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A focus on transforming family business at OSB symposium
10/9/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 

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Prominent family business leaders and scholars assembled for a dynamic symposium at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB) on October 6, 2017. Participants tackled issues of importance to family (and other) businesses, including succession planning, governance, growth, and innovation challenges. The event was co-sponsored by the Rami Makhzoumi Initiative in Corporate Governance, with May and Fouad Makhzoumi in attendance, and the Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at AUB.

Opening the symposium to a packed audience, OSB Dean Steve Harvey noted that most businesses around the world are family businesses and this is especially true in Lebanon, which means that “family business does matter, and it is something we need to be talking about.”  

Tarek Kettaneh, senior lecturer at OSB and former CEO of Kettaneh Group, underlined this point in his introduction: “In MENA, 90% of businesses are family owned,” he said. “They represent 75% of the GDP of the region. So we need to help them sustain themselves, grow, and innovate.” Yet he also explained that this job is immense because only about half of these family businesses have concrete plans for succession, governance, innovation, and strategy.

The keynote address was given by Dr. Michael Carney of Concordia University, an expert in family business scholarship. He offered a dissection of family businesses that are in the top 1% in terms of wealth. Contrary to popular opinion, these family businesses are neither “mom and pop” stores nor rentiers; but they are in charge of productive owner-manager firms with a median of $30 million in revenue. They constitute the backbone of the economy—contradicting the popular image of the public and media. He concluded by advocating that family businesses become more vocal in order to take advantage of what he called their “trust dividend.”

“People have a very positive view of family businesses relative to other businesses,” said Carney. “But this generalized goodwill is squandered simply because people don’t know which are the family businesses … If you are not projecting that you are a family firm to your customers then you are not benefitting from the generalized goodwill people feel toward family businesses,” he added.

Following a short presentation on the Family Business Network of the Levant by Chaker Saab, the first panel discussion began with moderator Rida Elias focusing on succession planning as a governance issue. Reg Athwal, a founding partner and managing director of RTS Global Partners, talked about the work he does facilitating family board meetings. He highlighted that this work requires a balance between establishing serious governance and processes and dealing with the “socio-emotional wealth and human capital” that are at the core of family business dynamics.

Also on the first panel was Fayez Rasamny, who talked about his rocky path to become chairman of Rasamny Younis Motor Company (RYMCO). As part of the third generation of a family business that originated in Liberia and then came back to Lebanon, Rasamny worked in the business for many years and eventually had to raise the money to buy the business so that he could run it. Both speakers made it clear that succession can be a major stumbling block for family businesses and that thoughtful succession planning is necessary for longevity.

The focus of the second panel of the day was innovation and growth in family businesses. It featured Karim Baalbaki, chairman and managing director of BCI Holding S.A., and Anthony Boukather, CEO of A.N. Boukather SAL, who helped orchestrate a remarkable turnaround of their family business along with his twin brother Nicolas.

Moderating this panel was Bijan Azad, director of the Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship, who pointed out that MENA region family-dominated businesses have proved resilient through war, conflict, and political instability because of their ability to improvise. 

“Family businesses’ entrepreneurial improvisation may be different from technology entrepreneurship but it has proved critical to the economy of the region,” said Azad, referring to what he called “‘phoenix entrepreneurship” whereby, after the near collapse of the economy around them, these family businesses had “risen from the ashes more than once.”

Audience members and participants had several opportunities during the breaks and at the end to network with each other and discuss the thought-provoking issues that were raised at the symposium.
Story Highlights
  • ​​Prominent family business leaders and scholars assembled for a dynamic symposium at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business (OSB) on October 6, 2017. 
  • Participants tackled issues of importance to family (and other) businesses, including succession planning, governance, growth, and innovation challenges. 
  • The event was co-sponsored by the Rami Makhzoumi Initiative in Corporate Governance, with May and Fouad Makhzoumi in attendance, and the Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at AUB.
 
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