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Managing change and transformation is key to the continuity and growth of family businesses

1 August 2017 [Singapore] - Participants at today’s forum were in unison that family businesses need to reinvent themselves to continue their legacy. This is as a volatile operating environment, coupled with disruptive new business models, continue to transform and challenge traditional models.

Themed “Managing Change in Today’s Uncertain Environment”, the Forum, attended by some 220 participants, featured distinguished family businesses from a wide cross-section of Singapore’s multi-ethnic and international heritage. Into its second edition, the event was organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and supported by Singapore Management University Business Families Institute and Deloitte Private as knowledge partners. The event was sponsored by the Bank of Singapore.

Among the key themes that emerged in the plenary discussions, family business leaders discussed the importance of embracing change while preserving family values, even as the next generation of successors focus on the role of technology and innovation in helping their businesses transform.

In his welcome address, Mr S.S. Teo, Chairman of SBF said “Almost every business today faces some form of uncertainty and disruption – be it in the form of new technologies, dynamic shifts towards digitalisation, or even changes in customer expectations. Disruption almost certainly means change or results in change.  Companies that do not recognise and respond to change in time will be left behind. Alternatively, companies that see disruption as an opportunity can achieve accelerated growth or develop new growth strategies.… Family values, culture and traditions are added dimensions that family businesses have to manage in their transformation journey.”

Panellists also shared that recruiting talent from outside the family circle is essential to expand and professionalise their businesses.

Mr Neo Tiam Boon, CEO and Executive Director of TA Corporation, has been with the company since 1996 and has over 15 years of management experience. Starting out as a construction company, the enterprise ventured into property development in 1996 under the steering of Mr Neo.

He said “At TA Corporation, we have a merit-based system which ensures that we hire the right person for each position and function regardless of whether the individual is a family member. We also firmly believe that nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. Key business decisions are therefore made through an open and consultative process involving relevant team members, including family members where applicable. We welcome ideas and contribution from all staff to avoid the trap of ‘groupthink’. As the business expands, we believe that every employee in the organisation needs to adopt a shared vision of acting in the best interest of all organisational stakeholders. To do so, every staff, including family members involved in the business, needs to be accountable to the business and therefore managed by an objective corporate governance system. This is one of the reasons for TA Corporation’s decision to list and corporatize, which helped to greatly enhance our internal controls.”

While the next generation leaders of family businesses are in an advantageous position to adopt technology and best practices for change, they also shoulder the responsibility to live up to expectations to inspire staff to transform and lead their businesses into sustainable growth enterprises.

A second generation family business leader of Sheng Siong Group Ltd, Ms Lin Ruiwen, Executive Director, said “From a single grocery store located in Ang Mo Kio, Sheng Siong has grown over the last 30 years from a family business to a business family. The transformation of the business has called for tremendous understanding, openness, teamwork, professionalism and a strong organisational culture that stems from the family’s core values. I had thought that working alongside my parents and uncles would be daunting as it is only a fine line between “business” and “family”, a contradiction of values between “professionalism” and traditional “filial piety”. But through my journey, I found that building trust and managing expectations are few of the key elements that have helped me tremendously to succeed. Today, I find it such a privilege, a kind of self-fulfilment, an alternate form of filial piety, to be able to contribute positively to the continuous development and transformation of our business and our family.”

Welcome Address by SBF Chairman Mr SS Teo

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