Who’s Really Pulling the Strings? Part I

In an autocratic family business, who holds the power? Your first answer may be the father, who built the company from scratch, or the son, set to inherit- but oftentimes, the men of the family are reduced to puppets; with the women behind the scenes, controlling the marionette strings.

Imagine: your independent business is flourishing, you and your spouse are happy. You’d like to retire, but not to worry, because all your hard work won’t be wasted- your son and daughter seem ready to take over. With a good succession plan, life will be good.

But what happens when your son falls in love with a woman of a different nationality, who has no interest in the business, who you suspect of being a gold digger? What happens when relationships between you and your new daughter-in-law become toxic? What happens when even your other child distances herself from you? If you don’t bridge these ever-widening chasms between family members, what will become of your legacy, hanging in the balance?

I was facilitator, mediator and strategist to a family business in jeopardy. Elemental themes of betrayal, favouritism, and destructive relationships were all a play.

Working with the family for 5 years. I was concerned about the tiny toxic interactions that grew over the years – that, when influenced by precisely the wrong person,  spelt  disaster for the family and its succession plans. But thankfully and more importantly,  the owner had the wisdom and presence of mind to recognise and resolve these interactions, so that his family business might thrive.

Trust Takes Years to Build, Seconds to Break and Forever to Repair

Trust is such a natural part of being in a family that we often take it for granted. In a family business where everyone is working toward a common goal, trust becomes the keystone of the arch- without it, the whole thing comes crumbling down. This is what separates a corporate culture, which centres around profit targets and individual success; from an independent family business culture, which promotes success of the collective- and it shows in every decision. For small businesses in particular, trust in each other is what allows them to thrive, whilst ensuring that those all-important family values that are tied to a family’s identity remain present.

However, trust goes both ways- and in a family business, it comes with its own unique problems. Say that a family member has been given a job through entitlement- what happens when they aren’t pulling their weight, despite the trust you have put in them? A corporate business always has the option of dismissal if it turns out that trust has been misplaced in an employee; and life can continue for both parties. However, because trust is so deeply ingrained in a family business, the same situation can prove to be very precarious. Without a formal governance structure, a dismissal can result in a toxic environment- and a decision made for the good of the business has betrayed the trust of someone in the family, infecting both work and home relationships in the process.

There are three aspects of trust that need to be assessed when employing a family member- loyalty, competence, and assurance.

There is a difference between loyalty to family, and loyalty to a family business. Would the family member take their role seriously enough ? Could they maintain a professional manner, especially in front of non-family co-workers? Would they act in the interest of the family over themselves?

You must be sure that the family member is suitably competent in the role before appointing them. Is the role in an area that interests them? Have you seen any examples of their experience with similar roles? Do they care passionately and take pride and attention in their work? Assurance requires active communication with the family member. Can they work to a specific task or job role? Are their words backed up with their actions? Would they be honest to you about their own ability and progress, even if they required help?

Welcoming a family member into your business always feels like the natural thing to do- but these questions bear some thinking about, and not just by you. Most times, some honest communication between family members can mean all the difference between an amicable healthy working environment and a toxic one. As they say, the toothpaste can never be put back into the tube.

Balancing the Scales

By their nature, family businesses are always in two worlds at once. Family is what makes working life fun and easy, it’s what supports and motivates you- it’s what you work for. Business, on the other hand, requires sacrifice, but also passion, and excitement for what you do. Every family business I’ve ever met has had to work hard to balance these scales, and it’s not easy. If you’ve ever had to impose the ‘no talking shop at the dinner table’ rule, you know what I mean!

But achieving this balance between family and business is important- too much of one can overwhelm the other, often without you realising until it’s too late. Personal family problems and disagreements, if left unresolved, can leak into the business, creating rifts over time. By the same token, too much ‘talking shop’ can lead to family members getting so wrapped up with the business that they have difficulty spending quality time just being a family.

So how do we avoid this?

I recall a past Forum speaker, who shared how he had entered the business owned by his uncle and father. He reminisced about the relationships he had with both- his uncle was very business-focused, whereas his father was every bit the family man, even while at work. He said that the close, yet opposite relationships he had with them had informed his relationships with his own son and nephew; and while he admitted to struggling to balance the scales every now and then, he had largely been able to keep it even.  


Awesome achievements & accolades



Only a week into 2018, and with 12 family business leaders listed in Her Majesty’s New Year Honours, it looks like the year is already off to a great start for our community!

The Queen’s Honours give national and global recognition to extraordinary people- and with two CBEs and ten OBEs (as well as a knighthood for Sir John Timpson late last year), we are absolutely delighted to see so many family businesses receiving the ultimate commendation for their contributions. Be they in service to the economy, best in class, innovation, philanthropy, community service; it proves just how hugely diverse the potential of family businesses can be- and how ‘the backbone of the UK economy’ is a title well-earned!

These achievements are the highest accolades in the land. You can nominate anyone but yourself, if you feel that they have made a difference to their community for the better, achieved something great, innovated within their field, improved quality of life for those less able, and more. The nominations must pass through a committee and the Prime Minister before submission to the Queen. To be mentioned is no mean feat, and I raise a glass to all who have excelled and rewarded publicly for their efforts.

What I think is lovely about the Queen’s Honours Lists is that they favour good values- and these extraordinary people are bound by the common values that can be found in the DNA of any family business. Honest-to-goodness people contributing to their communities, providing quality products and services, giving back, innovating in their industries- these values are what make a family business; and for that reason it is my sincere hope to see even more family business stars listed next year!

1. Timothy Rix of J.R. Rix & Sons
Awarded CBE for services to the economy and regeneration in the Humber region.

2. Rick Stein of The Seafood Restaurant
Awarded CBE for services to the economy.

3. Jarnail Singh Athwal of Premier Decorations
Awarded OBE for services to business and charity.

4. Robert Dobson of Dunbia
Awarded OBE for services to economic development in Northern Ireland.

5. John McGregor of Contamac
Awarded OBE for services to international trade and innovation in polymer technology.

6. Victoria Miro of Miro Gallery
Awarded OBE for services to art.

7. Alison Sellar of activpayroll
Awarded OBE for services to business in Scotland and abroad.

8. Colin Squire of Squire’s Garden Centres
Awarded OBE for services to the horticultural industry and to charity.

9. Jill Dudley-Tool of Frank Dudley Ltd
Awarded MBE for services to business and the community in Birmingham.

10. Susan Hallam of Hallam Internet
Awarded MBE for services to entrepreneurship and innovation.

11. Deborah Heald of Heald Ltd
Awarded MBE for services to exports and promotion of STEM careers for women.

12. Ronald Knight of Knights Farm Machinery
Awarded MBE for services to agricultural engineer entrepreneurship and charitable fundraising.

From good to great

In September I discussed the Asian Rich List 2017, and how much Asian family businesses contribute to the UK economy- but where the entries of that list were mainly London-based, this time I’ve turned my attention homeward. It’s fabulous to see that of the KM’s list of fastest-growing private companies in Kent, 56% are family-owned; proving yet again that being called ‘the backbone of the UK economy’ is a title well-earned.

Over the last three years, the turnover rates of these family businesses are positively astounding across the board. Whether it’s smaller Kentish firms like Red Eagle Recruitment, Castacrete, or Lind Group achieving over 50% turnover, or those with triple digit turnovers, like Watchfinder, Simms International and Ovendens Earthmoving Company; it’s glorious to see the world of family business continuing to thrive.

The story of golf equipment manufacturer, Powakaddy International, makes for an interesting case of how much of a difference having family in the business can make. After John Catford sold the business off, it’s been passed around from corporate group to corporate group- and the lack of personal investment reportedly showed. It was only in 2012 that Catford’s son, David, took over that Powakaddy and turned their fortunes around: in the last three years, it has achieved a turnover of a whopping 501.3%!

As far as I’m concerned, the results speak for themselves. Family businesses of this calibre are top employers, recognised internationally for what they put into the economy- and in uncertain times like these, there are few things more vital. It goes to show that while corporate environments can certainly keep the lights on, as it were; it takes the personal investment of a family to make a business truly shine.

1. Powakaddy International
2. Watchfinder
3. The Specialist Works
4. Priority Freight Dover
5. Highway Care Group
6. P.A. Crocker
7. Simms International
8. GForces Web Management
9. Ovendens Earthmoving Company
10. Motorline
11. Elm Surfacing
12. Bates Office
13. Otford Builders Merchants
14. GKR Scaffolding
15. Sahara Presentations Systems
16. Rift Group
17. TCS Screeding
18. Clock House Farm
19. Lucas
20. Edward Vinson
21. Reliable Contractors Ltd
22. FM Conway
23. Cooper Estates
24. FGS Agri
25. Red Eagle Recruitment
26. Lind Group
27. Castacrete
28. Stewart Fraser

Be careful what you wish for

For all strengths that a family business has, they are fragile in their way. Issues, if left unresolved, can impact severely upon each other; eventually creating chasms that can become too wide to bridge. At their worst the consequences can devastate a family beyond repair for generations. With wealthy families, their business empires will affect global trade and local communities.  With the ever changing fast moving internet of things, the differences between the generations can be trickier that ever to reconcile.

Family businesses have been in existence since before the middle ages, there is nothing new under the sun as Shakespeare’s King Lear describes.

The opening scene begins with Lear pitting his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia against one another in a show of their love and devotion to him. The prize is the inheritance of a third of the kingdom for each. However, Lear openly fawns on Cordelia, unabashedly naming her as his favourite and in line to be given the richest third of the Kingdom.  Form her, Lear expects the greatest display of love.

Goneril and Regan, having grown up knowing that they are second in their father’s eyes, have no compunction about manipulating the truth about their feelings for their father. Their professions of undivided devotion are convincing and appealing to Lear’s vanity. But their words are hollow, their intentions greedy. Cordelia on the other hand truly adores her father and refuses to lie to him. She says he cannot claim all of her love, since half should be reserved for her future husband. Even faced with the prospect of risking her inheritance, she remains true to herself. Lear consumed with anger banishes Cordelia from family and assets.

The kingdom is now split equally between Goneril and Regan.  With their appetite for power sated, they have no further need to please their father, he who pitted sister against sister. Lear becomes a burden and abandoned to walk the wilderness alone, the natural order of succession has been disrupted with catastrophic consequences.

Lear is lost and bewildered and eventually finds himself seeking shelter with Cordelia and her husband, who is at war with another state. They eventually become prisoners of war, with Lear dying of grief after Cordelia is put to death. What is more, back in Lear’s own kingdom, Goneril has committed suicide, but before poisoning her sister.

By the play’s end, the entire family has been completely eradicated, some at each other’s hand. As a result of the Lear’s vanity, pride, rash anger, need for control and lack of empathy or consideration for his own daughters, the kingdom and all of its wealth is left divided and run by a foreign duke and the remaining earls and lords.

A tragedy indeed, written some four centuries ago. But the palpability of Shakespeare’s works go hand in hand with their timelessness. Fast forward to today and we see this scenario is still relevant in many modern family run enterprises.

Unspoken control, egotism, nepotism, favouritism, greed, vanity are huge barriers to the successful transition from one generation to another- but if recognised early enough, and defeated with consideration, love, care, awareness and respect, tragedy can be avoided.

The Asian Rich List 2017

With worries about a post-Brexit economy reaching an all-time high, I think it obvious that effective, long-term strategy is needed. I’ve spoken before about the negative myth surrounding the productivity of UK family firms, and I maintain that in terms of robust, sustainable, community-focused strategies, family businesses continue to lead the way. While money-orientated, quick fix plans may not be our forte compared to larger corporations, in times like these, slow-build sustainability is far more important.

Just recently, I’ve had a look at Eastern Eye’s 2017 Asian Rich List, a compilation of Britain’s 101 Wealthiest Asians. Not only are 73% of the entrepreneurs listed owners and directors of family businesses; but the total wealth created for Asian wealth in Britain has been estimated at £69.9 billion, a £15bn increase since last year!

I found two things that all these family business leaders have in common: self-employment, and self-made fortune.  I speak from experience: having met and worked with a number of leaders of Asian family businesses, what lies at the heart of each of them is their culture, their work ethic, their values, and their desire to be successful.

Sri Prakash Lohia, chairman of the 40-year old Indorama Corporation and third in the list, supports the idea that values should be priority when it comes to staying alive in an ever-changing economy.

‘It’s not the money, I think. You try to build an organisation that will last forever. That is called real business which is our principle. Without principle if you try and run a business it will not last long.’

He isn’t alone, of course: the Asian Richlist is positively littered with identical sentiments from 1st to 101st ; each valuing loyalty, integrity toward family values, and investing in London’s expansion. With the list showing numerous reports of a successful 2016, it remains clear to me that once again, family businesses continue to be the best example of how to face moving forward with true determination.

  • Hinduja Family, Hinduja Group
  • Lakshmi Mittal, ArcelorMittal
  • Sri Prakash Lohia, Indorama Corporation
  • Simon, Bobby and Robin Arora, B&M
  • Anil Agarwal, Vedanta
  • Cyrus and Priya Vandrevala, Intrepid Capital Partners
  • Sir Anwar and Dawood Pervez, Bestway Group
  • Jasminder Singh, Edwardian Hotels
  • Manubhai Chandaria, Comcraft
  • Zameer Choudrey, Bestway Group
  • Harpal, Raj and Tony Matharu, Global Grange Group
  • Mahmud Kamani,
  • Lord Swraj Paul, Caparo
  • Vijay and Bhikhu Patel, Amdipharm
  • Mayur Madhvani and family, Madhvani Group
  • Ramesh and Bhupendra Kansagra, Solai Holdings
  • Sukhpal Singh Ahluwalia, Dominvs Group
  • Kuljinder Singh Bahia, Southall Travel
  • Surinda Arora, Arora Group
  • Ranjit and Baljinder Singe Boparan, 2 Sisters Food Group
  • Mike Jatania & Family, PCWW Property Holdings
  • Ramesh Sachdev- Shiva Hotels
  • Tom and Kuljit Singh, New Look
  • Kartar and Tej Lalvani, Vitabiotics
  • Kishore Lulla, Eros International
  • Nirmal Sethia, N Sethia Foundation
  • Navin Engineer, Chemidex
  • Mohsin and Zuber Issa, Euro Garages
  • Shiraz and Nadeem Boghani, Splendid Hospitality Group
  • Vipul, Shilen and Shamil Thakrar, Tilda
  • Pradip and Manish Dhamechca, Dhamecha Cash & Carry
  • Apurv Bagri, Metdist Group
  • Sanjay and Vipul Vadera, Per-Scent
  • Jay, Rupa and Sam Patel, Day Lewis
  • Naresh Goyal, Jet Airways
  • Dr Nikesh and Moni Kotecha, Morningside
  • Mayank Patel, Azibo Group
  • Gulshan Bhatia, Doubletree
  • Vidya, Ram and Avnish Goyal, Hallmark Care Homes
  • Rami Ranger, Sun Mark
  • Yakub and Anwar Patel, Cohens
  • Kirit and Meena Pathak, Pathak’s
  • The Suterwalla brothers, TRS
  • Aziz Tayub, Poundstretcher
  • Koolesh Shah
  • Mitu Misra, Safestyle
  • Shiraz and Amin Tejani, Leicester Tissue Company
  • Aly Esmail, SME Group
  • Raj Sehgal and Sanjeev Mehan
  • Sukhjit and Harry Dulai, Flying Trade Group
  • Dinesh Dhamija, Flightbookers
  • Farouq and Haroon Sheikh, CareTech
  • Abdul Alimohamed, Euro Packaging
  • Kishorekant (Vinu) Bhattessa, Mint Leaf
  • Firoz Tejani, International Currency Exchange
  • Nick Dhandsa, Associated Nursing Servies
  • Nitin, Pankaj, Anup Sodha and Pritesh Sonpal, Lexon
  • Lord Waheed Alli, Planet 24
  • Hitendra and Kirti Patel, Parallel Importing
  • Ketan and Bharat Mehta, NSL Group
  • Tony Deep Wouhra, East End Foods
  • Kirti and Tanuja Patel, Goldshield
  • Palminder and Engrez Singh Sanghera, SEP Properties
  • Pavan Popat, TLC Group
  • Dilesh and Hitesh Mehta, Shaneel Enterprises
  • Satinder Gulati, Veladail Group
  • Bharat, Manish and Kamal Shah, Sigma Pharmaceuticals
  • Nandal and Deep Valecha, Regent Gas
  • Afzal and Akmal Khushi, Trespass
  • Jagmail Gill, Property
  • Bipin, Piyoosh and Bharat Chotai, Waremoss
  • Sandjeev and Arani Soosapillai, State Oil Group
  • Prakash Thakrar and Family, HT & Co.