June 25, 2024

You’re the Boss: Battle Hymn of the Small-Business Tiger Mother


As usual on this Mother’s Day, I found myself not only being waited on by my husband and two sons but also reflecting on my own experiences of motherhood and how I’m measuring up. As a mother and small- business owner, I often find myself squeezed by the double whammy of guilt: time spent in my business is time spent away from my kids, while time with my kids is time away from my business. They all need me, and the struggle to “be there” is ongoing.

And just when you think you have your mommy guilt in check, along comes a bombshell like Amy Chua’s recent book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” For those who missed the hype, the book is an account of Ms. Chua — a professor of law at Yale — raising her two daughters the traditional Chinese way. In short, discipline is the order of the day, and anything but first place and straight A’s is considered a disgrace. Not surprisingly, a global debate ensued, with the first page of the book garnering much of the attention. It provides a list of things Ms. Chua’s girls were never allowed to do: attend sleepovers, play any instrument other than the violin and piano, watch TV or play video games. (And I thought TV and video games were not only acceptable diversions but could also substitute for an hour of “babysitting” in a pinch.)

After months of screwing up my courage I finally read the book, which was less damning and more entertaining than I expected. Upon learning more about what makes the Tiger Mother tick, I found myself wondering if there were parallels between how the Chinese raise their children and how they run their businesses. I decided to ask.

Chia-Li Chien is a business consultant and financial adviser who moved to the United States in 1988. While her daughter claims Chia-Li is a Tiger Mother, Ms. Chien says that — after 22 years in the United States — her opinions have become largely westernized. “My mother was a Tiger Mother,” she said.

When I asked her about business ownership, Ms. Chien pointed to the Chinese preoccupation with money and profitability, which is sometimes perceived in the West as being cheap. “Most Chinese-run companies in the U.S. are cash-flow positive,” said Ms. Chien, adding that they tend to have very little debt because of their diligent efforts to manage expenses and focus on top line metrics like sales volume and margins. According to Ms. Chien, money is a motivator at every level of a Chinese business, with owners making liberal use of cash incentives like bonuses for employees. “Money is the motivator, not the fluffy stuff,” said Ms. Chien.

“We probably spend more time analyzing costs than some Westerners. We calculate and re-calculate” said Rong Murphy, founder of Food Processing Technology Innovations and a former associate professor at the University of Arkansas. Like Ms. Chien, Dr. Murphy mentioned the Chinese aversion to debt and the relentless pursuit of cost savings. Regarding the western perception of cheapness, Dr. Murphy had an alternative explanation: “It may be that Chinese do not want to spend money that cannot be translated into profit.”

Rob Slee, founder of MidasNation, who has worked with many Chinese small-business owners and who will be on a speaking tour in China this fall, said, “I believe that comparisons abound between how Chinese raise their kids and how they run their businesses.” In Mr. Slee’s experience, a Chinese small business embodies the following ethos:

1) Every penny matters.
2) Everyone has to earn his or her keep and add value.
3) Appreciation of the asset is the driver.
4) No excuses for failure.
5) Set goals high and then achieve them.

While Mr. Slee thinks Ms. Chua’s now-famous parental restrictions are unnecessary to develop a child to his or her fullest potential, he believes the Chinese notion of expecting and then demanding excellence — whether it is from kids or businesses — is correct. “I’m not sure how many American business owners are holding themselves to the same level of achievement.”

Mr. Slee — an academic himself — offered me a bit of comfort this Mother’s Day, noting the importance of striking a balance between the rote learning and linear analysis of left brain thinking and the creative design associated with the right brain. “One without the other leads to a limited worldview,” he said. “Getting all A’s means that a student highly conforms to the environment. And non-conformance is the mother of successful business ownership.”

Barbara Taylor is co-owner of a business brokerage, Synergy Business Services, in Bentonville, Ark. Here is her guide to selling a business.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=1a08d8a36433472b00c53c71ff870099

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