Taiwan's Diverse Families
Stan Shih: No Outsourcing Granddad's Role
In a large corporation you can make use of helpers as long as you delegate authority, but no one can take my place as a father and grandfather – there's nowhere to outsource this task.
Stan Shih: No Outsourcing Granddad's RoleBy Elaine Huang
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 566 )
Acer Group founder and Chairman Emeritus, Stan Shih, always seems to come back to Acer in conversations. Speaking of the "six fairies, two princes" – meaning his eight grandchildren, he instantly lets his guard down, becoming a kind grandfather figure proudly speaking about his extended family.
So as to better keep track of his eight grandchildren when they visit on weekends, Shih has assigned them numbers in order of age.
Frequently surrounded by the media, Shih has been called Taiwan's "most personable business figure." Never one to pester others and get on their case, he gets on great with his grandchildren. He plays Dance Dance Revolution with them, and back when Wii was popular he competed against them in baseball.
Generations apart, yet no gaps in communication.
The man his grandkids call "Grandpa Stan" has been full of anticipation lately, as his eight grandchildren have been secretly planning a performance on Chinese New Year's Eve.
They have been surreptitiously coming to Grandpa's house to rehearse daily, using his computer to produce a program guide. They even protected their work with a password to keep Grandpa Stan from coming across it and taking a peek before they're ready to present it.
"This is a big deal. I'm really looking forward to it," Shih exclaims as he prepares red envelopes for his beloved grandchildren.
Shih celebrated his seventieth birthday last December 18. His grandchildren made him birthday cards themselves, decorated with their unaffected children's writing – a special token for their creative grandfather.
Apart from cherishing the cards from his grandchildren, Shih always tries to make time to watch them compete in sports events, unwilling to miss any part of their formative years.
Indeed, unlike most of Taiwan's first generation of entrepreneurs, who were regretfully absent while their children grew up, Shih has made a point of taking his grandchildren back to his hometown of Lukang to instill in them an appreciation of family heritage and memories.
He understands that a family, like a business, requires management, and that his children and grandchildren will only grow up once. Following is our interview, edited for clarity and brevity:
When my wife and I were just starting out in business we had three children in three years. The fourth child was Acer. Boy, were we busy!
As the business was getting underway I lived just behind the office. My daughter was the smallest, and needing her mother she often called the office looking for her. Whenever the phone rang our colleagues knew someone was on the line calling for Mommy again.
We lived on the ground floor, and my two eldest sons had all kinds of baseball gear, such as balls and mitts. They would go over to the park to play ball with the neighbors, but since I was busy with work I didn't have time to join them. It was even worse for our poor daughter when she entered kindergarten. Though her older brothers were in their second and third year of kindergarten, she started attending first year even though she hadn't yet reached the proper age, all because we were too occupied with work to take care of her ourselves during the day.
So now my daughter and daughter-in-law spend lots of time playing with my grandchildren. I neglected them when they were growing up, and now they are afraid to do the same to my grandson and granddaughter (chuckles).
Still, once we got home from work it was all about family life. We cared a lot about our children; we just didn't have enough time to spend with them. I often say we left them alone, but they never lacked our care, as we always had dinner at home together as a family.
Lasting influence of Mom's thoughtfulness
My father died when I was quite young. When I was little my mother made a deal with me that she would be responsible for making money while I would concentrate on my studies so I could make myself into someone useful.
She knit sweaters, sold lottery tickets, duck eggs… anything and everything. She was frugal, but I had everything I could want, including spending money. She didn't want me to have to hang my head in front of my classmates because I had no father.
My mother was a very thoughtful person. She was a lifelong vegetarian, and never had another relationship with a man after her husband died. I observed all of this clearly, how she sacrificed, never spending money on herself, and doing everything for me. Any accomplishments I've made to this day are not because of the demands or expectations placed on me, but rather from a background of caring and love.
This is why I constantly express caring and love for my children and grandchildren. No matter how little they are they can feel it, and that goes so much further than always placing demands on them.
Take my number one granddaughter, for instance. Her mother showed me her report card, and after I looked it over I sent her mom a message via LINE and asked her to tell my number one granddaughter, "You've done great. Grandpa is delighted. Just make sure you pay attention to the areas where your teacher wants you to improve."
Their happiness comes first
Our eight grandchildren come to our home for meals on weekends. For two or three summers in a row, my wife and I have rented a 20-seat minibus and taken all of our grandkids to see Lukang.
Even though they were all born and raised in Taipei, they should know that Lukang is Grandpa's and Daddy's hometown. This means a lot to me, as it is part of our family's collective memory.
I have provided my grandchildren with an environment filled with love. Their happiness is what really matters.
My children's generation is under some pressure, but not too much. Maverick is under a bit of pressure right now (editor's note: Maverick Shih, Stan's eldest son, is president of Acer's Build Your Own Cloud [BYOC] and Cloud Computing division). I've never put pressure on them, preferring to let them develop freely, in their own way.
All I want is for the children to be happy. If they do better than us in a certain field it also makes us very happy.
My first and second granddaughters' English is excellent, and numbers three and four also know Japanese. They're all way ahead of me.
I couldn't pronounce any English words even when I got to university, but they're only in elementary school and can speak quite well. We did everything by rote memorization when we were young, never getting the essence of it.
I only learned how to read music after Hsu Wen-lung (of Chimei) gave me a mandolin. But my little grandchildren can already read music better than I can. Another grandchild gives me a hard time over my Mandarin, often correcting my pronunciation.
To me it seems like each generation is more capable than the one before it. I was able to make it to where I am today under comparably difficult circumstances, and I hope to provide them with a better environment than I had, but not putting pressure on them, and let them pursue different kinds of accomplishments.
I know that I've made my mark and stand where I am today coming from a totally different era. So I do not place demands on my children and grandchildren based on my subjective standards. I appreciate that their talents are superior to mine.
Everyone has different fortunes, and no one is fated to take exactly the same path as someone else. You should not chase after things you do not need to pursue, or force things. I do not put pressure on my children and grandchildren. What's the point of placing pressure on children if you only make them miserable?
I share in my children's accomplishments
"Family" is one of my objectives in life; a very important "enterprise" that requires planning and management. My main objective is happiness.
I share in their accomplishments. I'm very pleased when my grandchildren win first or second prize in a competition.
When they take part in a music competition or swim meet, I always try to attend if I can. This is an important part of their growth process, and I should take the time to be there no matter how busy I am.
Perhaps most heads of businesses do not give this kind of thing top priority, but it is all proportionate. In a large corporation you can utilize helpers as long as you delegate authority, but no one can take my place as a father and grandfather – there's nowhere to outsource this task (chuckles).
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman