Family businesses: How far can they go?

Kenyan based retail outlet, Nakumatt Holdings, was recently named in the Campden FB World’s Top 50 fastest growing family businesses. The global research listing by Campden FB in conjunction with Ernst &Young placed Nakumatt at position number 28.

Kenyan based retail outlet, Nakumatt Holdings, was recently named in the Campden FB World’s Top 50 fastest growing family businesses. The global research listing by Campden FB in conjunction with Ernst &Young placed Nakumatt at position number 28.

Nakumatt Holdings currently has two stores in Rwanda at Union Trade Centre and at the Kigali City Tower. Nakumatt is a Kenyan, privately held company owned by the Atul Shah family with over 30 stores across East Africa. 

This article, however, is not about Nakumatt Supermarkets but about family businesses in general. There is something about family businesses that some people in Africa seem not to have appreciated yet we Africans tend to have strong family ties.

A few years back when I had just learnt how to find information on the internet, I discovered some information on Forbes’ website claiming that one had higher chances of making it to the billionaires list if they were running a family business. If you think it is bluff, take a look at the list of billionaires and tell me.

For a business to be successful there must be a high level of discipline and continuity of that discipline. There are few ways of ensuring this other than running it as a family business. A family run business with strong ethics is bound to go far if a strict code of ethics is established and the mentality that the business has to continue for generations for the good of the family.

A successful businessman may therefore consider giving his children a chance to apprentice and find the ropes of the trade so that in the eventuality of his passing the business continues to exist and grow. Being a family business, serious matters can even be discussed at home instead of only at the board meetings.

Businesses that are not family run often find it hard to survive the demise of their founders. In many cases, the other partners fight over the company and eventually kill it. That is not to say that in some cases, family members may also turn into vultures and do the same. However this happens where the issue of discipline was not well addressed. 

The Madhvani group of families runs one of the biggest business empires in East Africa, employing over 10,000 people (they own Kabuye Sugar Works) with over 200 different business entities spread around the world. It all started when an 18 year old Muljibhai Madhvani arrived in Jinja, Uganda in 1912.

Rwandans should therefore seriously consider growing family businesses. May be in a few years we shall have a Madhvani or Nakumatt kind of thing with business interest straddle around the world. All you need is that strict discipline for the children or other family members to know that they have to protect and help the business grow and that no one has the right to destroy something that has been built for generations.

I am sure the living members of the Madhvani family fear to lose the empire that their father built from scratch. I bet they think his ghost (he is buried near the Kakira Sugar Factory in Jinja) would haunt them if they did. Strong family ties can be used to build strong business empires.

ssenyonga@gmail.com

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