MARRY a good person. Your spouse should be an ally in happiness and not a source of misery. The challenge is to find someone who shares the same values and principles and can be your partner in parenthood and all aspects of your life. As the late industrialist John Gokongwei, billionaire and founder of Philippine-based JG Summit Group once said, “Deciding on the one you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make.” That decision will dictate the rest of your life, whether you will have a happy life or a miserable one. Marrying Elizabeth, his wife of 61 years produced six grounded, decent, responsible children. Mr. John at the age of 93, passed away Nov 9, 2019. A day after he was buried, Elizabeth, 85 also died. In the words of Lance, the only son, his mom was “the heart and soul” of the Gokongwei family.
This is where this article is headed to...dissecting a future spouse, aptly referred to as a future in-law, whether working in the family business or not. To quote family specialist Aron Pervin, “In-laws occupy a no man’s land in a family business, it is a position of considerable danger, but it is also one of potential power.” For the Gokongwei family it is an emphatic “no in-laws” in the family business. This rule is the first of 10 unwritten commandments that Gokongwei, one of the wealthiest individuals in Southeast Asia and founder of the $14-billion JG Summit conglomerate, imposed on the family and the business.
But family members are not also spared from in-laws who are not working in the family business. Let me share a most recent case of a deceitful in-law who displayed so much influence on his spouse that all decisions pertaining to the wife’s share of the inheritance required his imprimatur. For years, the in law stealthily commanded his wife to block off her other siblings from getting hold of some of the commonly owned assets that were generating revenues. This case of holding the spouse in a state of “trance” is very common in Asia. Call it irrational behavior, stupidity or love but the best way to address this problem is for the family to confront it early on with force when necessary before it slides into some sort of tragedy. The key is to never allow an in-law to unfairly take advantage of any situation.
Therefore, the ultimate question is no longer about including the in-law in the business but whether the person you are about to marry is the right one for you. Empirically, there have always been many underlying fears that in-laws, working or not may bring down the family, the business, or both perhaps due to their sense of entitlement, greed, or worse, a hostile family separation. I am inclined to agree.
In a talk a few years ago, Lance shared his father’s secrets in running a successful conglomerate and in effectively transitioning from a family-owned business to one that has morphed into a diversified conglomerate with interests in air transportation, banking, food manufacturing, petrochemicals, power generation, publishing, real estate and property development, and telecommunications.
Lance said that during his father’s generation, the in-laws (married to his Dad’s brothers) and his mother were involved in the business, but the elder Gokongwei soon discovered that this was not always ideal. “There were situations where some of the marriages did not work. Loyalties change. Sometimes relationships between the different in-laws become strained. Feelings get hurt. It is tricky deciding who among the in-laws is more deserving, who is smarter, who would do a better job,” he said.