Painful
FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2019 - 12:00am

One can only imagine the pain endured by 85-yearold Olivia V. Yanson as she pleads with her children to at least answer her calls.

Olivia is the matriarch of the Yanson Group of Bus Companies, now beset by squabbling among her children for control of the business. The squabbling split the heirs into two camps, each trying to depose the other.

The Yanson Group owns the Vallacar Transit Inc. (VTI) that, through several subsidiaries, operates the largest bus company in Southeast Asia. Established nearly from scratch in 1968, the company now has about 4,800 bus units plying the major routes in the Visayas and Mindanao.

VTI’s large fleet provides transport services to 700,000 passengers each day. The company directly employs 18,000 workers.

From just one jeepney unit in 1968, company founder Ricardo B. Yanson slowly but surely built up the enterprise into the transport giant it is today. The couple Ricardo and Olivia labored hard to ensure the profitability and sustainability of the business.

Based in Bacolod City, the couple began operating Ceres Liner, serving the entire Negros Island. Over the years, the couple acquired exiting bus companies and set up subsidiaries to extend their presence – especially with the establishment of the nautical highways that proved to be a boon to the enterprise.

Those who commute across the Visayas and Mindanao should be familiar with the bus companies affiliated with the Yanson Group: Sugbo Transit, Bachelor Express, Southern Star, Gold Star and Island City Express, just to name a few of them. Ceres Liner was named after the founder’s younger sister.

One could imagine the challenges of maintaining a transport network as extensive as this one. It requires building good relations with employees and commuters; establishing a reliable spare parts network and cultivating a network of suppliers.

Operating a large fleet of buses is a cash-based business. The company needs to have a reliable accounting and cash-management system. The company recently acquired GPS equipment to keep track of its large fleet spread out over so many islands.

Ricardo Yanson and his wife Olivia learned the business as they went along, building strong trust-based relationships all throughout. Their enterprise, people skills and managerial talent elevated the company to what it is today.

Squabble

Ricardo B. Yanson, unfortunately, passed away in October 2015. In his stead, wife Olivia chaired the empire the couple built over five decades. Soon enough, the siblings began to squabble over who does what and who gets what.

The squabbling is not healthy for the company, obviously. It divided loyalties among the many employees. Those interested in somehow buying out the business keenly looked for opportunities. Soon enough, like vultures hovering over a carcass, union militants tried to attract employees to their fold. Suppliers wondered if they could deal with the successors with as much trust and confidence with which they dealt with the deceased patriarch.

Ricardo Yanson had the good sense to write out a family constitution to guide succession and sharing. But that document does not seem enough to prevent the worsening squabble among the siblings.

Lately, the contending parties began hiring their own lawyers to assert their claims. That is never a good sign.

Recently, lawyers for VTI president Leo Ray Yanson issued a demand letter to the company’s former finance officer Ma. Lourdes Celina Yanson-Lopez to explain the whereabouts of over P381 million missing from the company funds. An independent audit conducted by SGV Co. showed this amount unaccounted for in the company’s ledgers.

Yanson-Lopez is one of the four siblings (known in Bacolod as the Y4) who tried to unseat their brother Leo as president of the company and strip their own mother of her stake in the company. They attempted this by way of a supposed “special” board meeting held last July. The legality of that meeting (and therefore the validity of its decisions) could become a matter for court resolution should cases be filed.

Bringing this feud to court is not the most feasible way to settle whatever dispute divides the siblings against each other. A civil case will require much time to settle. In the meantime, corrosive forces could come into play, destroying the company that Ricardo Sr. and wife Olivia worked so hard to build.

That will be such a waste.

Usual

Although the Yanson story might seem like stuff lifted out of a telenovela, it is actually a usual occurrence in many family-owned corporations.

It is so usual, not only here but also in many parts of Asia where family-owned corporations are pervasive, that consultancy firms have been set up precisely to provide succession-planning for such corporations. I recently listened to a lecture by one such Filipino consultant who handles family corporations in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.

Usually, as in the case of Ricardo Yanson Sr., the patriarchs write out family constitutions to avert destructive bickering among the heirs to a company. That has not been as effective as it might seem – and as we now see in the case of the Yanson clan.

There are many more things family patriarchs may do to prevent their enterprises from disintegrating as a result of feuding among the heirs. They should do well to consult with those who have extensively studied the cases of so many family-owned corporations in several countries.

In many cases, there is a public interest to be served by ensuring the continuity of companies after the founders/patriarchs die.

YANSON GROUP OF BUS COMPANIES
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