Recipe for succession of entrepreneurs

Martin Blessing
Asian fusion: Getting rich is one thing. Staying rich another. But handing it to the next generation is entirely different still.
Martin Blessing
Recipe for succession of entrepreneurs

Martin Blessing, Co-President, UBS Global Wealth Management

I love the food in Singapore. It's an exciting mix of East and West, sweet and spicy. It sets your mouth, and your imagination, on fire.

I could say the same thing about the Asian entrepreneurs I met on my last trip. Based on my observations they mix hard work with technology and stir in innovation — and out of this business kitchen come some of the most successful and inspirational companies on the planet.

A key finding of the 2018 UBS/PwC Billionaires Report was that Chinese billionaires are adept at creating innovative businesses in industries such as e-commerce and technology that harness the automation and connectivity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The proof is in the pudding. Asian billionaires, almost all of whom are entrepreneurs, are increasing their wealth by around 14 percent a year, twice the rate of those in Europe and triple the United States, according to the report.

But for all their successes, I couldn't help but notice that Asian entrepreneurs find it harder to retain wealth than their global peers. In 2017, 74 former Chinese billionaires fell below this threshold, and were replaced by 177 new ones, according to the report.

Not only that, Asian entrepreneurs tend to have fewer formal succession plans than their global business-owning peers, the report says. Perhaps this is due to age — the average billionaire in China is 56 and still accumulating wealth, compared to 67 in the United States where succession discussions are more widespread.

This takes me back to the kitchen metaphor. In my view, Asian entrepreneurs could benefit from a fusion cuisine combining best practice from entrepreneurs around the world.

UBS, the Swiss-based bank where I serve as co-president of wealth management, runs a global peer-to-peer platform of successful client entrepreneurs known as the Industry Leader Network. They connect through a digital platform and meet in person at UBS events. What a spicy mix! You find, for example, Swiss entrepreneurs (one is the fifth-generation steward of his family business) sharing ideas with Asian entrepreneurs, and vice versa.

Make a plan

For one Swiss entrepreneur who shared his insights with the network, diversifying financial assets and income streams meant his family was not entirely reliant on company dividends for meeting day-to-day spending needs. This approach allows his family, in his words, to “work with a long-term vision in mind instead of focusing on short-term gains.” And although counterintuitive, decreasing reliance on the family business to fund today's lifestyles could give Asian entrepreneurs even greater flexibility to expand their enterprises from year to year, decade to decade.

Asia is growing at breakneck speed. Some Asian entrepreneurs may wish to consider how they want their business to flourish over a similarly long timeframe, once they have gone into retirement and beyond.

A financial professional can help entrepreneurs achieve this goal by working with them to structure a plan. The best approach would look at the business owner's personal and family needs before reviewing assets, liabilities, and total wealth.

Encourage both family loyalty and diversity of experience

There can be additional ways to help ensure long-term success. The Swiss entrepreneur we interviewed said that future leaders in the family business should be brought in as early as possible. Successors often come from within the family, but hiring professionals from outside can bring valuable skills and perspectives.

Family members aiming to become the next generation of leaders should first gain experience outside the company or even in a different industry to build a diverse range of abilities, says the Swiss entrepreneur.

What if family members don’t care for the family business? Let them pursue their own passions! Next-generation interests in sustainability and philanthropy can bring unexpected sources of value to the family business at a later stage.

The Swiss entrepreneur's comments are a part of a wider movement among entrepreneurs to acknowledge how sustainability affects their businesses and their wealth. Our work reveals that business owners want to adopt the specific causes they care about through global investment, charitable giving, or selective consumption. The UN's Sustainable Development Goals provide an excellent framework for prioritizing causes that deserve financial and entrepreneurial attention.

 Manage control carefully

Passing a firm down five generations (as in the case of the aforementioned Swiss entrepreneur) can be easier if family members retain ownership but cede operational control to a professional CEO outsider. Employing external management makes it easier to measure performance objectively and to make personnel changes without antagonizing family members.

Above all, there is merit in writing up a family constitution defining the rights and responsibilities of both owning family members and operating executive managers. For those Asian entrepreneurs who have put business growth first and not yet looked at family governance and succession, financial professionals can add experience and share best global practices on defining and implementing such a constitution.

If Asian entrepreneurs’ success is to endure for generations to come, I think they should consider a “fusion cuisine” that blends the best of their expertise with insights from entrepreneurs around the globe.

Get it right and the future of Asian entrepreneurial wealth looks bright indeed.

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