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ALL IN THE FAMILY

The frugality of Sterling Group’s Michelle Lim Gankee

/ 05:12 AM November 11, 2021

I was raised with zero allowance,” says third-generation Michelle Lim Gankee, executive vice president of Sterling Paper Group of Companies. “I was a lunch boarder at school and my yaya prepared me a sandwich every day, so my parents did not feel the need to give me allowance. I had the same type of sandwich spread every day.

“Once in third year high school, a classmate asked me to eat merienda with her. I told her that I would just accompany her but I would not eat. I told her that when I was in first grade, I was craving for junk food and did not have the money to buy, but I still went to the canteen and brought it to the cashier hoping she would not let me pay, haha! When I told the cashier I did not have money, she told me to put the junk food back, so that was that.

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“Upon hearing this, my classmate immediately wanted to treat me to that junk food. I told her I did not tell the story to have a free snack, but she insisted. I was so happy that I savored my merienda that day.

“When I got home, I excitedly told my dad what happened—and that my classmate’s family is our notebook company competitor. My dad immediately said, ‘Starting now, you are going to have an allowance, P50 a week.’”

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We laughed when Michelle recounted this story during the Taipan Exclusive Summit: Reimagining Generational Wealth webinar last Oct. 29, produced by Chinoy TV and FWD Insurance. Michelle and her father, Henry Lim Bon Liong, often dubbed the country’s father of hybrid rice, shared their experiences in growing their iconic paper company, and in branching out into agriculture through SL Agritech and online retail through galleon.ph.

At the forum, I discussed best practices of family businesses, and what struck me was that the Lim family was already putting these into action half a century ago. The candid insights shared by Henry and Michelle reflect the trust between father and daughter, and I wanted to know more.

Did you ever resent not having an allowance? I ask Michelle.

“Looking back, I honestly did not feel bad,” says Michelle. “Maybe I just got used to it, but it was not a big deal for me. In fact, it is also a good training ground to see the value of money and not grow up spoiled. Up to now, unconsciously, I do not spend money left and right, and the same also goes with my siblings. Knowing the value of money is already instilled in me and I thank my parents for that.”

It is not easy to raise children today, I say, with endless worldly enticements. Many parents indulge children with pricey gadgets, food, trips, creating entitled heirs who are often not prepared to take over the business.

How does Michelle raise her own children?

“What I learned from my parents is what I also want to impart to my children. We know that in this age and time, raising kids in a digital world is more challenging because they are exposed to social media. As parents, we ensure that we teach our children the value of money and not to spoil them. I give them allowances for school, but just enough for food. Learning to value frugality, budgeting and saving money are more important.”

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When Henry was young, he and his parents and siblings lived in a small apartment with no bathroom, the nearest of which was down several flights of stairs in his uncle’s warehouse.

Henry had wealthy classmates, but instead of being bitter, he vowed to work hard to improve their lives. His father Lim Leh Seng and his mother Maria did not bestow any luxuries, but they gave what Henry considered the best gift of all—education.

Henry realized early on that the only way for his dreams to come true would be to persevere and to learn as much as he could. When his father passed away unexpectedly, he stepped up, as the eldest son, and only at the age of 25, to head the Sterling notebooks enterprise.

Contrary to naysayers who believed that his father’s death also meant the death of the company, the young man rose to the challenge, and grew the company into the conglomerate it is today.

(To be continued)

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada or the e-book on Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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