A leadership legacy that will live on
There are many successful family-owned businesses around the world like Wal-Mart, Ford, Reliance Industries, Samsung, Nike, Volkswagen, Tata group, Continental, Bosch, BMW, Porsche, Michelin, Heineken and Levis that continue to fly high despite uncertainties.
Some family-owned businesses have lasted for generations; Takenaka Corp (since 1610), Thomson Reuters (since 1799), Peugeot (since 1810), Hutchison (since 1828). I believe they all succeeded because of clear guidance and leadership which were instilled in the next generation that was taking over the reign.
As a licensed financial adviser, it is my job to advice clients on family office, estate planning and business succession planning. Well, I learnt that advising was much easier than executing when my father passed away last year.
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After my father’s sudden demise, my brother, Saravanakumar, and I had to immediately take over his newspaper distribution business run under the banner of Kannan News Agency.
This is a small-medium enterprise which has been in operation since 1997 – with less than 10 employees – located in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong.
This business entails a lot of sacrifices and discipline. My father was up by 4am daily and took limited holidays in a year. Not everyone was willing to do this business because it required a lot of hard work.
At present, my brother and I are facing lots of challenges in running this business; from human resources, operations and finances to lower subscriptions and competition from digital news platforms that threaten our very existence.
Nevertheless, nothing has stopped us from continuing the business and this is solely because of all the lessons taught by my late father, Kannan Kandasamy.
The family business
As the eldest son in my family, I was involved in the family business since the age of 12.
At the initial stages of this business, my father and I were usually up by 2am, making our way to the newspaper companies to collect our daily supplies.
I would complete distributing the newspapers by 7am, head home to get some sleep before getting ready for my afternoon school session.
My father, on the other hand, would continue his day job as a salesman.
During the weekends, my sister, Mutthamil and I would take turns to sell newspapers at our roadside stall. My mother Thanavathy Ramu held a full-time job and helped whenever she was on leave.
This had been my father’s life for almost 20 years as a newspaper distributor. He only enjoyed four days of leave in a year.
His hard work and diligence has enabled the business – which started off with just the two us – to grow into a small enterprise.
I have certainly whined about waking up at ungodly hours in the past but when I look back, I believe my siblings and I have inherited valuable characteristics from him, and I am going share what I’ve learnt from him.
From left: The author, his brother Saravanakumar Kannan, his father Kannan Kandasamy, and sister Mutthamil Kannan
As the eldest son in the family, my father taught me responsibilities by getting me involved in the business at a very young age. As a young boy, I used to criticise if something went wrong in the business.
“I knew that was not going to work” or “That will never work” were my usual phrases. My father was always quick to point out that if you did not want to volunteer or take the responsibility to solve a problem, then you have no right to criticise.
That got me thinking. From then, I always thought up solutions for problems before addressing it with my father.
My father instilled the idea of taking responsibilities when we can as its helped us realise our potential and enabled us to become good leaders. Holding responsibilities will show your actual character and you will understand who you really are. Leadership is responsibility, not power.
Taking that risk
I learnt from my father that taking risks was crucial in achieving success. I started my first business venture at the age of 18. At that age, most parents would like their children to fully concentrate on their higher education, but not my father.
He encouraged me to venture out and loaned me RM15,000 as capital, with a condition that I should return the money in six months, and I am proud to say that I returned it within three months.
I have failed in many previous business ventures but nothing has stopped me from taking the risk and trying again.
My brother – upon graduating from Universiti Malaysia Sabah – did not join the corporate world but ventured into carpentry, a tough business to run.
When he spoke to me about it, I followed my father’s footsteps and loaned him money to sustain himself as he learned the trades from scratch.
I know that his hard work and sacrifice will definitely bring him success in life. I succeeded because my father trusted in me and encouraged me to take risks and now I am following his footsteps.
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No degree compensates life lessons
At university, I took a compulsory subject called Organisational Behaviour that gave us some knowledge on leadership, organisational culture and people management. I couldn’t help but think how my father had the right knowledge and skills on all the above despite not completing secondary education.
My father had always believed and trusted me. Leadership is all about trust. This trust enabled me to take on leadership roles without any fear. I was the President of the Hindu Society at Universiti Putra Malaysia.
While my peers were busy accumulating good CGPAs, I was busy sharpening my skills on people management, marketing and public relations through my extra-curricular activities, i.e. programmes carried out through the Hindu Society, while managing my studies.
Coincidentally, my brother was the President of the Hindu Society of his university too. I believe he was following my footsteps while I followed my father’s. Today, there are various leadership subjects being taught in a corporate setting but I learnt all these initial lessons from my father and I am sure you did from yours too. Leadership is not about titles; it’s about bringing out the best in others. Believe me, “leaders are not born, they are created.”
The author (far left) and his brother Saravanakumar Kannan (2nd from left) sorting out newspapers.
Knowledge is an endless stream
My grandfather migrated from India in the 1950’s and my father was born in Malaysia. With very little formal education, my father was an avid learner. He always reminded us of a famous Tamil proverb, “The known is a drop, the unknown is an ocean”.
His minimal education never stopped him from developing himself, be it learning to speak English or learning inventory management system, accounting and so on.
These days, organisations encourage employees to develop themselves by joining the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme. My father had his own CPD.
It was a struggle for me to learn English because I was brought up in a family that uses our mother tongue (Tamil) as means of communication and my formal education was in Malay. I was introduced to the English education system only in my university days.
I hated writing in English and power point presentations were a nightmare, but I remembered my father’s earnestness and hunger for new knowledge and I persevered.
Today, I’ve written many articles in English and they’ve been published in newspapers and international journals. Like my father, I never stopped learning.
Give more to get more
If you want to receive more, you need to learn how to give more. Even until his final moments, my father was always giving. He is generous man who had always put his family first. Even after marriage, he continued to help his siblings.
His generosity didn’t stop with family. He used to give salaries in advance and was always there when his friends or employees needed help. I remember advising him to look into his own welfare before taking care of others. He never heeded.
Surprisingly, I realised that his traits did rub off on me. Today, as I run the family business, I am also helping others including his siblings in whatever way I can. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care! Generosity is an admirable leadership trait and when done right, it earns your respect and blessings.
This is the first year that I will be celebrating Father’s Day without my hero. It’s a very difficult moment in my life because until this very moment, I still cannot accept the fact that he is gone as I have always envisioned him living longer and witnessing many more milestones in my life.
Our fathers do not need to build Wal-Mart, Ford, Reliance Industries, Samsung, Nike and other MNCs to teach leadership. They have done it all along from the time they held our hands for the first time. Step by step, they have led us towards the right path by being great role models and exemplary leaders.
My hope as a father is to inspire and empower my daughter Shakthisri just the way my father did it for me. My father will always be my hero. Happy Father’s Day to all wonderful fathers out there.
“You don’t raise heroes,
you raise sons. And if you
treat them like sons, they’ll turn
out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes”
–Walter M.Schirra, Sr.
Gunaseelan Kannan, a licensed financial advisor by Bank Negara Malaysia and licensed financial planner by Securities Commission, is currently pursuing his PhD research on small and medium enterprises and financial planning. He also gives lectures on finance and business.