As the founder of your family enterprise, do you sometimes experience sleepless nights pondering on who among your children will be the fitting successor to lead the family business? Do you also keep on delaying your decision even if your children are in their 30’s? Maybe you have a successor in mind already, but you’re scared of divulging it for fear that your choice would upset your other children. Or perhaps you already have expressed your choice to your wife, and both of you are unsure if the choice would be up for it?  

If this is what you are going through at the moment, then it is but natural to be feeling this way, and I would understand why.  

My advice to founders and business leaders is this: You will never really know whether or not your successors could be ready unless and until they become empowered. That would include shaping their ideals, educating them, and ultimately putting them in real situations and giving them the power to make the call. Make or break, you and them would have to live with the outcomes – learn from the mistakes, celebrate milestones, and move forward. The key is to start them young from the bottom and let them appreciate the value of money correlated with hard work. Starting them young has two meanings- doing summer jobs while finishing university or those who have been active in the business for at least five years after logging in two to five years as an employee in another organization and not the family enterprise.

As Lance Gokongwei of the JG Summit Group (the second largest family conglomerate in the Philippines with major operations in Asia and Oceania) relayed how he started in the family business, “When we graduated from school, we were no longer given allowances; if we wanted to have money to spend, we had to work for it. There would be no high-level positions waiting for me nor my siblings when we finished school. When I got back from college at the University of Pennsylvania, I started work as a management trainee in our food division. Basically, that meant I had to go out and sell Jack ’n Jill snacks to supermarkets, groceries, and “sari-sari” stores.”

Lance added that he was paid P2,000 (US$40) a month, “Since I had to go around the city, Dad let me use an old car, not even a Nissan, but a Datsun at that time with a broken air conditioner. I may have been the son of the boss, but I worked harder than anybody else to prove that I wasn’t just the son of the boss. My father believed that for us to appreciate the different nuances of our businesses, we had to start from the bottom and get our hands dirty. My sister Robina started out as a clerk in the bodega (warehouse) of Robinsons Department Store. As for myself, I am willing to bet that I have held more bras than any man or woman here today—because one of my first jobs was to put the price tags on women’s bras in our department stores. But seriously, this and other jobs I held in my father’s companies is what made me appreciate the dignity and value of work.”

Empowerment among successors is vital. There is no other better way to allow them to emerge in their truest individual qualities, develop with the right competencies, attain their most effective leadership skills, and understand the meaning of accountability and really practice it, but to empower them. It gives them the chance to do things on their own without having to depend on others’ approval or blessings.