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Gen Y Speaks: I work in my family’s business. But I don’t have it easy as the boss' son

Many of us have at least one friend whose family runs a business. Instead of looking for jobs upon graduation, he or she joins the family business. It is natural to think that this person has an easy, cushy life and does not need to worry about the future or finances.

The author (pictured) says he hopes to win over the employees by showing he can deliver results.

The author (pictured) says he hopes to win over the employees by showing he can deliver results.

Many of us have at least one friend whose family runs a business. Instead of looking for jobs upon graduation, he or she joins the family business. 

It is natural to think that this person has an easy, cushy life and does not need to worry about the future or finances.

I am a second generation entrepreneur in my father’s health and wellness business and I know that this is what many of my friends think of me. But being responsible for a family business comes with many challenges that outsiders may not be aware of.

Here, I would like to share my own journey so far to shed some light on the challenges faced by millennials running family businesses.

I joined my family’s business in 2015 when I was still a business management undergraduate at the Singapore Management University. At the time, we had 20 employees, a far cry from the 64 during the heyday of the business.

To be sure, the manpower needs of the business have shrunk, given technological advances and the prevalence of the internet and online shopping.

I can’t deny that running my family’s business gives me a head start. While my parents are still running the business as I learn the ropes, it will eventually be handed over to me once I’m ready to helm it.

The hope is that I will learn from their experiences so that I can continue to grow the company. This is easier said than done.

Many second- and third-generation businesses today face the risks of being obsolete due to their failure to keep pace with rapid changes and technological advances. 

I know of some anointed successors of family businesses who choose to walk away because they find the challenges of taking over too daunting.  

When I first joined the family business, I was put in charge of marketing. I inherited a business model of outdated systems and processes. 

Our online presence was limited and most of the business operations were still recorded with paper and pen. As a result of these outdated business models and systems, there were a lot of inefficiencies within the company.

It could take hours of processing before we could find out more about customers’ data and their spending habits.

We had a large pool of customers, but little customer relationship management to speak of. For example, we should be sending customers personalised emails or offering them discounts on their birthdays but were not doing so.

In the first few months after I took over, I had to convince the company to tidy up our data and systems. However, I found a lot of resistance to change.

First, most of the employees were used to the existing system. It took me many hours of persuasion for something as simple as changing old recording forms to using digital spreadsheets that are stored in Dropbox.

Second, it was difficult to get the board — comprising 80 per cent family members — to support my new proposals as they had not been “tested before”. Due to the directors’ traditional mindsets, they relied on ideas that had worked before.

When my ideas or suggestions are rejected, it’s hard not to take it personally. And because of the nature of family businesses, when you go home after work, you cannot just shut out what happens in the office.

This is because the people that you have a disagreement with in the workplace are the very same people who would be seeing at home after work.

Naturally, what happens at work has an impact on our family ties as well. For instance, after having an argument at meetings, it can get awkward to be sitting at the same table for dinner.

One key challenge I faced was proving myself to the employees, many of whom were unconvinced about my credentials. They were all older than me and simply saw me as the “boss’ son”. 

While they were not outrightly rude to me, there were times where they gossiped to my parents about my leadership as I was trying to make changes to improve the business.

They did not like the changes as they felt that things were alright the way they were. They did not share this with me but would instead complain to my parents.

In doing so, I felt that they had undermined my authority, as my parents had to step in and mediate. 

I believe that the employees will eventually trust me once I show results and prove that the company is headed in the right direction under my leadership.

Ever since I joined the business, the company’s revenue has grown by 17 per cent. I have helped to ink partnerships with overseas distributors and secured more sales online through listing our products on online marketplaces.

We also launched a personalised supplements subscription service which is a very new concept in the market that has attracted the interest of some venture capitalists.

This has helped me gain my parents’ confidence, and they have slowly started to give me more opportunities and responsibilities.

As for the employees, I hope to win them over by showing results. People are resistant to change until they see a positive outcome.

The burdens of being a second-generation entrepreneur who has to take the business to greater heights sometimes make me think that it is easier to look for a full-time job.

However, I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Both my older brothers are self-employed. One of them is a professional golf coach and the other runs a jewellry business.

I have therefore always desired to run my own business and succeed. Even though it is tough being in a family business, what excites me is knowing that we are able to create a new future for the company. 

It would mean a lot to me if I can replicate the success that my parents had with the business in its heydays.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Terence Tan is Co-Founder of Paquet, a subsidiary of Robust and Life Compact, a health and wellness business established by his parents in 1986. Paquet offers personalised supplements for individuals based on their lifestyle and health needs.

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