AWiB’s 7th Annual May Forum 2018: Business Legacy Establishing a Strong Institutional Foundation & Functional Sustainable Systems
AWiB’s 2018 May Forum opened its program with the one and only Dr. Senait Fisseha, who delivered an immaculate keynote speech to get the audience ready for the day’s topic Business Legacy. Dr. Senait began her speech by acknowledging AWiB’s determination in working towards unleashing women’s potential. She specifically appreciated AWiB’s intentional contribution to a new Ethiopian culture of celebrating women. She spoke of the importance of investing in women and girls and the proven results that it yields to the economy at large.
Dr. Senait said, this is an incredible time to be in Ethiopia with the current government dialoging about gender equality and the importance of the contribution of women and girls in all fields. If we are going to bring fundamental change to our country, businesses and companies are going to have to invest in women and girls. Dr. Senait said, only then can companies create sustainable systems within their operational structures, bring transformative change to their specific markets, result in high return in their investment, and be at a competitive advantage not only locally but on a global scale as well.
Again Dr. Senait thanked AWiB for its continued efforts in approaching companies and businesses to push for investing in women leadership trainings and mentorship as well. She also thanked her husband, of whom she said had a feminist agenda, and as such, supported her through her strenuous education which she now says he invested in me. Dr. Senait continued to speak about the need for more platforms for women to be seen and heard, to be in positions of inspirations to younger girls and to be represented at high levels positions.
She said, that everyone needs to capture opportunities and use their voices and their positions in addressing gender inequality. She said, it requires intentionality to invest and empower women and we are the one we are waiting for. Although power can be an aphrodisiac, we should not forget that we succeed and fail collectively. Towards her speech’s conclusion she again made it a point to appreciate AWiB for its contribution to building females leaders in the country and shared quite a comical quote, leaving everyone laughing.
“There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”
- The Impact of Strong Foundations: Lessons from Leaders
Started out grateful for the opportunity and thanked AWiB for creating the platform. He reminisced about his father, Tesfagebreselassie Ze Biere Bulga, the man who created ye fidel gebeta to “quench the thirst of Ethiopian people to read”. He would sell the alphabet poster, drawn by hand and printed by Brihan-ena-Selam. His interested started from the time when he used to sell bibles which was challenging because of people were illiterate. Before the Italian invasion, he bought a manual printer and has been printing and working in that area ever since. He started publishing various books until his son returned as a diaspora 30 years after his brother passed away. Upon his return he found that his father’s vision had become an institution in and of itself and that he had to ensure the legacy lived on. He knew he had to restructure the institution.
After getting both his parent’s permission, the organization was turned into a PLC. He became general manager and his father transferred his shares to his children. He shared that there were challenges especially with the large number of siblings in the family and the differences in opinions that often resulted in a shift in direction. Because of that and the state of the country, at the time, the printing press was gong to be demolished, but it was fortunately marked as a heritage site and was assigned to remain as is. He recounts that it has been like pushing a mountain and, after seventeen years, he handed over the company to his brothers and sisters and opened his own branch. To ensure that his new branch’s legacy lives on, he believes his son will forward its future legacy. May 1st 2018, marked the 100th year for Ye Fidel Gebeta where Tesfa Gebreselassie’s legacy was celebrated.
“The bases of Ethiopian knowledge are our alphabets”
Shared that her family was born in Addis and that the family has been in this country since the era of Emperor Menelik, spanning two emperors and three governments. The family started by trading from Harar to Djbouti because Harar was the most prominent coffe growing area where her great uncle had settled in after moving from Greece It is where he felt better understood in Ethiopia as a Greek orthodox follower. He was a coffee supplier from Herena to Diredawa. Her father, on the other hand, wanted to export rather than supply. She shared that the coffee sector has gone trough many changes especially for women in. When she first came to work in Ethiopia, she says she was naively surprised that there were not many women in coffee. She shared the story of “The Queen of Khat” that was exporting khat to the rest of the world and wanted to be the queen of coffee. She acknowledged that we are privileged to be where we are, referring to the problems women in coffee are facing. She shared a rather distressing story of a high government official who was asleep in a meeting, for women in coffee, and when asked how he could be asleep in front of the prime minister’s wife he retorted that, “with all the women talking, I was bored”!
When she took over the business from her father, there were many that doubted her capability and although the legacy of her father was a great privilege, it also carried great weight. She said that managing a business, in general, is a lot of hard work and she struggled to keep her fathers’ name and legacy alive, while creating her own legacy as a successful woman in the coffee business in Ethiopia. People were pushing her in two different ways; either continue the legacy of her father’s or destroy it. Heleana said that managing a business does not automatically make one powerful and one should be careful of the mistakes made along the way of transitioning.
She also asked, why do we need a legacy? Are all our children capable of doing what we do? She specifically stressed that a company built by a predecessor may or may not be able to be run by the next generation but that does not mean they do not get to benefit from its continuous success. She also emphasized on the difference between managers and owners and shared that she moved to Ethiopia leaving behind what she built, in Spain, where she had a business and lived independent of her father. But her father told her that we all have a destiny and your destiny is Ethiopia, three months before he passed away. He left her a good legacy, but also a very difficult legacy to continue. She said the questions to ask is, do we want our children to continue our businesses? Can our children do so? Are they capable of running what we created? Or should they be left to enjoy the success, regardless of their involvement in the continuance of its legacy?
“How can I allow my daughter to enjoy it without carrying the weight.”
Omar mentioned that it was his first time speaking publicly. His grandfather crossed the Red Sea in a small wooden boat when there was a lot of migration back and forth of Yemenis and Ethiopians at the time. His grandfather started working, selling berbere, in a company called Bisbet, owned by a French Englishman. HE then worked his way to Addis Ababa, working in Dessie, Alaba and DireDawa along the way.
He was encouraged to start his own business in Addis and first started trading in berbere and then moving on to coffee afterwards. He started out supplying to organizations and then formed his own organization, supplying to others. His grandfather pleaded with his fatjer to help him grow the business together instead of continuing his studies abroad.
The 1947 revolution era in Ethiopia proved to be disruptive to the family business and in 1986, his brother Abdella joined the business after the death of their father that year. The business faced various challenges with labor and debt issues, but revived itself when new capital was injected into it.
Unfortunately, his grandfather passed away before he could see the success of his son and grandchildren. Omar said, being together as a family meant we had to work together as a business, as well. And in his efforts to continue to bring more of his family memebers here to Ethiopia, Omar continued to create more and more business, fourteen to be exact, three of which failed. He stressed that there is really no best way of forming and running a successful business for generations. It depends on the family’s strength as a unit and the values it practices overall. His vision for the coming fourth generation of his family business, is that none are forced to continue on the legacy.
“My success has been in diversification.”
- Building A Sustainable Human Capital For Sustainable Business
Dr. Gemechu Waktola
Dr. Gemechu started out by saying he was so impressed by the morning’s keynote speech given by Dr. Senait. His presentation was based upon the concept and idea of investing in people when it comes to businesses’ sustainability. Sustainable capital is very important for a business to sustain itself; it is all about building talent and intellectual capital for the business. When talking about business legacy it is important to note that 80% of all business in the world are family-owned business, of that, 70% loose one generation, 96% fail over a period of ten years time and 4% survive. 43% of family-owned businesses do not have a succession plan in place, with only 12% making it to the third generation.
He shared a quote, “the father buys, the son builds, the grandchild sells, and his son begs”, mentioning that from generation to generation, they might not be aware of the work and suffering that was made of their predecessors. We need to look at sustainability from different perspectives when considering family businesses and as such focus on human capital. Human capital is about strategic staff recruitment with specific talent and learnability competency.
Dr. Gemechu stressed the fact that when considering handing over businesses to new generations, one must consider the development of technology, as far as social media and its role in defining the new millennial workforce and the means of which new generations attain their resources. People are at the core of businesses’ success and as such key strategies must be placed on human resources. With the changing dynamics of customer demands, hiring must be based upon the trainability of the individual, the flexibility and the potential of the individual.
- Corporate Structures for Financial Sustainability
Sehul provided an overview of what corporate structure and corporate governance is and the importance of implementing both when discussing family-owned businesses. Corporate structure is how business units are organized in a company. A corporate structure ensures that the business grows and its sustainability is ensured. It also helps management identify the talent needed for the company and ensures there are enough human resources within the company to accomplish the goals set forth in the company’s annual plan.
When considering corporate governance, Sehul defined it as the structures and processes by which companies are directed and controlled. It ensures that resources of the company are used more efficiently, and safeguards against mismanagement and waste. It ultimately leads to better access to capital. Corporate governance is especially important to family owned businesses because these kinds of companies account for 2/3 of all businesses globally and create 50%-80% of all jobs in most countries.
Sehul continued on to speak about the life cycle of family-owned businesses which typically grows from simple to complex which means good corporate governance practices would have to be top priority even in the early stages of the life cycle. He stressed that family-owned businesses need to ask themselves some tough questions and precede cautiously in each stage. However, the following were identified as 5 critical success factors for family businesses:
- succession planning
- strategy planning
- empowering the next generation
Sehul noted that there are some signs that tell a business that it is time to scale up which include:
- turning down opportunities
- surpassing previous Goals
- strong cash flow and repeatable sales
- proven concept and reliable infrastructure
- an atmosphere of minimal risk
“The time to think of good corporate governance and structure is now, if you haven’t already started.”
Women in Lead
Hanna thanked AWiB for the opportunity to be given such a platform because she believes in the need to mentor the coming new generation. She studied accounting but because of the system at the time in Ethiopia, she was assigned to do other various jobs, not relating to her field of study, but was determined to find something different. She got the opportunity to work at an NGO and finally was able to work as an accountant where she continued to receive different promotions throughout the years at different institutions solidifying her accounting and financial capabilities. During it all, she got married and had children but said, she managed to balance work and home well enough to sustain and continue to upgrade and progress herself to many high positions.
As a principle, Hanna says she believes in prioritization; that is why, she said, she multi-tasks different job position and life roles very well. Hanna stressed the fact that you need to know what you can handle to do and what you can’t, and when you can’t you must take it off your list or not accept the task to begin with, this is very important for your integrity. It comes down to making the right choices and understanding the value you have to contribute and most specifically appreciating yourself for what you know you can and cannot do.
Born in DireDawa, Meseret she attributes her social skills to the town because of its local culture. She understood at a very young age, while working at an NGO, that she needed to make her own money and that being on salary was not going to be enough for her. She decided to open up a restaurant because she loves to cook and enjoys people’s appreciation of good food and after the change of government she open her hotel.
She believes that the reason she has good leadership skills is because she never stops learning from everyone and everything in life, considering all the ups and downs involved in the process of attaining success. And always, always respecting others in all aspects and working towards peaceful agreements when working with others on any given matter.
Melbana first stated that she was more drawn to AWiB’s theme because of it was close to her heart and her life experiences. Her family raised her with a firm belief in education and the importance of community service. After her education in the U.S. she moved back to Ethiopia and worked with her father at this consulting company before she left again for further studies. After her studies, she unfortunately had to move back to Ethiopia because her father had fallen ill and passed away just two months after her gradating. She was left with her father’s company of 23 years, to manage at the tender age of just 29. She said, it was never a choice, her family business had to be run and since she had studied architecture such as her father, she was automatically given the responsibility to continuing on his legacy.
Melbana said the learning curve was a very steep one because not only had she no managerial expertise she was also thrown into a male-dominated sector in Ethiopia. The challenges were many and she had to minimize the company to a certain extent as she was still learning how to fully run it adequately enough after her father’s passing. She thanked her family foremost for instilling in her the mentality that there were no gender differentiation with tackling anything in life so she would always present herself confidently infornt of everyone during the transitional phase of the company. She was very grateful that because of her family’s push on community service she managed to create mentorship programs at her firm that specified in training and coaching young students in the field, especially women. Her father’s company now celebrated its 35th year in running with 75% of its staff being women.
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