Perspectives from ISB

Last month, luxury lifestyle magazine August Man featured fathers and sons in midsize Singapore family businesses: Anthony Lim and sons Raymond and Jeremy of Cortina Watch, Alan Tan and son Alvan of Alan Photo, Tan Soo Pong and son Lawrence of Dragon Brand Bird’s Nest.

Anthony Lim founded Cortina Watch in 1972, and initially, he did everything on his own, staying in the shop and chatting with customers. But with e-commerce, the watch industry is feeling the heat today.

“It’s a different retail experience,” says Raymond. “In Taiwan, there are a lot of stores that don’t stock anything. You go in, try the sizes of the clothes, then order online. Our industry is not as yet affected but we are keeping an eye on this.”

Alan Photo used to be a typical camera shop, but with the rise of the smartphone, Alvan entices customers through REC, which is not just a clever wordplay on “recording” but also stands for “resolve, experience, create.”

Dragon Brand Bird’s Nest was founded in 1957 by Tan Soo Pong’s father. In 1986, it became the first to bottle the delicacy in a glass jar while preserving its freshness.

Final say

Even if the younger generation is already an integral part of the business, and the older ones want to retire, everyone agrees that during crunch time, dad still has the final say.

“A lot of our suppliers still approach me instead of [my son],” says Alan. “What I do now is start the initial discussions and then hand over to my son to follow up.”

“[My father] is from the older generation … and is more conservative,” says Alvan. “But I have to give him credit for his willingness to listen. He is a lot more open to new ideas than many other older people I know.”

“We are a traditional Teochew family, so when we have disagreements and cannot come to a consensus,” says Lawrence, “then we just accept the decision of my dad or uncles since they are the elders of the family.”

The same holds true for the Lim family.

“The final decision still lies with my father,” says Raymond. “That is how we do business.”

Source:  Queena N. Lee-Chua, September 15, 2017,