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Conquering the 3-G challenge

From left: Chief operating officer Don Timothy Buhain; (top) Danda Buhain-Garcia and Jeanne Marie Fontelera-Tordesillas; (bottom) Roger John Fontelera and Mark Buhain

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines’ leading publishing corporation, Rex Book Store continues to challenge common drawbacks about family businesses, as it marks its 60th year with an exceptional 15 percent growth rate – the first double-digit growth for the company in the last 10-year period.

Entrepreneurship experts say that third-generation members – accustomed to wealth and privilege brought about by the success of previous generations – are likely to have a difficult time integrating themselves into the business. Distanced from the passion of the founders, and shielded from the intricacies of the enterprise by their parents, they tend to be far removed from the realities and demands of managing the company. The situation couldn’t be more different for the Rex 3G team, however. Much of the initial success of the third-generation members stems from their natural assimilation into the business and their collective fervor to continue the Rex Book Store legacy.

Being the eldest grandson, Don Timothy Buhain – who joined the company in 1992 and acts as its Chief Operating Officer – knew from the start that he was destined to work at Rex. “My childhood playground was the top floor of the company’s building where they stored the books; even when I was in school, summer breaks and peak months would find me at Rex. Somehow, I always knew I would be working here, he says. His cousin Roger John Fontelera, ascribes his accomplishments as Corporate Finance and Administrative Group Manager to the inspiration of his grandparents – “the valuable lessons I have learned from them drive me to give my best in everything I do for Rex.”

The transition from second to third generation management is a tough test in every family-run enterprise, as it moves to a generation of cousins who often have difficulties in getting their acts together and providing the leadership that the business requires. But for Don, his sister Danda Buhain-Garcia, cousins Roger, Jeanne Marie Fontelera-Tordesillas, and Mark Buhain, it’s all about keeping the family spirit alive. Blessed with a strong family tradition, respect for hard work and for one another, and a strong value system, these third-gen Rex management team feel strongly connected to each other.

Because of this, they have all been able to contribute to the family business positively, in the relatively short time that they have been on board. The results speak for themselves: sales volume in terms of copies sold that quadrupled over the past few years, new systems and processes that now allow for informed decision-making, new product lines and innovations on core products and services, streamlined operations and upgraded production facilities that translated to savings and higher quality products.

Family business consultants across the globe agree that successful enterprises are those that see the business as something more than just a moneymaking venture. Third-gen companies stand a greater chance of surpassing its challenges if they have a fundamental role in lives of the family members. For 3G members Jeanne Marie and Mark, who have established professions outside of the family business, heeding the call to join Rex was not a difficult decision to make. “Because of my teaching background, it didn’t take me long to say yes. I felt it was my time to give back to the company,” Jeanne Marie shares. Mark, for his part, says, “the passion of my parents in this business became my own as well. It’s a heritage passed on from one generation to the next”.

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It is equally important that third-gen family members see the value that the company gives to society, its employees, and partners. Danda, who heads the Basic Education unit of Rex Book Store, couldn’t agree more – “I’ve been looking after the Basic Education titles and working directly with our authors since I joined the company in 1998. The authors are our lifeline – Rex is what it is today because of their help and support”, she states.

Continuing the family business legacy is one thing, but sidestepping the pitfalls to keep it strong and on the rise is where the real challenge lies. The third generation Buhains and Fonteleras remain undaunted, however, because they know that by keeping faithful to the vision of preceding generations, Rex Book Store will continue to be a force to reckon with in the publishing industry. And while it’s been said that the best way to make a family business grow beyond its roots is to make the business your own, Don Buhain has a slightly different take. “In a way, we don’t own the company – we simply take good care of it for the next generation,” he concludes.

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