.”
A decade separates Marco from his eldest brother, a gap that seemed significant when they were all in school. But now that they are all adults, they have agreed to respect each other.
“My brothers are still older than me. When you don’t get your way, it is natural to feel hurt. But we let it go.”
How can they be so sanguine? Marco’s answer: “Our Christian faith.”
When the siblings accepted Jesus as Savior, they decided to truly live out their faith. In the past, quarrels might get intense, but now, they know that money, the root of conflict in family business, is ephemeral.
Take the division of inheritance. Marco’s parents had the foresight to do estate planning, with the children’s knowledge that it was done equitably.
“While parents are still alive, they should decide how assets should be divided. This should be made clear to everyone, to lessen conflict later. Some parents who are not close to their children do not want to relinquish control of their shares, afraid that their children will no longer take care of them. Some children even sue their parents to get their share, and this is just plain greed.”
“Many traditional parents are superstitious. They do not want to think about death, but when they are gone, major conflict will erupt among the children. It’s good that many parents now, like mine, are more open-minded. They fix things before problems arise.”
What about potential conflicts, such as parents giving funds to a particular child to help build a house?
Marco says, “Hindi na kami nagbibilang. Some people tally things to the last centavo, and are very bitter if they believe that the parents have favorites. But we are Christians.”
“Parents love all their children,” says Marco’s wife, Christina (not her real name). “But sometimes, it is natural for some parents to be closer to certain children because they have a similar personality, or they are perceived as simply more caring. Most parents divide assets or shares equally among their children. But they cannot be blamed for supporting certain kids in other ways if needed. As Christians, we should refrain from feeling resentful or envious.”
“We live simply,” says Marco. “We have enough. We will not starve. So why should we begrudge what others get?”
Marco’s father remains an atheist, but his mother has also become a Christian. The family business is going strong, but both parents are under no illusion about passing it on to the next generation.
“Our mother experienced conflict in her own family business before, so she wants each of us to have our own enterprise. It’s good to have our family business now, but if we see something with potential, our parents can give support, and if it succeeds, then good. If not, we can go back to the family business.”
Though still working in the family business, Marco’s eldest brother has his own enterprise. He has voiced out his wish to “enjoy life,” and since he is now in his 50s, the siblings have decided on a timeline of 10 years for them to grow the business and then divide the spoils among themselves, after which, at least in terms of business, they can go their separate ways and do what their heart desires.
The siblings are also realistic. The next generation as successors is not even an option.
“We are already siblings, but we sometimes still argue. What more for our kids? They will be cousins, and they get along now, but they are not particularly close. Family is more important than business, so why force the issue?”
Marco and Christina have three sons, and they intend to pass on this practice of encouraging their children to do their own thing.
“We equip them with education now,” says Marco, “next, we will support whatever they want to do, within reason. But we want them to be able to stand on their own.”
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 (email firstname.lastname@example.org.) Email the author at email@example.com.
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