THE generational gap has often been an issue in many family businesses. Second-generation entrepreneurs say it can sometimes be frustrating when their parents insist on managing the company their own way and refuse to move with the times.
In that sense, Sena Traffic Systems Sdn Bhd director William Tan Wei Lun thinks he is fortunate that he doesn’t face those problems.
He describes his father, Datuk Tan Boon Hock, as a ‘typical conservative Chinaman’ but not in a contemptuous way. A lot has been said about the typical ‘Chinaman’ but for William, his father’s persistent, straightforward and sincere traits are something worth learning from.
William joined the company after graduating with a degree in civil engineering.
He had big shoes to fill, he says, when his father decided to groom him in 2014 to move the company forward.
Unlike conventional business school lessons, which start by understanding profit and loss, William learned something deeper and more meaningful from his father: don’t lose yourself because of business.
“My father tells me this every day, nobody will look up to you if you have a bad character, no matter how much money you make,” he says.
Senior Tan has a simple guide to live by, which is to understand the seriousness of each activity.
“There are things that we can do and there are things that we can do but within certain constraints, and then there are total no-go zones. If these things are compromised, our life is gone,” William says.
Tan advises William to prioritise others and to approach everyone with good intention. If others are happy with your deeds, you will be happy too, Tan often says.
Having started his son early on learning values and character building, Tan’s challenge for William when he came into the company was to learn to live the life of an entrepreneur.
William has also learned a lot from his father about the business and the importance of taking a long-term view rather than just “what’s in it for me now”.
“My father got into a business that he knew nothing about. Principles aside, he saw long-term potential in growing this business and he also knew that it was the right choice for Malaysia to develop its own traffic management technology as vehicle users are on the rise and we can reduce reliance on foreign technologies,” he says.
It made good business sense, he adds.
William notes that foreigners rarely do a full technology transfer, which makes the maintenance of the system expensive as there would be recurring and costly upgrades and consultation fees.
“Additionally, we know our Malaysian drivers better. The foreign system is developed based on the drivers profile in their continent,” he says.
Whether the company’s operations would be profitable or not in the near term was secondary to Senior Tan, whose eyes are fixed on delivering quality products to the clients. Because of this, Tan made sure that extra attention was given to ensure its products and services are up to standard.
For example, when Tan felt the network connectivity for its system was not up to expectations, the company decided to upgrade the infrastructure it uses to improve network connectivity so that road users will be able to benefit.
“The contract stipulates that there must be connectivity. We can use either wireless networks or fibre optics. Wireless networks would incur lower cost but there would be a compromise on the data quality. We decided to go with laying the fibre optics cable although it cost us a few times more. We did it because this will be able to achieve the full potential of the intelligent traffic management system,” William says.
Sena Traffic is also expanding the development of its system through Memorandums-of-Understanding with three local universities for industrial attachment placements for undergraduates to do their training and research. This ensures that product development is not stagnant and that the company can continue to innovate and improve its system in the future.
The tie-up with educational institutions would also help the company’s sustainability in the long run as it encourages more knowledge-sharing and training of potential talents in relevant areas.
This, says William, probably goes against the stereotypical ‘Chinaman’ mindset of keeping everything to yourself. It’s all about taking the long view, indeed, a valuable lesson from his father.