Of old rich, noveau riche | Inquirer Business

Of old rich, noveau riche

A friend who runs a family business sent a provocative e-mail: What differentiates the new from the old rich families?  Stereotypes say the old rich families have taste, refinement, class; while the nouveau riche are loud, vulgar, tacky. The old rich have impeccable etiquette, they are respectful and private; the newly wealthy have no manners, they are social climbers and anything but discreet.

My reply:  For comedian Gary Lising, the old rich is the tycoon who leaves his daughter everything in his will, while the nouveau riche is the tycoon who marries his daughter.


Jokes aside, the ranks of the old rich seem to be thinning, as fortunes made decades ago fade away. The majority of family businesses in the world today (especially in newly-rich China) are still in the founder stage, making most people nouveau riche.

But how can the new rich act more genteel? Stop posting branded bags, clothes, trips, among others, online.  The old rich will never be caught bragging about their purchases.


Follow the example of Bill and Melinda Gates, the parents of the world’s wealthiest kids.  While their wealth was amassed in the last few decades, they promised their three teenage children would not be the stereotypical trust-fund babies (which ironically, mostly targets the old rich).

“Our children need to have a sense that their own work is meaningful and important,” Bill Gates told the “UK Telegraph” in 2014.  “We want to strike a balance so they have the freedom to do anything, but not a lot of money showered on them so that they can go out and do nothing.”

The children would not be inheriting most of their parents’ $80-billion fortune, much of which has already been channeled to the family foundation earmarked for health and education in developing countries.



Let employees have more say

Money is not everything, we know theoretically. But now, science agrees.


In a US experiment, people are less likely to help carry a coach into a truck when offered a small fee as payment rather than if they do so for free, because pay reduces the task to an economic transaction instead of an opportunity to help another.

That can be the reason why we get so disappointed when wait staff, managers, service providers and the ilk in restaurants, hotels, and other service industries insist on nickel-and-diming every small act they do.

In many family-run businesses (think mom-and-pop restaurants or family-run bed and breakfasts), service often seems more genuine, with proprietors and staff going out of their way to make us feel welcome. Whether genuine or false, we often get the impression that people there seem to be happier, than so-called customer representatives or service personnel in soulless corporate places who seem to be robots cut from the same unfortunate mold, mouthing the same platitudes but lacking in human warmth and initiative.

Money is essential, of course.  But study after study shows for people to be happy and satisfied, they need to find meaning in their work.

“When given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder,” says US psychologist Barry Schwartz, author of “Why We Work.”

“There is a human cost to routinizing and depersonalizing work.  Too often, instead of being able to take pride in what they do, and derive satisfaction from doing it well, workers have little more to show for their efforts aside from their pay.”

A study of more than 100 companies revealed those with “a high value on human resources were almost 20 percent more likely to survive for at least five years than those that did not.”

How can family businesses motivate employees?  “By giving [them] more of a say in how they do their jobs.  By making sure to offer them opportunities to learn and grow.  By encouraging them to suggest improvements to the work process and listening to what they say.

“But most important, we need to emphasize the ways in which employees’ work makes other people’s lives at least a little bit better (and, of course, to make sure that it actually does…)”

Family businesses that truly last have gone beyond merely making money.  Through known foundations or quiet philanthropy, they work to make society better—by providing fair employment, by satisfying customers’ needs and by nurturing their employees’ growth.


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 [email protected]). E-mail the author at [email protected]

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TAGS: employee management, family-run business, noveau riche, old rich, tycoon, wealth management
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