In life, don’t save the best for last… a passing on of generations

“Make the most of what we yet may spend, Before we too into the Dust descend…”
– Omar Khayyam

Amid the whirl of a busy economy, worldwide conflicts and political issues, Philippine movers and shakers were suddenly confronted with the face of mortality in the passing to the next life of representatives of the great business families in the country — John Gokongwei Jr. and Lucio “Bong” Tan Jr.

From left: George Ty, Henry Sy Sr., John Gokongwei and Lucio Tan Jr.

Both were known for scrappiness, one a mainstay for decades and the other shockingly just at the very announcement of his taking the helm of a major national enterprise. And suddenly there was a hush of thoughtfulness in the community, who, from all over the country, took time to troop to pay their last respects to these dear friends.

Just recently, Henry Sy Sr. of SM and George Ty of Metrobank, pillars of the business community, had also just passed away.  This procession had made many take pause to consider the directions of their life, their families and their enterprises, as well as that of the country.

In each, the story of family and friends is a personal one, and both the Tan and Gokongwei families are to many of us friends, inspirations, partners and many other things… all in one.  They are also empires, and as such, there is another dimension of the public’s interest in them, that is, in how the enterprises and generations will evolve. We pay our respects, tell our stories, and give support and continued friendships with the members of the families…. We keep the memories as some of them will pass on to legend.

These families, and others, came from a generation where the great builders came from scratch, or from much smaller enterprises, worked against great odds that other entrepreneurs would fail to overcome to become titans in their industries, surpassing many other older more established families, creating enterprises that crossed over national boundaries to the region. They created employment, organization of national resources to benefit inclusively millions of our countrymen, beyond generations.  They uniformly continued to work nearly to the very limits of age and physical possibility. They came from a culture that may not be continued given today’s changing circumstances, but one that we would do well to learn from and combine with new circumstances.

This period in time in the world is as if the chessboard everyone was playing on was not only changed by an ongoing trade war and regional conflicts, but the pieces themselves were changing rapidly, and the very rules of the game were changing because of new technologies and regulations.

Hopefully where there is destruction, it will be a creative destruction from which better institutions and frameworks will arise, and only our careful consideration and productive participation will help move things in that direction rather than the nihilistic all-out politics and destruction that is now happening in places in Hong Kong, the Middle East and Central America.

These changes in world order will mean new crises and new opportunities will arise. New players will enter the game; old ones will be exiting.  Some ideas how to navigate we will take up in other articles, but here today we are taking some time and thought for personal and family life.

For these inheriting families, traditions will ask that the new generations rising will honor their family by being responsible, doing well, keeping a good reputation, and teaching the next generation to be productive, contributing to and sharing blessings with society.

Toward the end of our life, some people say, we become infants again, lucky to be able to take care of ourselves physically. The cares of the world begin to fade to the background again, the pleasures and battles no longer ours, and we are left with friendships and memories, as physical powers decline. So we must take time for, plan and cultivate relationships and experiences, interests, and keep regrets to a minimum, as we may not have time to correct them.

That is, don’t save the best for last, you may not have the time to enjoy it, or you may not have time to let others know or experience what you want them to. Live today, love today, make up for things and pains today.

A “goodbye party”?  I had never heard of one.  Robin Horsman explained to me that a close friend was told he had a few months or a year left because of illness. Not wanting people to visit him when they might no longer be able to enjoy each other’s company, he invited friends to a “goodbye party.”  I am not sure how such a thing is conducted, but someone explained that a rule to follow to have a good life is, if something is not likely to have disastrous consequences and the intent is good, you should just try it rather than regret not trying it.

How do we know we are living or lived well? There are different types of choices people seem happy with.

Steve Jobs, knowing he had cancer, continued to dedicate his spectacular life to Apple, building it into becoming the most valuable company in the world.  His advice to us about life? That when we connect the events or “dots” in our life, we will see how destiny leads us. But that since we cannot connect them forward, we should just have faith that things will eventually make sense, and keep living our life.

Songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote a song recommending that we should not be too proud to let the people around us know our love, and to “leave them laughing when you go…” — maybe smiling will be enough.

Another says “love is life’s greatest game.” Many will say that having loved someone or being loved kept them happy even after, against all of life’s uncertainties.

Perhaps life is love’s greatest game also. Jesus gave his life for the salvation of men.
An interesting criteria of a life well lived was eloquently proposed by a speaker in Anvil Business Club, Mr Wang Chien Shien. While visiting a well-loved friend’s wake, he saw the friends had a sign saying “It was good having you with us!”, and suggested that if people around you felt that way about you, it would mean you had lived well.  People don’t always recognize the value in our life, not everyone needs to be a hero or loved or to accomplish great things.  It is something between us and God.

But there is an art in living.  And to some, an art in dying as well. That is for aspiring heroes, poets, conquerors, visionaries, etc. What do these other people suggest in the face of the inevitable?

George Siy is a Wharton-educated industrialist, international trade practitioner and negotiator, serving as director of IDSI. He has been invited as a resource person on economic and development issues by various business organizations, media and the academe. He has advised the Philippines and various organizations in trade negotiations with Asean, Japan and the United States.

New Worlds by IDSI (Integrated Development Studies Institute) aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (

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