15 May 2019 / Article

Family businesses : “find partners that share your values”

Looking for strategic partners that share the same values is important for the growth of family businesses. This was one of the key conclusions of a panel discussion at the 7th AFRICA CEO FORUM in Kigali on “Family businesses: finding the partnership that will take your company to the next level”.

While the panelists – all second generation heads of family businesses – agree that strategic partnerships are important in taking businesses to the next level, they warned against rushing into partnership that cannot guarantee the survival of the business as a going concern.

Amit Patel, the Chief Executive Officer of Ramco Group— a Kenyan based conglomerate of 40 companies said it took them years to agree a partnership with Amethis Finance— a French family owned businesses.

“We took some time to study them and learn about their businesses practices and after confirming that we shared similar values about honesty, hard work and commitment, we then took a decision to partner with them,” Patel said, adding that the company has now grown double in size thanks to the partnership.

Yohannes Mekbebe, the Managing Director of Yeshi Group from Ivory Coast says that partnerships should not only resolve around getting more equity but rather securing expertise that is needed to grow a family business.

“Building distribution networks in African countries can sometimes take 10 years which hampers the growth of businesses. So people should not think that seeking partnerships is all about looking for money.”

Succession in family businesses—a delicate matter in Africa— is one of the topics that featured prominent during the panel discussions, with CEOs saying that  the matter requires careful planning if the business is to last more than three generations.

Mohammed Dewji, the Chief Executive Officer of Mohammed Enterprises Limited, a Tanzanian based company with operation in real estate, agro-industry and financial services sector said his father took him to China at the age of 12 years to learn how the Chinese excelled in business practices.

“For a family business to stand the test of time, it requires mentoring and mutual communication. Although I officially joined the family business after high school, my father had started training me at the age of 12. By the time I finished University, I was well aware of how the family business operated and had ideas of expansion.”

One of the biggest problems that were cited during the panel discussion was the few numbers of women in senior management positions in family owned businesses.

Dr. Leila Bouamatou, the Managing director of General Bank of Mauritania, said male members usually take all the senior positions in family owned businesses to the detrimental of females, something she said negatively impacts businesses.

“Sometimes because of the nature of our cultures, women are under looked and given smaller roles in the management of family businesses,” Bouamatou said.

 Rita Zniber, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Diana Holding, Morocco based company which mainly focuses in the agriculture sector advised family businesses in Africa to borrow a leaf from those in Asia, which make it a policy to ensure females and males have an equal role in the management of family businesses.

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