This week I was honored to interview not one, but two amazing guests. Farida and Ramia El Agamy are sisters with phenomenal backgrounds in family business. They bring a global perspective to deal-making opportunities and family businesses. This episode is worth listening to in full.
Farida F. El Agamy is a social entrepreneur by conviction, and a lawyer by passion and profession. Since 2008, she’s been the General Manager of the Tharawat Family Business Forum, the first knowledge resource and networking hub for family-owned companies in the Middle East and North Africa. Farida’s main interests lie in the advancement of corporate and family governance systems, the economic impact of family firms on the economy, and the support of individual family members within the family business context.
Ramia Marielle El Agamy is the Editor-in-Chief of Tharawat Magazine, (@Tharawatmag), a global publication for family businesses that attracts over 3 million readers (online and print) per year. The magazine encompasses a library of over 1000 articles. She is also the host of two podcasts: The Family Business Voice and WiFB. Ramia is also a strategic advisor in the Tharawat Family Business Forum as well as a Director in her family business’ board. Since 2017, Ramia is also CEO of Orbis Terra Media, a content studio and an award-winning publisher that stands for the highest standards in content production and omnichannel strategies. With a data-driven approach to content marketing and distribution, OTM specialises in helping brands achieve a consistent narrative across multiple platforms and to reach their audience.
Early Starts for These Citizens of the World
When I asked the pair what they had wanted to be growing up, Ramia nominated Farida to share first, as the older sister. Laughingly, the sisters noted that family businesses require respect for the family hierarchy.
Farida shared that, early on, she was interested in societal questions. Her father had studied archeology, and he would bring his children on hikes to old dig sites. In addition, they would visit extended family in Cairo and visit ancient sites. These early experiences grew Farida’s interest in archeology as a possible career when she was a girl.
Ramia noted that, even as a child, she could see herself working in the family business. Seeing her father traveling frequently, and missing his presence, she imagined being able to pack a calculator into a bag and travel with him. She also had a very entrepreneurial spirit, and remembers opening a detective agency, a travel agency, and several shops with her sisters.
(Ramia and Farida also noted that they have a third sister in the family business as well. They thought it might be too much to bring all three of them onto the show!)
The sister’s mother is from the Netherlands and their father is from Egypt; they were raised in rural Switzerland and consider it home. However, their international roots and extensive travel histories, including studying in the UK and living in the UAE, have made the world their oyster in many ways!
First Deal-Making Experiences
Culturally, deal-making is perceived differently in various parts of the world. Looking at their father’s generation and work in the business, the sister’s agreed there were fewer activities that may have been directly considered “deals”.
In fact, the first deal-experienced Farida recalled was assisting a family business in getting out of a deal. A nephew was finding himself in a very bad situation with a possible deal involving his uncle. They could see it going south, and needed to intervene.
Ramia notes that both her sisters are lawyers, and often see deals through the legal and business lens. As an entrepreneur herself, she feels she’s been making deals her whole life. When you start a business with nothing, everything is a barter, a trade, and exchange, or some other way of growing and deal-making. She remembers many skill exchanges that grew in size and significance as revenue grew.
She also shares that she thinks the first deal entrepreneurs make is with themselves. Deciding to go into business requires trading time and energy and capital.
Negotiations in Family Business
The family business, as a construct, is a constant negotiation. This is true both internally and externally. Every day you enter into your family business, you’re entering into an emotional negotiation with your family. There is a constant need to recalibrate, adjust behavior, and figure out how to incorporate your personal and professional lives.
Part of this is holding people accountable when they are part of your family. It is challenging to have a parent or sibling that you have to challenge, hold to high standards, and question. Handling these ongoing family business negotiations on a daily basis requires you to truly leave your ego (and childhood patterns) at the door.
(There was an amazing conversation about ego here that’s worth listening to!)
The sisters note that family businesses are often stable and thinking long term. In addition, they are perceived as having “skin in the game”, and are often quite regionally embedded. Attributes such as these make family businesses a popular choice for others looking to make a deal.
In addition, the whole family business as an entity is an ongoing deal.
A Major Myth About Family Business
There are many family businesses in the world….and just as many myths about them! Since I had the experts on the line, I decided to ask their thoughts on a major common myth I often hear.
If You’re Not First Generation, You’re Not an Entrepreneur
Some people question whether someone in a family business can truly consider themselves an “entrepreneur”. Many entrepreneurs in the US are first generation entrepreneurs. Even if their parents were also entrepreneurs, they are often not involved in the same business. Across other parts of the world, however, many entrepreneurs are working within multi-generational family businesses.
The sisters noted that there is a difference between a real family business, or enterprise, and an enterprising family. They consider entrepreneurship to be the force that compels any family business to keep growing. They also encourage each generation to think of themselves as founders of a startup, in terms of needing originality, adaptability, and other entrepreneurial skills.
Being part of an entrepreneurial family doesn’t mean you’re not an entrepreneur. It does mean, however, that you have a heritage of entrepreneurship and usually the support of your family.
(Listen in to why they consider family business an “extreme sport” in the entrepreneurial world! This includes the weight of legacy, which can feel like a “backpack full of stones”, and the “ghosts around the table”.)
Layers of Governance
Imagine the most difficult professional situation you’ve ever been in, in your life. Then, imagine the most difficult family relationship you’re currently experiencing. Now, put those two together every day of your professional life.
That’s family business.
The emotional toll that family situations can take on you, and your business, are much greater than you may expect. That’s why governance in family firms is so vital (and so difficult). There are many, many layers to governance within a family business, and often the laws pertaining to family business are less clear than other legal statutes.
For example, there are rarely laws requiring a family business to utilize a family council to learn to regular their behavior as a family. Some families have waited for too long, growing more and more misaligned. Eventually, it can become too late for change.
Families who have aligned decision making as a result of internal deal-making have a much greater chance of making it in the long term. They are also better equipped to handle unexpected challenges, such as Covid-19.
Ramia and Farida share so much valuable insight on family businesses. Listen in today!
Corey Kupfer is an expert strategist, negotiator and dealmaker. He has more than 35 years of professional deal-making and negotiating experience. Corey is a successful entrepreneur, attorney, consultant, author and professional speaker who is passionate about deal-driven growth. He is also the creator and host of the DealQuest Podcast.
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