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Family businesses always face difficulties when a new generation comes aboard with a new outlook and new ideas. But the generational gaps are not impossible to bridge, writes JOY LEE.

PEOPLE say a family business rarely makes it past the second generation intact. But PKT Logistics Group CEO Datuk Michael Tio believes there is a way for different generations to come together and make it work.

“I always think you can’t separate a father and son. But how to differentiate a father-and-son relationship from a colleague relationship is difficult,” he admits.

Tio opines that the main difference between the first and second generation is the way they approach the business.

While the younger generation is willing to take risks for long-term gain, the older generation is more cautious and prefers immediate returns. The trick, says Tio, is how to “gel” both approaches in running a business.

Understandably, the second generation would have new ideas and are full of enthusiasm to implement new initiatives.

“But your father will probably think that you are taking too much risk,” he notes.

In such situations where they can’t see eye to eye, which would appear to be often, it may sometimes seem easier for the younger generation to just strike out on their own. But Tio’s advice is: “Don’t try to push your parents away.”

“Find a way to gel your ideas together. Take the initiative to negotiate and compromise with them,” he says.

“If you have an idea, go and do your research. Find out the facts and figures and show your father the projected returns and how long it would take. You must justify what you have in mind.

“But if you say you’re going to do something, it’s important that you do it and make it work because they are taking the risk by accepting your idea. If you fail, you can forget about trying out another idea in the future,” says Tio.

Tio understands the challenges of being a young gun in a family business.

He once gave up his RM50,000-a-month business income for a RM2,000 monthly salary when he returned from the UK to help his father manage PKT in 1996.

“It was a big sacrifice. But it was an opportunity to build a company that would be self-sustaining in the long run, which would also give me the opportunity to travel at my own time,” he explains.

However, Tio admits that having to work with his father was a challenge. He had plenty of restructuring ideas to carry out but was met with plenty of opposition.

“We argued a lot at the beginning. But after a while, I learned that what he wanted was for me to tell him what I was doing before carrying out my plans so that we could rationalise the plan first,” says Tio.

One thing that family businesses lack, says Tio, is board meetings, which makes it difficult for directors to update each other on the happenings within the company.

So Tio made it a point to update his father more frequently on the plans and issues at work to assure him that things were taken care of at the office. And the two started working better together.

Tio and his father also had a confidante in their CFO, who was frequently the middleman when things got heated between father and son.

“It’s good to have someone with a clear head whom both of you can trust to mediate when you argue. But don’t discuss things when you are angry. It won’t work well,” he points out.

“Remember that you still have to go home and be a family after work,” he says.

Over the years, Tio has observed countless businesses torn apart by family feuds, and as such emphasises the importance of negotiating with one’s parents and finding a middle ground and a workable solution.

But it takes two to make any relationship work.

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