Training successors, the Stoic way | Inquirer Business

Training successors, the Stoic way

(Part two of four)

When they were in grade school, my children helped out in our store on weekends and vacations,” says Rico (not his real name), the chief executive in the retail family business founded by his father. “We wanted to inculcate the value of industry early on, or else they might become addicted to gaming or grow into bums. I have friends who despair because their grown-up children now treat their businesses as their personal banks, bleeding the money dry. Their kids were never trained to take responsibility, and now it’s too late to change their character.”


Though not formally religious, Rico lives his life according to Stoic philosophy, as outlined in Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s bestseller “The Daily Stoic.”

Starting out right early on is important for Rico, who heeds the advice of the philosopher Seneca: “There is no vice which lacks a defense, none that at the outset isn’t modest and easily intervened—but after this the trouble spreads widely. If you allow it to get started you won’t be able to control when it stops. Every emotion is at first weak. Later it rouses itself and gathers strength as it moves along.”


“Seneca tells us to direct our efforts to something and keep the end in view, since ‘life without design is erratic,’” says Rico. “I tell my children to set concrete goals and work towards them. They should not just dream big dreams and delegate the implementation to others. Our company is already professionalized, but as stewards to shareholders, we need to still be hands-on with regard to the important stuff. We need to model in ourselves what we want our employees to be.”

The philosopher Epictetus says, “First tell yourself what kind of person you want to be, then do what you have to do. [For example] those in athletic pursuit first choose the sport they want, and then they do the work.”

“My children have MBAs from the top schools worldwide, so at times they think they know everything,” says Rico. “I tell them to be humbler, as Epictetus says: ‘Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows. If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless, and if some regard you as important, distrust yourself.’ I tell them to distrust the yes-men, because they just tell you what you want to hear.

“Sometimes my children feel that something is beneath them at work, like clerical functions, but I helped my father in the business by doing everything, even menial stuff, which my dad also did. I remind my children that in finance, for instance, I want them to look over the figures themselves after our accountants do them.

“Sometimes my children are locked into one role. Just because they like marketing does not mean that they should not do sales. They cannot stagnate in their positions. They also have to be trained in street smarts. They get frustrated, but they have to be flexible to get things done.”

Seneca knew about the value of flexibility eons ago: “He can’t serve in the military? Let him seek public office. Must he live in the private sector? Let him be a spokesperson. Is he condemned to silence? Let him aid his fellow citizens by silent public witness. Is it dangerous to enter the Forum? Let him display himself, in private homes, at public events and gatherings, as a good associate, faithful friend, and moderate tablemate. Has he lost the duties of a citizen? Let him exercise those of a human being.”

Epictetus warned us that knowledge was not enough; practice was essential to solidify learning: “[Don’t] be satisfied with mere learning, but add practice and then training. As time passes we forget what we learned and end up doing the opposite.”


And real learning is evidenced by action: “Those who receive the bare theories immediately want to spew them, as an upset stomach does its food. First digest your theories and you won’t throw them up. Otherwise they will be raw, spoiled, and not nourishing. After you’ve digested them, show us the changes in your reasoned choices, just like the shoulders of gymnasts display their diet and training, and as the craft of artisans show in what they’ve learned.”

(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” at Lazada or Shopee, or the ebook at Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]

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