Charting your own path
We don’t know what to do with our son Ted,” says a friend. “My husband groomed him to lead the family business. Things were fine till he wanted to do his own thing. My husband told him how ungrateful he was. A path had been laid out for him. Please make him see sense!”
“I understand why you are upset,” I say, “but I don’t see what’s wrong with a 29-year-old who wants to make his own way.”
“Who will take over the business?”
“The second generation are still active. And aren’t some young ones now in the firm?”
“Our two other children and three nephews are working there.”
“Succession doesn’t seem to be a problem.”
“Ted is the eldest in the third generation, the main heir! Ted wants to go into food, but my in-laws worked hard to set up our retail business, and this is how he repays them?”
“The food business is not easy,” I say, “and the first generation has provided a better life for all. But why is Ted not happy?”
“He finds it hard to wake up early. Everyone is in by 8:00 a.m., and he comes in at 10:00 or even 11:00 a.m. He sets a bad example to employees. My husband told him to follow rules, but …”
“Being late is a main gripe in many family businesses,” I say. “Have you tried flexi-time? If Ted goes to work by 10:00 a.m., then instead of leaving at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m., then perhaps he can leave at 8 p.m.?”
“My husband says that Ted should not be getting special treatment.”
“I sympathize with your husband, but no wonder your son is not happy.”
“What will happen to Ted if he leaves? Can young people really be successful outside the business?”
“Of course,” I instantly reply, thinking back to a public forum in May 2017, where Cesar Wee, the fourth child of Lee Hiong Wee and seaweed queen Rosalind Wee, talked about charting his own path. The multiawarded Rosalind is well-known in the business community, having worked decades ago with her husband to build a thriving carrageenan and real-estate business.
In the forum, the Wee clan discussed matters of business and family, and I remember being struck by Cesar’s candor, and his grit in going his own way.
Four of the Wee children are now working in the family business, and Cesar was supposed to join them. But Cesar found himself at odds at times with his father, resulting in frequent arguments.
“This was not the life I wanted. I was miserable. So I decided to work outside the business. I had the drive to prove myself. Fortunately, I succeeded.”
Cesar runs his own real estate company, overseeing his own projects with partners and is on call even outside the office. This unorthodox setup suits him just fine, since he prioritizes family (his wife and his three children) above all.
“Cesar, who went to the same high school as Ted, balances work and family, and is much happier after he charted his own path,” I say. “He has become a better manager, owner, father, husband, son. Wouldn’t you wish your son to do and be likewise?”
“Your son says he wants to do well,” I continue. “It would be a different matter if your son does not want to work with the family and yet wants to reap the benefits of doing so. Cesar’s older brother Norman said in the forum that to be successful, heirs have to avoid the entitlement syndrome. Cesar decided to go his own way, with the ultimate blessing of his parents. Your son can do the same.”
“What if our son fails?” my friend asks.
“Then welcome him back on your terms. But don’t think of failure at this point: I believe that your son can succeed with your support. Rosalind Wee in the forum also said that if ever they have to choose between family and business, they will choose family.”