LEE Kum Kee International is a Hong Kong-based food company that manufactures oyster flavored sauce and a wide range of Chinese and Asian sauces. It is a popular fixture in most Asian dining tables. It is also loved by Filipinos.
The brand was founded in 1888 by Lee Kum Sheung, a chef working in a small eatery that sold cooked oysters. He eventually formed the Lee Kum Kee company to market what has now become a staple sauce, seasoning and condiment sold in more than 100 countries.
Today, the Lee Kum Kee (LKK) group continues to run as a family business under the leadership of the fifth generation of family members. I shared this inspiring family business in my workshop last Saturday.
At the center of LKK’s corporate culture and existence is a Mandarin saying: “Si Li Ji Ren,” which means “Considering Others’ Interests” or “Put Others First, before yourself.”
Si Li Ji Ren is the heart and soul of the Lee Kum Kee’s very existence and the foundation of their commitment to ingrained values such as Pragmatism, Integrity, Constant Entrepreneurship, and Benefitting the community.
Today, family enterprises that are haunted by a multitude of daunting challenges related to succession battles and sibling rivalries may do well by learning powerful insights from LKK’s success formula as well as its preference over family embracing the business.
I espouse business first in my coaching work to dramatize the need to grow the business in a highly complex and competitive environment, but the case of the LKK family business’ endless pursuit in espousing best practices under a family first model is equally inspiring.
Quoting a well-written article by Jeff Pao, “Family first before business,” company chairman Charlie Lee Wai-chung once said in an interview. “If family members work together, the business will thrive naturally.
“As a family business, we’ve gone through several transitions within our family. And the two key transitions in the 1970s and 1980s have exerted huge shock on our family governance,” he said.
In 2002, the family decided to set up a family council as part of their efforts to bolster business growth.
Lee Wai-chung, the fourth-generation heir, said involving all family members in the business may not necessarily be a good thing.
“It’s a common belief that you are a part of the family unless you join the family business, or you become an outsider. But that idea is outdated and has to be changed,” he said.
A traditional family embraces harmony and tries to avoid infighting. So even if there are issues, they tend not to confront them for fear of causing disharmony in the family.
But those issues have to be tackled, Lee said, adding that it’s normal for family members to have different views.
In family businesses that my advisory firm, W+B, assists, the family leaders have the habit of sweeping the problem under the rug and totally ignoring the underlying problems. It should not be that way.
My model of coaching work is simple. When there is conflict, make the family members internalize the values. Values are like glue that keeps the family together.
Values inspire people to do things that are sometimes difficult, to make commitments that require discipline and to follow certain behaviors that will redound to the benefit of the greater good. An enduring commitment to values is the greatest strength and competitive advantage family ownership can bring to any enterprise.
The Lee Kum Kee model is a glowing example of what family businesses should be.