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ALL IN THE FAMILY

Succession in Singapore family food businesses

/ 12:20 AM November 18, 2016

These family businesses have so far succeeded in ensuring a smooth transition to the next generation. Last week, we discussed three principles they follow: be decisive and flexible; professionalize the business; prioritize the customer.

Now we unlock four more secrets to their success.

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Take care of business partners

Hock Tong Bee has already lasted a decade in the competitive China market.  Aside from innovations and hard work, Clinton Ang, a member of the fourth generation, believes their success lies in making their Chinese partner happy.

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Even if the Singaporean company is the majority stakeholder, owning 51 percent of the Chinese branch, it gets only 49 percent of the profit dividends.

Ang is guided by his father Aloysius’ dictum to take care of their business partners.  “It is better for [partners] to take a bigger slice of the profit, because when they make more, you make more too. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish.”

Settle family conflicts

Because they are family, the Tay siblings, second generation family members in National Kitchen, are used to speaking candidly to each other, without taking things personally.

Different points of view are welcome, as long as intentions are unified for the betterment of the company.

Francesca Scarpa, a second-generation member in Da Paolo, reveals that her younger brother Andrea often gives way to her, but the latter does not mind.

Model family values

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Because doing so has more often than not benefited the family enterprise.

Ang also recalls the values his grandmother had passed on to them: One chopstick can easily be broken, but it would be impossible to break a bunch of them tied together.

A united family exudes strength of purpose.

To escape the third generation curse, Ang practices frugality and discipline to honor the hard work of his forebears. He travels on economy rather than business class, stays in four-star rather than ultra-luxury hotels, drives second-hand rather than sports cars.

Empower by letting go

When friends tell famed restaurateur Violet Oon, mother of the Tay siblings, that she is fortunate to have children who are ready to take over the family business, she replies that her kids have grown up with her dishes, and try their best to retain the original flavors, textures, and tastes.

Many founders make the mistake of believing that no one else is as good as they are in running the business. They micro-manage, alienating the younger generation and endangering succession.

They can learn from Oon.

“I’m of the Pioneer Generation and really too old to start a new restaurant,” she says.

Her children are the “true bosses.”

To minimize conflicts, the Scarpa founding couple have decided to let the next generation call the shots.

Son-in-law Guillaume Pichoir, married to daughter Francesca, has consented to join the family enterprise, only on the condition that the younger generation be allowed to run the business their way.

“If the founder has a dramatically different vision from the current management, the staff will be vulnerable to confusion,” Pichoir says.  “We can only go in one general direction.”

However, “if we feel that there is a need for advice, we turn to our highly experienced elders.”

Ang defines success only when the director is “unemployed,” which means that employees are so empowered that they can make daily decisions on their own.

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