Highlights from the CEIBS Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage 2nd Roundtable 2013

August 31, 2013. Chongqing - “Heritage and Innovation: The Two Generations through Each Other’s Eyes” was the theme for today’s second roundtable event organized by the CEIBS Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage and co-organized by the CEIBS Chongqing Alumni Chapter. The event brought together almost 20 first- and second-generation entrepreneurs from Chongqing-based family businesses who enthusiastically shared their experiences and challenges in a lively discussion with CEIBS professors, who offered their own insights and observations throughout the event.

“I want to surpass you, Dad!”

Highlights from the CEIBS Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage 2nd Roundtable 2013

According to the first-generation entrepreneurs in the roundtable, many among the second generation have been spoiled, and cannot take over the family business; they know how to enjoy themselves, but not how to work hard to benefit the enterprise. The first generation also worries about the difficulty in passing on to the younger generation the connections they have built over the years.

The second-generation entrepreneurs present disagreed with these concerns. “My father has the same concern shared by most of the older generation,” said Mr. Wang. “He thinks I am not mature enough. But I have started a company with my friends, and it is operating well. And yet he always says that I have no career goals. When I was a little boy, my father asked me: ‘what do you want to do when you grow up?’ I answered without hesitation that I wanted to be more successful than Bill Gates. But he thought that goal was too impractical. So when he asked me the same question later, I thought about it and said ‘I want to surpass you, Dad!’ I can’t understand the thinking of the older generation, or why they always try to impose their ideas on us. We’re at a loss for what to do. We do have our own ambitions and dreams, but the older generation rarely takes them seriously or gives their support.”

“In twenty or thirty years, I will be sitting in another meeting room as a first-generation entrepreneur!”

Highlights from the CEIBS Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage 2nd Roundtable 2013

Mr. Tang described some of the conflict that has arisen between him and his mother: “I went to work in the bank after graduation. There were problems, and I told my mother that I didn’t like working in the family business and wanted to start my own company. But she was against it, and so later I went to work at a venture capital company. In fact, the second-generation entrepreneurs have been subconsciously influenced by the older generation. If the second generation wants to start their own business or follow another path in life, you should strongly back them. As I see it, I may not necessarily be an excellent manager for our family business. I would rather create something through my own efforts than take over the business founded by my parents. Unless I can run their business better than they did, I would rather set up my own business.”

What do the second-generation entrepreneurs want most from their parents? Mr. Tang said, “I hope that when I start a business, my parents will fully support me and use their social contacts to help me. Of course, I will develop my own social network as well. As Professor Rui has mentioned, entrepreneurs around the age of fifty possess the majority of the wealth, which they have built up using the social contacts they’ve accumulated since their twenties. By the time they are in their forties or fifties, the first-generation entrepreneurs have brought their businesses to new heights, along with their own skills and social networks. I want to follow the same career path as they have and start in my twenties to develop my social contacts, and I really hope that my parents can stand by me. As long as the cost of failure isn’t sky high, I hope my mother will support me even though I might fail.”

Towards the close of the meeting, Mr. Tang voiced an aspiration shared by the second-generation entrepreneurs. “What I want to do most in the future is to set up my own company, even if it isn’t huge, and develop it into a stronger one,” he said. “And then in 20 or 30 years, I will be sitting in another meeting room as a first-generation entrepreneur!”

Who is your real “child”: Your progeny or your company?

Highlights from the CEIBS Kaifeng Centre for Family Heritage 2nd Roundtable 2013

According to the first-generation entrepreneurs, the huge gap between the two generations is partially the result of their different living conditions. The older generation continues to change as well, which feeds the conflict with the second generation. Friends may perhaps assume a more tolerant attitude towards the younger generation; but as parents, they may place strict demands on their own children, leading to intergenerational conflict. It is important for the first-generation entrepreneurs to ask themselves, especially when they are busy running their business, if they have been devoting adequate time to caring for, understanding and communicating with their family members and especially with their children.

A first-generation entrepreneur who shared his thoughts about this received a round of applause from both first- and second-generation entrepreneurs. He said he hoped that successful entrepreneurs would step back and ask themselves whom they were more devoted to and saw as their real “children”: their own progeny or their company? Conflict may easily result from trying to bring them together if the match isn’t meant to be. The company is a tool to generate wealth, he continued, which in turn should be used as a means to try and achieve happiness. Can a parent, putting company and wealth before happiness, expect his or her child to do the same and give up happiness for more wealth? Later on it may be possible to find someone else who can help sustain the prosperity of the parent’s company, while the child can follow his heart in choosing a career path. The ideology and beliefs of the elder generation are not necessarily applicable to the younger generation, regardless of how much their parents try to insist, he said.

Another first-generation entrepreneur, Mr. Lu, expressed a similar opinion. It is important to properly distinguish between the two types of “children” and give each the care appropriate to it, he said. A parent can work to ensure that the company grows bigger and stronger to the benefit society, but the attention given to one’s own child has to focus on what will make him happy.