On 10 November 2023, the Business Families Institute (BFI) held its 10th anniversary conference, “From Succession Planning to Legacy Building”. This acknowledges how family businesses have both supported and benefitted from BFI’s programmes and initiatives.
BFI was officially launched by SMU in March 2013 as Southeast Asia’s first regional business-family-centric institute, a few months after it was first established in response to the growing need for research and education.
SMU’s intent was for BFI to be an educational, engagement and research platform that brings together business families in Asia, leveraging on the University’s experiences and expertise to help them deal with challenges specific to them – family governance, succession, business-model transformation and, of course, philanthropy.
The 10th anniversary conference brought together distinguished academics, family-business leaders and industry experts to engage in meaningful conversations about the challenges that confront business families today, and to explore innovative solutions.
Multiple panel discussions were held, exploring the path forwards for entrepreneurial business families, building a fit-for-purpose family office, as well as wealth stewardship and philanthropy.
The conference also saw a special panel showcasing a diverse group of next-gen leaders who have harnessed wisdom passed down through generations in their own history, while also infusing their unique vision and entrepreneurial spirit into their ventures.
Staying true to its mission
In her welcome remarks, Professor Lily Kong, President of SMU, reflected upon the roots of BFI, an idea shared by her predecessor, Professor Arnoud De Meyer, and Mr Ho Kwon Ping, the founding Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Singapore Management University.
Recognising that business families were an integral part of the economy and the region, they felt that it was important for SMU, as a management university, to contribute to it and to learn more about the field.
“Ten years on, I am pleased to see that the Institute has not only stayed focused on its mission and philosophy of working with business families and for business families, but also developed a vast network in over 30 countries across Asia, Oceania, Middle East, Europe and the Americas,” Prof Kong said.
“We are inspired that families are eager to learn together and learn from each other. This collective wisdom has provided a profound glimpse into the intricate and nuanced dynamics that underpin the very essence of family enterprises.”
In her speech, Prof Kong touched on the myriad educational initiatives that BFI has introduced, such as the Family Entrepreneurship Programme – a BFI flagship that equips participants with the critical tools and knowledge that they need to tackle challenges related to family entrepreneurship.
BFI also brings families on learning journeys through which they are able to gain first-hand insights into culture-specific family business practices, as well as business and investment opportunities in the host countries.
Besides these various initiatives, BFI has published 16 research reports and case studies, such as the research that found that Asian high-net-worth families are showing more urgency to start legacy planning after the COVID-19 pandemic[AL1] . Such studies help to uncover fresh perspectives and insights in areas including succession, family governance, entrepreneurship, wealth management and sustainability.
New challenges faced by business families
The keynote address was delivered by Mr Ho Kwon Ping, who stepped down as chairman of SMU’s board earlier this year. He touched on some of the points that would be discussed later in the conference, including the thorny questions of next-gen leadership and wealth stewardship.
“Asia’s business families are confronted by unprecedented business challenges. There are so many technological upheavals, and we are now in the middle of the tipping point for climate change,” he said.
“Things that I didn’t have to worry about, my kids and my grandkids have to worry about. In a word, the whole global environment for business families is probably more complex, more fraught with tensions than ever before.”
Mr Ho went on to share some personal anecdotes of his own business family, as well as other business families that he knows, some of which have gained success, and others which are less so, despite their key role in a country’s macroeconomics.
During his keynote address, Mr Ho also address the coming generation: “The challenge of every next-gen leader of a business family is that you have to invigorate it, you have to change and innovate, you have to transform it so that the legacy you leave is not just a legacy – it is a transformation of a legacy to meet the needs of a new environment.”