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Me with my sons and business heirs James, right, and Stephen, left (Photo provided by company)
My Personal History

Grooming my sons as heirs to the Lippo empire: Mochtar Riady's story (27)

I had James and Stephen hone their management skills in the real world

| Indonesia

When I got married, I couldn't get a wink of sleep that night. I was tormented by the fear of death.

My three younger sisters all died in early childhood, and my mother died after a difficult delivery when I was 9 years old. The premature deaths of so many family members was profoundly traumatic. I couldn't stop thinking about what would happen to my wife and future children if I died early.

Fortunately, I have not been called to heaven and will turn 90 next year. I have been blessed with three sons and three daughters.

I have groomed my second son, James, and third son, Stephen, to take over Lippo Group. James is in charge of the group's businesses in Indonesia, while Stephen manages its overseas operations, including those in China, from Singapore.

I remember once watching a TV program showing how hawks teach their young to fly. In the video, a parent hawk grabbed its baby, flew high into the sky and then released it. If the fledgling hawk failed to fly and fell toward the ground, the parent would come to its rescue and catch it before flying upward again and releasing it for another try. The parent repeated this process again and again until the baby hawk had learned to fly.

Parents should push their children out into the world at some point and allow them to learn from their mistakes.

Believing that I should give my sons opportunities to acquire the skills they would need to manage a business on their own, I did not put James in charge of a company right away.

After graduating from the University of Melbourne in Australia, he joined a company manufacturing TVs and other home electric appliances in Jakarta. In 1984, I dispatched him to Arkansas, in the U.S., to manage Worthen Bank, a local bank we had acquired. I also gave him the opportunity to hone his management skills in Los Angeles and involved him temporarily in the management of Lippo Bank.

Through these years of business experience, including some rough patches, James has become a skilled corporate manager. He deserves the credit for Lippo's smooth transition to property development.

Stephen, my third son, attended a Chinese primary school in Singapore. Since I had decided early on that I would hand the reins of Lippo's overseas operations to him, I had him learn Chinese and English.

After he graduated from the University of Southern California, I sent him to Hong Kong to take charge of Lippo Group's overseas operations.

It was Stephen who proposed moving the headquarters for Lippo's overseas businesses from Hong Kong to Singapore after the Asian financial crisis.

Stephen also had his share of tough times in Singapore, where he failed numerous times to make a winning bid in government land auctions. Through these failures, he learned how to assess land prices properly and bid successfully in auctions.

After Lippo Group acquired OUE, a Singapore-based company that operated hotels and other properties, Stephen found himself locked in constant conflict with the senior executive sent in by OUE's second-largest shareholder.

Experiencing hardships like these has made him a talented corporate manager with a global perspective.

My family has grown over years. In addition to my six children, I now have 22 grandchildren and 56 great-grandchildren.

I have seen some Chinese family-run businesses weakened by feuds over succession. Avoiding such damaging quarrels requires good communication among family members. To strengthen our own family ties, we make annual trips involving many of the children and grandchildren. In early spring last year, we traveled to a resort town of Niseko in Hokkaido and enjoyed skiing. We made a trip to Bhutan in December.

My children and grandchildren have grown up, gone to school and worked in various countries around the world. As a result, they speak a number of different languages.

I talk with my wife in Pekingese or Indonesian, but use Indonesian when I converse with James. I communicate with my grandchildren mainly in English.


Mochtar Riady is the founder of Lippo Group.

Click here to read Mochtar Riady's full "My personal history" series.

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