13 Oct 2020 / Article

Family Business Summit: preparing for the future


Organised by the AFRICA CEO FORUM, The Family Business Summit was held this past 1 and 2 October in an entirely digital format. The event brought together some 150 African family business owners and leaders, and provided them the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and discuss key issues related to the longevity and short-, medium- and long-term development of their businesses. 


“It was as clear as day to us that we had to create this forum,” said Amir Ben Yahmed, President of the AFRICA CEO FORUM. “We needed a platform where we could address certain questions specific to African family business owners. The event is also meant to be a way to expand participants’ networks and give them a chance to compare their experiences and get to know one another.” Of these prestigious participants, one-third are from companies that generate annual revenue of more than €100m, while the remainder are affiliated with companies that report between €10m and €100m in annual revenue. What’s more, participants were from over 25 different countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria and Uganda, as well as India and the United States. 


The Family Business Summit also attracted a multi-generational audience, with more than half of participants belonging to the second generation (or beyond) of their family business. Founders were in attendance as well, with around one-third of participants demonstrating their interest in topics revolving around generational handover and the continuity of their family business. 


Over the course of two afternoon sessions, the digital event brought together high-level speakers like Ouided Bouchamaoui, the owner of Hédi Bouchamaoui Group in Tunisia and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient in 2015; Alain Nkontchou, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Ecobank; Patrick Bitature, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Simba Group, in Uganda; Patrick Odier, Senior Managing Partner at Lombard Odier; Darshan Chandaria, Chief Executive Officer of Chandaria Group; Kabiru Rabiu, Executive Director of BUA Group; Carlos Lopes, High Representative of the African Union for partnerships with Europe; and Massogbè Touré, Chief Executive Officer of SITA, in Côte d’Ivoire. These speakers, all of whom are well respected in the business community, contributed their real-world experience with major challenges impacting family businesses and their take on the field was accompanied by that of international academics specialising in family business, such as Elmarie Venter, Director of the Nelson Mandela University Family Business Unit, in South Africa; Peter Vogel, Director of the IMD Global Family Business Center; Alan Barr, Head of KPMG Private Enterprise for Africa; and Jennifer Pendergast, Executive Director of the Center for Family Enterprises at the Kellogg School of Management, in the United States. 

Their talks were a frank success, as a number of participants told us during a phone interview after the event: “The Family Business Summit has a relevant positioning, even more so in this time of crisis. It showcases Africa’s economic fabric – one that is local and engaged.” Another participant who attended alongside her family said: “We really enjoyed the Summit. We had the chance to learn about new ideas and approaches.” Others still came away from the event with a deeper awareness about specific issues impacting their respective companies: “Taking part in this event was really useful. I have a better grasp of how important it is to prepare for our family business’s future.” Or, in the words of an enthusiastic participant from Central Africa: “The workshops and panels complemented each other perfectly.”


The topics broached concerned the various problems family businesses face: both family and corporate governance, how to finance growth, succession issues, crisis management and philanthropy. “What’s important is to have clear purpose and why you are choosing to be in a business together as a family.” said Jennifer Pendergast, emphasising the need to define the family business’s goal. Ms Pendergast also gave the keynote speech during the closing ceremony – an address that received much acclaim from participants for its depth, originality and instructiveness. 


Financing was another popular topic addressed during discussions in which investors and family business owners confronted their differing views. “We’re not looking for an investor who has a narrow vision of our business and our ecosystem,” said Philippe Espitalier-Noël, Chief Executive Officer of the Mauritius-based Rogers Group. Babacar Ka, Principal at Development Partners International (DPI), expanded on this comment, confirming that private equity firms need to be good listeners: “They really have to understand the purpose of the family business and work towards achieving a common goal” 


Patrick Odier


Kabiru Rabiu’s outstanding comment about family businesses’ involvement in philanthropic activities and their importance in a country like his, Nigeria, is also worth revisiting: “Family businesses take bold initiatives. We are seeing more and more collaboration between them towards the common goal of making the lives of Nigerian better”


Another noteworthy observation was made by Darshan Chandaria, this time about family governance: “Drafting a family charter is very important for family businesses. It’s crucial for addressing obvious things, like compensation, and codifying them.” In addition, the Summit provided leaders the opportunity to hear advice from Patrick Odier and Patrick Bitature on the current crisis. “Stay true to your business when a crisis hits,” said Patrick Odier, who believes stability is the best way to weather troubled times. Patrick Bitature, on the other hand, proposed an alternative approach and advised participants to “change their mindset and remain resilient”. He even told participants to “forget everything you learned in business school!” In his view, that’s the only way to overcome the current crisis – one that has no historical precedent since the Industrial Revolution.


Patrick Bitature


During seven small group workshops, participants also had the occasion to converse privately about other topics, including “Investing your wealth successfully”, “How can we prepare the next generation to become responsible business owners?”, “How to make the most of your assets by forming a holding company” and “Continuity: weathering the crisis with a cross-generational approach”. Leaders were thus able to reinvent themselves by delving further into these topics and having peer-to-peer discussions about their best practices during virtual roundtables moderated by a facilitator. In addition, they benefitted from the expertise of The Family Business Summit’s international partners, including KPMG, Lombard, KeysFinance, Asafo & Co., the IMD Global Family Business Center, Nelson Mandela University, the Center for Family Enterprises at the Kellogg School of Management and EFG Bank.


Jennifer Pendergast


By bringing together, for the first time, African family business owners and leaders to address their major challenges, The Family Business Summit helped spark a connection between these leading players driving the continent’s economic development. “The Family Business Summit gave me the opportunity to have discussions with other family business leaders. We need a platform like this one,” a Nigerian participant said. The AFRICA CEO FORUM’s family business initiative will continue in the months and years to come, taking the form of similar events as well as those focused on expanding participants’ networks.


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