A family is made up of multiple personalities, countless opinions, and the occasional “stop making me do things against my will” disagreements.
In short, everyday life with our families already has its own set of obstacles that it’s almost hard to believe that there are businesses that thrive on the dedication and collective passion of multiple generations to make their mark across industries.
To shine a light on family business success, here are five multigenerational entrepreneurs who attribute their achievements to the lessons they learned from their predecessors.
1. Killiney Group: Thinking in generations, not quarters
The Killiney brand has been around since late 1919. Starting from the busy streets of Killiney Road, it was a dated but humble shop, its famous bread toast and hot drinks were what lured then regular customer Woon Tek Seng to take over the original establishment.
The shop was then renovated and renamed Killiney Kopitiam in 1993, while retaining the shop’s old charm and original heritage.
As a child, his son, Tien Yuan, helped out in various Killini shops, trying his hand at various roles. Working around his father’s business inspired and awakened his interest in shop frontage and history and contributed to an early interest in the fields of food, property and art.
Although these areas of interest are what Tien Yuan holds dear, he always remembers the key lessons his father and uncles taught him.
As a family business, we think about generations, not quarters. Having a long-term plan for Killiney means we care more about enhancing our heritage brand for future generations of Singaporeans to enjoy and be proud of, not limiting it to quarterly financial statements.
– Woon Tien Yuan, co-founder of Killiney
Growing up, his father and uncles always instilled in the rest of the family that the crucial factor in a successful family business was family cohesion.
As a family, they practice collective decision-making – if not everyone agrees on a possible business solution, no one moves forward. For Tien Yuan, this does not slow down the decision-making process. Instead, it is a welcome challenge to work even harder and do more groundwork to convince his family.
Although Woon was a man of memories, he always reminded his son, “Don’t spend too much time on the tasks we did in the past. Think beyond traditional physical stores.” This encouraged Tien Yuan to further research and brainstorm ideas to grow the Killiney brand.
My father and uncles have been and will continue to serve as great role models for the rest of my family to look up to and learn from. This is something that I hope myself, my siblings and my cousins will continue to build on to create a strong extended family with a common understanding, cohesion and togetherness that will benefit our business even more in the long run.
– Woon Tien Yuan, co-founder of Killiney
2. Roger & Sons: Remembering Life’s Lessons
Roger & Sons is today recognized as a space where ethical creators and individualists craft fine furniture and objects with thought.
In 1999, it was formerly known as JR & P Industries. They are manufacturers of system office furniture and were founded by a passionate father, Roger. Sadly, Roger was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2014.
Roger’s sons – Morgan, Lincoln and Ryan – took over the business soon after he was diagnosed to carry on their father’s legacy.
Although they didn’t have the opportunity to work alongside their father and didn’t have him around for guidance, the time Morgan spent with his father as a child and the values passed down by his late father are what he carries with him. , while running the business.
Growing up, my father used to take us to the workshop during the school holidays. I didn’t really appreciate his work then until I took over the business about eight years ago. Being involved in the day to day operations, I started living like my father and slowly the appreciation and passion grew.
He always reminded me to stay focused and remember these values: courage, hard work, caring for your colleagues and just a never-say-die attitude.
– Morgan Yeo, second generation owner of Roger & Sons
After taking over the business, the three sons saw the need to restructure and adapt their business model, hence rebranding Roger & Sons, with a niche in creating bespoke furniture that lasts and serves a clear purpose.
3. Lee Wee Brothers: Communicating and setting boundaries
Food and beverage business Lee Wee Brothers has grown from a small stall on Old Airport Road in 2000 to an extensive franchise that can be found in multiple malls in Singapore.
Truly a multi-generational success story, Darren Lee, son of Mark – the youngest of the three original founding brothers – and Angeline, now runs the business alongside his parents and uncles as Corporate Strategy Manager.
Being involved in the family business from an early age, Darren was inspired to add value to the business side.
He watched his parents, grandmother and uncles work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. to start the business, accompanying them to food fairs and helping them with simple tasks like sticking labels on packages.
“They have built a legacy of family responsibility and love. It’s something that has a lot of meaning and purpose for me — the responsibility to make sure that values continue to be a driving force behind our strategic direction and I can help make their entrepreneurial dreams come true,” said Darren.
When Darren first joined the business, he set boundaries by changing the way the family addressed each other on a first name basis. He wanted to ensure that the role of a family member in the family did not determine position and authority.
We are constantly professionalizing the way we manage ourselves. Once stripped of such family roles as may give the false impression of hierarchy, both family members and non-family members are able to present themselves confidently and objectively.
– Darren Lee, manager of Lee Wee Brothers
As part of a multi-generational business, Darren feels extremely privileged to be able to spend a lot of time with his family, facing challenges and solving them together. He can put himself in the shoes of each family member, thus better understanding their motivations behind certain business decisions, which ultimately brings them closer together.
“Joining a family business is an amazing opportunity. You are part of something that you really care about, you become its guardian and then you pass more of what you initially get to the next generation. It probably doesn’t get any better than that,” he added.
4. Möwe: Don’t be afraid of change
Nicholas Tan was greatly inspired by his father’s passion. His father, Dixon, founded Swee Huat Heng Gas Supply in the early 1960s, distributing gas cylinders to local businesses.
Times changed, the business needed a refresh and Nicholas took over the family business, turning it into Möwe, now a one-stop solution for a smart, elegant and safer lifestyle.
Möwe is a combination of many years of experience with modernized technical know-how. Harnessing the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT), its range of smart appliances are designed to allow maximum control over everything from setting timers and monitoring house security to ensuring safe cooking.
This balanced pair stems from Nicholas working in his father’s office after school as a salesman, where he attends to the needs of customers to secure deals with them. His father also made him do the most trivial and mundane tasks. Both areas helped hone his skills as a businessman as well as taught Nicolas critical skills needed to take over the business.
To add to his skill set, he decided to retire from his father’s existing trading business in the engineering industry where he established Aerogaz (S) Pte Ltd in 2003, a brand well known for home appliance retailing.
He took home appliance knowledge from Aerogaz and translated it into the newer smart home appliance industry with Möwe.
“Taking over a family business requires a lot of dedication. I was determined to take over the business and take it to greater heights. I remember having to unload containers and carry heavy gas cylinders to deliver them to households. I also had to learn the principles of gas engineering and product design through evening courses in order to obtain a gas license to be able to carry out gas works and service work,” said Nicolas.
His father was always looking for business opportunities and was willing to step out of his comfort zone to venture into uncharted waters. Through him, Nicolas learned that adaptability and diversification are paramount to meeting the current market and the needs of the next generation.
Contrary to popular belief, starting a business is not the challenge. It is the ability to maintain it for generations. With this in mind, in order to build a sustainable business model, we must constantly innovate and evolve to meet the needs of today’s society.
My father also reminds me to be humble, build trust with clients and be reliable. Only then will customers and business partners be willing to support [us].
– Nicholas Tan, founder of Möwe
Despite the ever-changing business models that both father and son have gone through, the business for generations has fed the whole family and brought them together.
“There is a Chinese belief that a generational family business cannot exceed three generations. My goal is to disprove that theory and keep this business going for generations to come.”
5. boy and dad: Success means the absence of fear
Keith Coe, 32, is “the boy” at Lad & Dad, a casual British gastropub established in 2015 that focuses on proper comfort food. The menu includes regular British fare such as fish and chips, beef stew and cakes and mash.
I started Lad & Dad shortly after graduating and I work in London. Despite studying business, the passion for the food and beverage industry stemmed from helping my father in his various businesses as a child. I suggested we work together and he guided me along the way using his experience and skill set.
– Keith Ko, founder of Lad & Dad
To this day, he always remembers his father’s advice: there is nothing to fear if you are willing to work hard.
Keith’s mother also plays a role in tweaking some of the recipes from time to time, essentially making it a family business.
The long hours and lack of work-life balance did not stop Keith from further contributing to Singapore’s culture. He has since expanded the British concept with his trendy Lad & Co chip shop.
Featured image credit: Roger & Sons