Lasting Legacy

Meet the millennials running Asia’s family businesses

Young business leaders share their most important business lessons
Young business leaders share their most important business lessons

A clutch of next-generation leaders are helping chart the future of some of Asia's wealthiest families and disproving the notion of millennials as the entitled generation.

CNBC spoke to four such millennials as part of a panel discussion and found that while some are focused on sparking innovation in their legacy businesses, others weren't averse to developing their own ventures.

Nararya Ciputra Sastrawinata is the grandson of Indonesian property tycoon Ciputra and as a director of the Ciputra Group, he oversees real estate projects in Jakarta for the family business.

Drawing from his grandfather's entrepreneurial spirit, he's also branched out and started a venture capital fund –Indogen Capital– with his friends, having spent eight years in the family business.

He said: "I think I'm a bit more settled in, I thought it's time to be more entrepreneurial, be innovative… I think if you see properties more traditional in the sense, more brick and mortar. I think you need to do more product developments and more business processes that you can improve."

"That's how I decided to start with a group of friends outside the family business, start a VC fund. I think that's my method of getting into the conversation at least."

Lionel Leong shares a similar path. His father, Leong Hoy Kum, is a big player in the Malaysian property scene and as a second generation business owner, he runs operations for Mah Sing Group.

Leong co-founded RHL Ventures with Rachel Lau and Raja Hamzah Abidin, whose families also own prominent Malaysian companies. Their plan is to attract outside capital and build the firm into Southeast Asia's leading independent investment group.

Lionel Leong, co-founder and partner at RHL Ventures, poses for a photograph in Hong Kong on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017.
Calvin Sit | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Leong family was supportive of his venture and Lionel sees value in venturing outside while still working for the family business.

"I think the way you look at start-ups today, the way they deploy capital, it's so efficient. And so, if I could even bring an element of that back to the corporate world, just a little fraction of that… I would be saving a lot of money," Leong said.

Richie Eu is general manager of strategic development for Eu Yan Sang International and he represents the fifth generation in his family business.

While he sees the attractiveness in carving a niche outside the family business, he also thinks he can "make a real difference" at the 138-year old company. He joined the company after a four and a half year stint in private equity.

"I'm really looking for the sixth generation and that's what drives me … one thing that I've always learned from my granddad and my dad is … we will always be owners … so I'm obsessed with finding the best talent for the company because I want to survive beyond myself," he said.

One millennial who has taken a somewhat different approach is Yen Kuok, the youngest of the eight Kuok kids. Her father is Robert Kuok, whose empire includes Shangri-La Hotels as well as Wilmar International. Forbes currently ranks him as Malaysia's richest person with a net worth of $12 billion.

As the "wildcard of the family", Yen decided after college in the U.S. that she was not going to join the family business.

"A lot of my older siblings do work in the family business … I'm really grateful and I'm a bit lucky that as the youngest one, I do have a bit of freedom to come out and get my own thing going as opposed to if I were let's say the eldest son of the family, I would feel a lot more pressure," she said.

Yen is Founder and CEO of Guiltless, a secondhand luxury e-commerce site that she launched in May 2016. While there were initial discussions to keep one foot in the family business and another in Guiltless, Yen decided she would focus on her entrepreneurial venture for now.

"It's almost like… the Chinese saying 'If you can't straddle two boats with one feet', although it's normally used in a romance setting but same with companies… for me I'll say well, I definitely want to set my sights on Guiltless (and) focus on making it work… probably in the future with synergies with anything we can bring it back into the fold," she said.

Catch the second season of Lasting Legacy, Thursdays in June, on CNBC Asia at 17:30 SIN/HK and on CNBC EMEA at 23:30 CET.