Wendy Sui Cheng Yap is co-founder, president-director and CEO of Nippon Indosari Corpindo, a fast-growing bread and cakemaker that has soared since listing on the Indonesia Stock Exchange four years ago. She also manages the business interests of her father, former Salim Group executive and pioneer businessman Piet Yap. At the Forbes Asia CEO conference in Bali last year Yap spoke about her experiences as the family member tipped to take over. Edited remarks follow:
Wendy yap: I would say the baton was passed at a time when I was not ready [Yap took over as president of her father’s California real estate company at 20]. I was just out of school, just graduated, so I think the timing was definitely not right. One of the burdens was that I didn’t have time to enjoy clubbing with my friends. And my father made me successor right from the very beginning. Although he’s from a traditional Chinese family, gender was not important to him—I had a brother, and he was not named [Yap was the eldest of four, three girls and one boy; her brother died in 2004]. For him [Piet Yap], it was just about which child was the one who could see his vision and carry the baton. I had the know-how, I had the educational experience, but, as my father says, he has “eaten more salt” than me. I have eaten rice. And you know you can only get so much out of school. When you’re thrown in the water, you pretty much have to swim with the sharks. But I survived, and I’m very glad I was able to achieve as much at a younger age.
FORBES ASIA: How did you use that opportunity to come into your own?
I was not ready. I had never been to the US ... So in that sense it was a burden, but it was truly an opportunity of a lifetime because I think my father knew my character. If he didn’t push me to it I probably wouldn’t have done anything. I would probably be one of your tai tais [married women who don’t work] sitting at home. I always use the proverb, “Without vision the people perish”. With a vision you must also have a passion, and I didn’t realise the passion until I was put in to swim. Looking back, I would not do that to my children [Yap has three]. I don’t think bloodline qualifies—it’s got to be based on other things as well. To separate ownership and management is not easy for a parent coming from the Asian families, because they always want it to be whole, it has to be “my son” or “my daughter”. But it’s not necessarily good. My father always said, as an insider you will guard your family assets, you will run the company very well. To me, both insiders and outsiders can ruin the company.
AUDIENCE: You say you won’t do to your children what your father did to you. How, then, will you pass the baton?
As long as my children carry the vision and have the passion, they qualify to start the race, but I will not put them as a leader in that position. I will use professionals. I believe in three things: Past, present and future. Honour the past, which means honour your parents, for the values they give to you, the experiences they pass down. For the present, you have discipline, hard work, using the talent you have been given. Last, the future, which is vision with passion.
(This story appears in the 21 March, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)