African Family Firms: Let's Build Networks

Updated: Jan 27

With the world becoming a digital village, the good news is someone across the world can now be exposed to new knowledge and education courtesy to today’s fourth industrial revolution. The bad news is the tools of technology and the execution of smart cities will still leave much personal growth on the table. There are still blind spots that need to be explored and curve balls yet to be thrown to African family businesses.

To begin, specific data on African family firms was hard to come by in the family members, or their advisors, sharing information on the internet; in other words, this niche is still finding its platform to share stories and case studies. Yet, it is noted the six wealthiest cities happen to be Johannesburg, Cape Town, Cairo, Durban and Nairobi, though family firms are spread throughout the continent.

With African’s rich landscape of mineral and natural resources as well as its billion-person consumer population, there is much opportunity to be had as well as challenges to be navigated. Each of the 54 recognized states (“countries”) are distinct in culture, language(s) and history and as family firms grow in business, so too their potential to network in learning from one another.

In building a legacy beyond just property and financial assets, there is social and emotional capital to transfer in increasing the survival rates of family firms. It is fundamental to create metaphoric bridges to better connect the experiences as well as perspectives between G1 and G2. G1 represents the older generation who possess wisdom from their multi-faceted experiences. G2, the next or now or rising generation, is quicker with adapting to technology but lack the awareness of any traps they could be walking into in risk assessment.

This one hour webinar touches upon the benefits of increased communication to learn from one another, both as it can benefit investment returns but also, the open dialogue of more ways of facing problems, better planning in this new pandemic arena and the emotional processing of injustices related to the commercial climate.

It is easy to become inspired by the vast opportunities just as it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the lack of structure or fear. When it feels as if we may be receiving the shorter straw, how can we transition out of fear based thinking, fear based decisions as well as fear based conversations. In addition to the wealth of insights both G1 and G2 hold, an additional tool can be to bring in an outside coach or advisor who sees the bigger picture or an outside perspective. When fear is no longer the leader in one’s legacy, everyone’s mindset sees more solutions, opportunities and willingness to explore what is outside traditional boxes.

A second challenge is creating our own identities in and outside of one’s family firm, beyond other’s projections or narratives of who we are supposed to be or how we are supposed to act. A part of stepping into one’s personal legacy is gaining the emotional intelligence to decide the elements of our own narrative, in taking the responsibility for our own narrative even when it feels like we are a salmon swimming upstream. For our family’s legacy, we can revise the business model as well as any family dynamics or traditions if it serves the purpose of growth.

Third Tip: Intentionally allocate your energy and talent to your family’s business as well as the balance of what is left to grow your own personal development in taking the initiative. How are we building our family’s business model and legacy and how we are building our own can be two different and distinct plans. In the event the commercial climate, customer needs or niche changes, we can find ourselves having to rebuild on short notice. In a sense, this strategy is about diversifying your business plans compared to being compartmentalized.

Fourth Tip: To the best of your ability, build your support network of allies to include people you may not usually converse with in the diversity of ideas. If and when we decide to go against the status quo in honoring our personal values, we can find ourselves in need of their perspectives as well as partnerships. (9 minute mark)

Fifth Tip: With either walking the road less traveled or holding a leadership position, how many healthy ways have you found to manage the byproduct of loneliness that comes with the territory? As G2 has to step up in responsibility and accountability, they will find the sweat equity to not be what they bargained. And G1 can find their dedication to the business leaves them with little to no time for a hobby or leisure time for the value of self-care.

Sixth Tip: Building your legacy may simply be due to “invention being the mother of necessity” whereas either you may find yourself as a G2 having to carrying on what your family built to survive the tests of time or, as G1 (the founders), you may have to make your legacy you own as you carve out a piece of market share in your branding presence. And at the same time, grow to meet your firm’s demand to grow and meet market expectations. In the reference to “shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves”, you will have to take a practical view on your family business as well as an eagle’s view of 5,000’ above to manage both the micro and macro execution. for at times. When we design our own legacy, we show up differently in our awareness and connection to how we decide each day’s activities. When we live our values, we take on a higher level of ownership and commitment.

Seventh Tip: G1 needs the talent and creativity of G2 to transition “if it benefits them” in “their shrewdness” and in understanding working styles, how can G1 make allowances to communication preferences such as texting compared to phone calls? G2 holds power by their sheer numbers alone population wise in how they can sway others with their influence, voice, trends, social opinions, as well as their disposable income of what’s important as power shifts. In preparing for any and all blind spots on the terrain, the video of the map showing changes in the past 100 years lends credence as to value of G1 and G2 conversing over personal and business with the change in political forces. (22 minute mark)

As certain countries are still rather new in their incorporation, family firms in those regions may do business differently in who they collaborate with as well as the structure of their business model. G1 loves options in being able to go directly to the customer or end user or amending their family’s business plan to pivot to a vertical business model. What ideas can G2 bring to meet today’s social, environmental and governance needs such as finding plastic alternatives, creating an app for direct communication with clients as well as suppliers? (27 minute mark) And how can G2 navigate any conflict with existing industries who dominate market share if and when their new ideas cause shifts in whose product or service is most valueable? G2’s ideas can also keep G1 connected to reality in real time. In the joke of “I wouldn’t be so scared if everyone wasn’t out to get me” in returning back to fear based thinking and fear-based decisions compared to conversing with a diversity of individuals. When there are multiple good decisions in multiple areas, success occurs like an orchestra coming to harmony – yet, it takes a coordination of many moving parts to keep all parts running smoothly in staying relevant.

Eighth Tip: Create virtual spaces where people can network, share ideas and compare experiences related to succession in a private setting. When fear is the # 1 motivator for men and women (respect is the # 2 motivator for men while certainty/security tends to be the # 2 motivator for women) let's prepare for and navigate these emotions in planning accordingly.

With many African countries are still fairly new, how can African family firms alongside family offices benefit from local resources compared to taking a back seat to outside investors and interests? So let’s mitigate the fears, build teams and have family offices come forward to meet these voids. How can the millennial talent and energy be capitalized to meet opportunities? What blueprints or governance can be created?

One African proverb states "When an older person dies, it's like closing a book and putting it on the library shelf, never to be opened again, only those who read the book will know that." What is at stake is whole archives will be lost if we do not gain the knowledge now to transfer it on in the education of the next generations. Let's not lose the history of the elders.

One case study includes the success story of Paul Kagame in rebuilding his country of Rwanda. This example can serve as a reference for family business members can find themselves having reinvent their business plan, products or services as well as brand in the face of changing times, crisis or disasters outside their control.

Advisors can help in eliminating fears, showing their clients new possibilities, reframing difficult situations so all parties can grow and be a breath of fresh air to stale feelings in a room to find common ground.

What can we ask G1 to visualize different topics to shifting their focus? What can be framed to hang in the offices, or home offices, of family firm members such as their mission statement, company values or a brand logo to anchor in excitement and hope for the future? Perhaps even a digital picture frame can be added to the interior design for visual learners as an encouraging reminder.

One brilliant aspect around legacy is that it brings up a variety of emotions, definitions and core values - what fits for one person may be different in meaning and relevance to another. Yet, how can we make space for all family member's beliefs, vision and goals in exploring win/win solutions compared to alienating any generation? Here is where advisors and coaches are key to align many moving parts in complex scenarios and family dynamics.

In summary, when there are different wants and needs from each generations, we can overcome them by understand how large or small the family and business circle are in the behavior of the group. We can harmonize the differences when we understand who holds the leadership roles along with the pressures they carry in responsibility of the unit.

When we stay curious in truly wanting to learn other's views on legacy and why it is important to them, they will feel heard, seen and understood. The good news is family firms are dedicated and pioneering individuals who can understand the marketplace quicker and better, as there is less bureaucracy.

As the numbers show family firms outperform non family firms in share price and other metrics, both G1 and G2 can continue to excel through their shared values, shared mission and shared history. In these strong bonds, let's build on that to create updated systems and structures in welcoming tomorrow's opportunities. Both G1 and G2 need each other right now.

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