Can you imagine living above your business? Not only that, your ‘housemates’ are your family members who you also happen to work with, everyday?
I’m pretty sure this scenario would come across as weird or downright unappealing for most people in the West.
But for me, it’s part and parcel of being involved in a family-run business in Asia. My father is the founder and CEO of THP, I’m the Deputy CEO and my sister Bich is currently Head of Corporate Service and Governance.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. THP is part of our family’s DNA and vice versa. I grew up on the factory floor and, back in the day, my dad’s office doubled as our living room.
Family – the primary ‘partnership’
At THP, we value long-term partnerships with our customers, distributors, suppliers and contractors. But the partnership that starts closest to home, literally, is with our family.
Family businesses are fairly common in Vietnam. It might surprise you to know that this trend is reflected globally too.
In the UK, for example, 88 percent of all private enterprises are family businesses, while in the US, it’s estimated family-owned businesses contribute to over half of America’s GDP and employ 63 percent of the workforce.
So how does our family manage to successfully run a big business and stay united?
The truth is, we have come close to falling apart at times (like any family). Running a business together can bring families together – or tear them apart. There is so much potential to go wrong.
That’s why, over the years, we have set up strong foundations to guide us, personally and professionally. These include:
A defined set of family values
Our family has its own set of values that go hand in hand with our company values. Together, they form the foundation of THP.
One of the Tran values revolves around rejecting entitlement for the younger ‘second generation’ of leaders (this means that joining the family business should be earned, not inherited).
The others emphasise mutual respect between generations (not just respect for elders) and the importance of family history, shared through stories.
By no means are these values set in stone. As a family, we regularly revisit them, talk about them and improve them. In turn, this helps our company values evolve.
Combined, our values provide us with clarity as we move on our global ambitions. They act as an anchor and ensure continuity of culture, while giving our family members the space to air their individual views.
Setting clear boundaries
We’re a family that lives together and works together. That’s why it’s helpful to keep our work-day boundaries intact.
For example, when we’re addressing each other at work, we use our formal names such as Dr Thanh, Madam Nu, Miss Bich and Miss Phuong.
We talk to each other as colleagues. This helps us keep things purely professional while helping others navigate our family relationships. It’s an important detail that has made our working life more straightforward.
Leadership development and training
Many family-run businesses fail to have a strategic long-term plan to ensure they will thrive in the next generation and beyond.
Long ago, my father had the foresight to realise that he had to actively train us to step into our leadership potential. It’s what some people might call succession planning.
To achieve this, he encourages his family (and others) to take risks so we can learn from our mistakes. He also teaches that true leadership means being personally accountable for our failures and successes.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow. But how can we lead others if we cannot even lead ourselves?
One of the strategies we’ve adopted as a family to steer THP’s growth is to resolve our personal dynamics. Research tells us that families in business often assume they’re communicating well. But in fact, the opposite is true.
To sidestep this problem, our family joined an 18-month leadership and personal development training program. This helped us release our habitual patterns of relating and our long-held assumptions about each other.
Mixing blood ties with business
It’s often said that it takes one generation to build a business, the second to consolidate it and the third to run it into the ground.
By clearly defining our values, having a succession planning strategy, and by setting clear boundaries, our family is determined to make sure THP thrives well into the future.