Oftentimes, managing a family business can be rather tricky, especially when your colleagues are also the nearest and dearest to you. Conflicts can arise due to generation gap, different mindsets and opposing viewpoints.
Gilbert Lewis and Linda Lim who co-own a printing company, Gilin Printers, are no stranger to this scenario. Their children, Ian, 32, and Irene, 30, have joined their family business and they have had to navigate the intricacies of working together.
“Aiyah, my parents don’t understand my working style. For them, work means that they have to see me at work from 9am to 6pm. But for me, as long as my work is done, it does not matter if I work from home, ” says Irene, the youngest in the family.
“It is not considered work. If she is one of my staff, she would have long been fired, ” replies her father in jest.
He is unfazed by disagreements at work between his family members as he believes communication is key.
“Whenever we have any conflict at work, our family will sit down and iron things out. It’s the same approach we have at home too, ” says Gilbert.
A family affair
Gilbert and his wife Linda actually started off with a copier machine and not much knowledge of printing, and have successfully grown their company into a flourishing one-stop printing service provider in Kuala Lumpur.
Gilbert is happy and grateful that his children have been involved in their business every step of the way.
From young, Ian has been exposed to the nitty-gritty of the printing business as he helped out at the shop over the weekends.
“I was about nine and my sister was six that we started to help out at the shop over the weekends. We would normally do simple tasks like stapling papers or folding pocket files, ” shares Ian.
“Sometimes, we would even ask our friends to help to earn some pocket money when we are short-handed, ” recalls Irene.
Gilbert had not counted on his children joining his business as they had different plans initially.
“I was studying graphic design in college but halfway through, I realised that I had no interest in studying and wanted to be my own boss instead. So I joined the family business and learned the basics of print design from my parents before venturing out on my own, ” says Ian.
Irene, on the other hand, had earned her degree in Communications and Media
Management and worked at an oil and gas company for five years before deciding to join the family business after her first pregnancy in 2017.
“I never thought that I would join the family business as I had always had my own plans.
“But after I became pregnant with my son, I was not able to come to an agreement of working part-time with my former company.
“But I am glad that with the experience I have accumulated, I can help my father in managing the business, ” elaborates Irene.
Keeping with the timesWhile Linda handles the accounts, Irene and Ian are in charge of company management and sales respectively.
“It is a very competitive market out there. During my father’s time, business was easier as they have many repeat customers; loyal customers who have been printing with us since 20 years ago.
“But today, with the Internet, it is very easy for customers to search for other printing services that are within their vicinity. I can easily lose a customer if my competitors quote a lower price than me. As such, I need to constantly do market surveys and meet with new clients, ” says Ian.
For Gilbert and Linda, adapting business strategies over the past few decades to meet customers’ new demands has not been an easy task.
“We used to drive around town to meet our customers to show them our product but now everything is communicated through emails. We were not computer savvy because back then, there were no computers, so we had to adapt by learning slowly, ” shares Linda.
“Those days, I used to register my business in the Yellow Pages. Now there are no more Yellow Pages, everything is advertised online, ” Gilbert adds.
Linda says one of their main challenges in adapting to technological changes includes using online banking.
“Online banking was a foreign concept to me when my daughter introduced it to me two years ago. I was afraid that with online banking, there is the possibility that people would not be able to receive their money, ” recalls Linda.
“Our clients are from a different generation now. They are no longer interested in coming to our shop to print in person. They want to be quick and prefer to have everything done online. The way my parents ran the business in the earlier years is no longer attractive to the generation today, ” elaborates Irene.
With their children onboard, the family’s business has been able to keep up with the times.
Ian, seeing the need to appeal to the younger market, set up another company in 2013.
“We wanted to reach out to a younger audience. For faster and more efficient printing, we decided to employ digital printing, which does not need to use plates, ” says Ian.
But it does not just stop there. The siblings have plans to take the printing business to the next level by starting an online printing company in the following year.
“From product selection to making the necessary payments, everything will be done online, ” shares Ian who is optimistic about their business prospects.
“Every year, there will be a lot of talk about how the print industry is dying. Our sales figures are saying otherwise as they are increasing every year.”
Despite the ups and downs and occasional squabbling, the tight-knit family share close ties. Though they see each other at work all week, they gather at their family home to have dinner every Sunday.
“At the end of the day, we do not carry our arguments home. Work is work. Every Sunday, the whole family gets together for a meal. Their father will cook Indian dishes like rasam, while I cook some Chinese dishes, ” shares Linda.
“For me, it is very simple. If there is an argument going on, I will just drive off and let them continue among themselves. When everything has calmed down, then I will come back, ” jokes Gilbert.
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