What is your Family Business’s DNA?

Inez Silva Reyes has successfully transformed herself from corporate executive to business owner/entrepreneur.

An Economics graduate of the University of the Philippines with an MBA from De La Salle University, Inez was also a former President of the Marketing and Opinion Research Society of the Philippines (MORES).

She spent more than twenty years in the corporate marketing world, handling executive roles in major beverage companies – Ginebra San Miguel and The Coca Cola Export Corporation.

She capped her executive career as Vice-President of Marketing for Jollibee Foods Corporation, where her five-year term saw the Jollibee business transform itself via numerous product and brand innovations.

She retired from Jollibee in late 2007 to become Chief Executive Officer of Reyes Barbecue, a 50-store barbecue-focused food chain founded by her husband, Francisco “Frank” Reyes.

Today, at the helm and as owner of Reyes Barbecue, she continues to rely on her management and marketing expertise, but now with an entrepreneur’s perspective.

On a lighter side, Inez is a wide reader of history and dabbles in writing. She won the Grand Prize of My Favorite Book 2012, a nationwide book review writing competition established by The Philippine Star and National Book Store.

Recently, my husband Frank and I attended a special seminar conducted by Butz Bartolome entitled “Strategy and Managing Growth of Family Business.” Our objective for attending was to listen to an expert third party’s experience with other family-centric organizations, and hopefully to pick up a good number of ideas and insights we could use to help ensure the longevity of our own business, which we are passionately working tirelessly to strengthen and grow.

Inez & Frank Reyes with their teenage sons Patrick Francis and Pablo Gabriel

At least 30 other family business representatives were in attendance, representing enterprises from Manila, Laguna, Batangas, Tacloban, Davao and General Santos, in business areas ranging from hardware to food to education. The second-generation owners dominated the audience profile – only 20% of the audience was of the first generation founders.

While much of the discussion focused on the current challenges of weaning out the “outdated” management style and culture of the first generation, there was one question The Business Mentor asked the group which jolted my husband and I to thinking more deeply about our own business strategies and long-term direction.

His question was: “What is your Family Business DNA?”

In the marketing world, the concept of a “Brand DNA” is not a new one, and all brand marketers are confident champions and protectors of their brands’ unique selling proposition or differentiation, which is another way of expressing a brand’s DNA.

However, in the fledgling world of family businesses, the concept of a “Family Business DNA” seems to strike something deeper. And sure enough, the audience’s reaction to that question was a few minutes of mild shock, followed by silent serious thinking.

Imagine yourself as any of these: the founder of a chain of five successful restaurants in a minor city in the Batangas province, or the eldest daughter and heir of the owner of the biggest hardware company in General Santos city, or the fourth generation great-grandson and future CEO of a conglomerate of educational institutions founded after World War ll? Why would you even bother thinking about what your “Family Business DNA” is?

In an exhilarating discussion facilitated, from thoughts and insights thrown around and across the room in rapid sequence, the answer emerged and enlightened us all:

“A family business is unique in the sense that it has an emotional dimension surrounding its very being. This emotional dimension is actually its STORY – the background of its founder; the distinguishing qualities of the founder that enabled him/her to face struggles; the values of the founder that kept him/her going day by day, taking risks and facing failures, turning the small triumphs into bigger victories. The stories of smart moves, shrewd decisions, ingenious ideas, and the sparks of inspiration to take the bold steps that brought the business to where it is today.”

Most family businesses forget to write down their own stories. Very often the founder’s story is the passed down orally, over family meals or during family gatherings. But it is actually this story, and the extraordinary details surrounding it, that is a very precious legacy of the founder, and can be considered as a pillar of the “Family Business DNA.”

The founder’s story is the source and inspiration of the family business’ core values and principles – which ideally would become the foundation of a family business’ company culture.

The message to all family businesses, therefore, is: write down your founder’s story and unite your own family as well as your company on the basis of the legacy of values this story imparts.

From this, the other good practices of managing a family business – like formulating a family constitution and drawing up a solid succession plan – will surely follow smoothly.

Big or small, old company or business newcomer – whether selling screws, Chinese cuisine or pet accessories – each founder’s story is not only a source of wisdom and inspiration, it could possibly be the strongest rallying point for a family’s unity and harmonious relations.

After the seminar and on our way home, my founder husband and I drafted and implemented an enhanced culture building program for our company, integrating three generations back of his family history into our own brand story. This move has served to elicit feelings of company pride in our people even more.