Working for the family business in this pandemic

Lessons in making it thrive and survive 

By Denice Sy Munez

ALL IN THE FAMILY My dad, A-chak, and I at Ever Bilena’s 37th anniversary shoot earlier this year

I have developed an increasing appreciation for the opportunity to be working under the mentorship of my dad Dioceldo Sy and my uncle “A-chak” (uncle or brother of father in Fookien)  Silliman Sy, especially now that I get to witness how they lead the company as we navigate through the challenges of a pandemic.

In writing this article, I hope other family businesses, which are also struggling to keep their company afloat, may pick up some helpful tips.

Company interests first, always
I am not sure what it’s like in other family businesses. But as a briefer for my relationship with Dad and Achak, their positions as founder and CEO (chief executive officer), and COO (chief operating officer) respectively, in relation to my roles as a daughter, niece, and CSMO (chief sales and marketing officer) have always been blurred. We talk about business everywhere—at home over breakfast and during dinner conversations.

There are some arguments that you usually see between family members that I also experience with Dad and A-chak when it comes to work, but all manageable as our mutual goal is constantly for the betterment of the company.

I’ve heard stories about how families should set aside personal, business, and family issues when dealing with business decisions to avoid major conflict. I find that as long as the intention is pure and genuinely for the company’s best interests, the effort to segregate work and family roles in a family business might not be so necessary. Somehow, not setting boundaries for work and home has enabled us to brainstorm faster in adapting to change and bringing in topline sales.

APPRECIATE THE BEST Dad and Achak at Asia CEO 2019 event

Responding swiftly to any situation
The advantage of a family-owned corporation is the ability to respond swiftly to change as needed, led by the leaders of the company. Where sources of revenue are scarce, companies must work quickly and creatively for survival.

For Ever Bilena Cosmetics, Inc., we have quite a number of brands that we have been able to play around with to help boost the company’s sales. This way, we did not have to rely on a single channel for revenue. We currently have multiple contingencies in case we encounter difficulties with any particular platform.

For example, Ever Bilena and Careline have primary retail distribution, but we used this situation to strengthen its sales with online partners like Lazada and continue offtake with direct selling dealers. Brands like Hello Glow, which was originally for traditional direct sales, we pivoted into online reselling distribution to maximize its social media clout.

We did the same for our direct sales homecare brand, Blustar, where we transitioned some locations for exclusive online reselling depending on geographic areas. This worked well, especially now, because of the heightened awareness for hygiene and cleaning products. On the other hand, another brand in our portfolio, Ever Organics, focused on continuous retail placements, currently entering Korean category displays in supermarket accounts nationwide.

Whereas working for multinational companies may require multiple levels of approval before any major actions can be taken for crisis management, family businesses can take advantage of abrupt but smart decision-making. The key point is working around the present-day circumstances and making them work for the business.

Deformalizing company protocols
Business-help books often talk about the significance of professionalizing a company structure and formalizing protocols for a family business to succeed. This is accurate in a normal business environment, but may not be deemed applicable amid a pandemic.

In our company, Dad is the aggressive and passionate one while my A-chak usually takes a step back to process the fine details of each picture before making any recommendations for change. I like picking up best practices from both to balance out the polar contrasts between the two of them.

During this crisis, however, A-chak and I both followed Dad’s call, especially since there’s no survival guide or parameter for dealing with such an unprecedented predicament. Initiated by Dad, we willingly adjusted multiple policies that prevented the company from capitalizing on sales opportunities that we would have otherwise missed. Less following regular procedures and more mobilizing the whole organization to bring in as much income as possible.

God at the center
Beyond familial relationships and responding fast, trusting God is really what gives our family and the company the strength we need in the middle of this crisis. I’ve seen Dad stressed over the company’s financial standing in the beginning of ECQ, and tensed over dwindling customer traffic in physical doors—which doesn’t seem to promise to improve anytime soon. He is not just the CEO, but also the father of Ever Bilena, with employees whom he treats like family and vice versa.

WORK AND PLAY When the office was just like home, even to Baby Jake

It is easy to be overcome by pressure and tension, but it’s vital to have faith in God and deliver hard work that comes with that faith. We could always give up, but we should remember and rely on the Biblical promise stated in Romans 8:28. that “In all things,  God works for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purpose.”

Dad has been working harder than ever, and as his daughter and CSMO, I feel blessed and empowered to work alongside him and my A-chak in working on company sales to pick up in various channels while retail is still down.

It’s a devastating time, and I am fortunate to have two role models I can turn to for guidance as we traverse through Covid-19 together. Despite our vulnerable positions, having the heart, courage, and willpower to overcome them will be what determines our fate. To all business owners who may feel burdened and beaten up by the damage taken by COVID-19, you are not alone. It’s no longer about the competition now, but everyone’s survival.