Building Legacy Through Change in Food Businesses

Building Legacy through Change – The following article is written by Wong Mei Wai, Founder, CEO & Chief Change Catalyst for a community of second-generation food business owners (Foodgen 2). She applies her experience of almost 20 years in the food, beverage and retail industry implementing change locally, regionally and globally as a force for good. The purpose of this article is to raise awareness of change in intergenerational food businesses in the Singapore community of 50+ second-generation food businesses. 

Dear Inspiring Foodgen 2,

Congratulations to Foodgen 2 on the successful "厨传" chú chuán, My Family’s Kitchen charity carnival! This 10th Anniversary Charity event celebrates the strong bonds of family and showcases Singapore's rich culinary heritage through bringing together the 80 next generation of Singapore Food Business for a social cause. It's a commendable initiative through the love of food and tradition to bring some joy to 200 elderly and handicapped children in the heart of Singapore.

The direct translation of 厨传 “chú chuán” refers to the intergenerational legacy within the Singapore Food Business scene. This special charity event held on the 10th Anniversary of Foodgen2 allows timely reflection on the past and looks forward to sustaining this legacy through on-going Change despite the challenging food business environment. 

Today, we are in a world where family businesses are increasingly making a greater difference to the world. In Asia, family businesses represent about 85% of Asia-Pacific businesses and within the range of 30- 40% in Europe. With the increasingly changing and complex market environment, increasingly the next generation of family businesses are creating change to adapt through entry into new sectors of businesses, new products, new service offerings, expansion globally and through digitalisation. 

To build and sustain legacy through Change, it is key to take stock of the past, learn from it and adapt to the changing business landscape to ensure the continuation of Foodgen 2 legacy. We hope some of these discussion points on Change and Legacy will spark some new ideas to inspire you:

  • Building Legacy Through Change

  • “What brought us here, won’t bring us to where we want to be”   

    Change is required for family businesses to build a legacy to carry on for future generations, as family legacy is dynamic and poses a valuable opportunity to shape the future of the family, business environment and communities for the better.

    While Foodgen2 may have taken various steps and levels of transformation, the economic and social environment in Singapore and globally, sophisticated demands of consumers push the industry into greater change. This puts greater pressure for Food companies with greater need to differentiate using their positioning e.g. unique concepts while maintaining the essence of the brand, raise the level of trust and quality to stand out amongst the fragmented market.  This has to be balanced amongst the people/ human resource, supply chain production and service standards challenges.

    Rather than rushing to make ad-hoc changes, a strategic and systematic, prioritized and planned change aligning key stakeholders of the family and business teams will result in better integration and embracing of change. It is key to consider and change manage the legacy team at the right pace of the change journey - without demoralizing the teams. Key considerations on the people front like deployment, re-skilling, redeployment are crucial, as well as change communication in order to keep the team fully engaged during the process. 

    In fact, some companies are more ready or able to change than others depending on internal capability and external factors. This includes things like blind spots, people support, organisation processes, timing considerations linked to economic and political factors and leadership support.

    For instance if the company is looking for more transformational change versus incremental change - our work has revealed that the companies that are able to navigate both “Outside” and “Inside” brand changes will undergo more transformational brand change. This  entails navigating a far more complex journey of acquiring new businesses and entering completely new business categories – in some cases, expanding into multiple markets globally with new or acquired brands. However, for companies that are only ready to focus on either “Outside” or “Inside” brand change (but not both) then it is likely that such companies will only manage to implement incremental (instead of transformational) change - like launching a brand and expanding gradually. At best, the incremental brand change would only include an introduction of the brand name, logo and brand experience, new product and services and gradual expansion to new outlets. The choice of whether to take an incremental or transformational route is often linked to factors like readiness and strategy. 

    Family Business Complexities 

    Family Businesses have layers of complexities. It is a mixture of emotions with business performance”  

    Family businesses are more complex than other businesses as they have unique characteristics and require better planning, strong communication and governance. The family system is deep and strong and can dominate the business system, causing all kinds of problems – to cope with family and business-related life cycle issues. It involves juggling the softer and more emotional side of the family and the professionalism and performance related Business. 

    Understanding the deeper and unique dynamics and openly managing it together can help to make progress that is required for business sustainability and succession. 

    For instance, there are many psychodynamics and unconscious factors that need to be understood within the family business to successfully manage the change upfront to speed up the process to achieve change. For instance, our work with family businesses reveals that successful change is linked to the people and the team leading the change - as it is important (as the “inside” element) to lead the alignment of brand change across the company. However, they need to work well within a supportive system (i.e. culture, organisational structure, ways of working and processes) to be successful in leading change. Specifically, even if the family owner is leading that change as a sponsor and directing it, there is a need to involve the community (family members or trusted external managers who have been with the company from the start) to successfully implement change that sticks. In addition, the maturity of the company structure will often impact whether the company successfully achieves value in incremental change instead of transformational change. 

  • Planting the seeds for Intergenerational Transitions to build Legacy. 

  • “We plant seeds of change, the fruits we may never see but the next generations will.” 

    Building legacy through change for family businesses requires the need to balance multiple family and business-related cycles and considerations in order for a family business to successfully develop and share with future generations. Many think of secret recipes/unique know-hows, wealth, physical restaurants/ locations but this also includes brand, values and people. In our work and research, the brand should be valued as something which built quality and trust and could not be omitted in building legacy.

    Building a legacy is high on the agenda of those family businesses interviewed despite the typical day-to-day preoccupations of revenue. Ultimately legacy is also seen as sharing the learnings through generations - not just the earnings. 

    Every generation has to evolve to be able to survive and plant the seeds for the next generation. Our work with family business has shown 

    It is good to reflect on the purpose and vision of the company and a deep sense and how you will get there through a clear mission, so that you are clear your generation is moving towards a meaningful direction. Often, in each generation, there is a different purpose. For instance, the first generation started the business for survival to bring food to the table, while the second generation started to move it beyond the initial shape into the city and the third generation then brings it into the world.. 

    To move forward it is important to determine “How much Change is required to build a legacy”. With our work in family businesses, it is interesting to note that a generation that does have some headstart or positive traction, are often linked to “the seeds planted by the generation before”. This means that they may have been considered and been ahead of their time in innovation and business practices, securing a good store location or publicity of their food, which then allowed the next generation to benefit for a while. However as times have changed, this benefit does not last long. Hence, each generation has to do the rejuvenation work and planning to be successful to not just breed, If they want their next generation to succeed then the efforts put in must be disproportionate. 

  • Brand Legacy and its importance 

  • “Building a brand's legacy is akin to the growth of a tree—nurtured by change, it flourishes, adapting with time, its strength derived from embracing transformation.”

    A Brand consideration for Legacy is not just the brand name and the logo design, nor is it only related to aspects like the know-how recipe and service. Some useful considerations can be seen in the Wong’s Brand Change Framework

    • “Outside 1”– the outermost layer of the “tunnel” consists of the most visible and immediate brand areas that were discussed: logo, packaging, product and services, brand experiences, user design and experiences, digital, eCommerce, website, social media, offices, factories, etc.
    • “Outside 2”– the second layer of “Outside” change consists of the brand vision, brand mission, brand values, brand purpose, brand promise and brand platforms, and toolkits.
    • “Inside 1”– includes somewhat visible experience areas which impact the system. This includes Culture, People, Organisation Structures, Ways-of-Working, Processes, Research & Development, Manufacturing and Quality Control.
    • “Inside 2”– encompasses deeper inside areas that consist of knowledge and talent development, along with trusted networks.


    The Wong’s Brand Change Framework integrates the unconsciousness factors faced by the family businesses facing brand change including the mindset, openness and anxiety of learning. This will be discussed in the next section - The “Inside” Brand Change and Psychodynamic Approach Overlay.  We have also reflected the importance of overcoming the unconscious change factors including the resistant mindset, anxiety and lack of openness.

    Fig 1: Wong’s Brand Change Framework 

    Source: “A practical and psychodynamic perspective on how Family Businesses can approach Brand Change to build legacy” by Wong Mei Wai.


    As a community of Foodgen2 companies are all at varying stages. Beyond the meaningful activities and social engagements, this community can serve as a platform of collaboration which would be a good basis for the food businesses to spire their thoughts. For instance, to make a greater impact on Food in Singapore, it is good to reflect on what uniquely Singapore food proposition is alongside the regional and global offerings. One may find that there are numerous portfolio or collaborative impacts like this Carnival that can make a difference and build that umbrella brand.  

    It would be advisable that before one starts any change journey, one should reflect on their current state of business and brand and their past experience of the brand change journey. This will help them understand “Where we are” and “Where we play” in Food Business. From these self-reviews and through deep conversations between the owner, the family, the specialists and consultant, they could ideally challenge themselves to see which segment the organisation should be able to stretch towards while consciously making plans to change areas like the planning approach, the  structural set-up and even the management of the unconscious factors which could be barriers to change.  Concurrently, they can revisit existing family business  considerations and plans (if it exists) to integrate in the missing element of building the brand to build the family legacy. Concurrently, they can move to set their action plan on “What we do” to draw up the necessary “Outside” and “Inside” areas through the use of Figure 1: Wong’s Brand Change Framework as a guide.  A plan of who should lead the change, the approach of “Outside-In” or “Inside-Out” will need to be carefully put together in the right priority so this can be orchestrated and navigated in an agile and adaptive approach. 

    This article is written by Wong Mei Wai, Founder, CEO & Chief Change Advisor of APAC Global Advisory Pte Ltd for FoodGen 2’s 10th Anniversary Charity Carnival organised by A Grain of Rice.

    Watch Mei Wai Wong’s Instagram video about the event here: