In the last couple of weeks, we had tried to lock-in a suitable date. And so, when we finally met at Petes’ place, I was delighted, and the scent of freshly brewed coffee further pumped-up the anticipation for the long awaited meeting. The place was a great choice – by let’s call him Luke. Tucked away from the traffic buzz, and scores of thirty somethings who throng the city’s coffee houses, loudly sharing episodes of mshene [gossip] recapping each seasons’ “previously on” with giggling. The place had a quiet seductive ambience. Located in Nairobi’s’ Kilimani area along Chania road off Argwins Kodhek, it was ideal for a good cup of coffee, and serious conversation – a great experience!
During our meeting, among other things, we spoke about Lukes’ experience growing up in the family business. He shared what he considered the most important things that influenced him. Luke talks like the millennial he is, mixing business lingo with comic exclamations and self-deprecating jokes. “I used to think I had to act serious, but now I realize that being my true self at work makes me much happier.” He said. The more we plunged into the conversation, the more I thought, some of the insights were so valuable, that I should share highlights on here on Family Business 101. Luke was more than delighted at my request. Hope you enjoy!
“I grew up in a family that owned and operated a bakery” he’d begun. “And that, was 39 years ago! At the ripe age of nine, I received my first paycheck …..Kshs. 100 for sweeping the floor. And though from childhood, I grudgingly accompanied my mother to work on weekends and during the holidays, I always had an overwhelming sense of pride in our business. Today, I often find myself reflecting on that experience growing up…..
“My parents made sure I developed an Intimate knowledge of the day-to-day operations, by ensuring I rotated in various sections of the business, providing me hands-on-home-grown-experience. I was also assigned tasks that allowed me to develop an incisive and broad understanding of the bakery business.” Looking at me straight as if in emphasis, he added “Imagine, despite formally joining the business when I already had a university degree, I was not spared from participated in the cleaning when I worked in that section,” he added.
“An exposure, he says “provided me with the understanding of corporate going-ons and practical experience which provided a benchmark for future use.”
“Overtime, I was placed in situations where I struggled with over-my-head-situations, and I Initially complained. Today, I understand the intention. The-being-alone-in-difficult-situations, and my assuming responsibility for my decisions bolstered my confidence. Those were valuable, mistake-making-confidence-building-experiences,” He said. Looking over my shoulder as the sun set, painting the sky shades of red and pink, and in a while, the biggest star had set, giving way to a thousand others.
Unlike his siblings, Luke had a stint working outside the family business. An exposure, he says “provided me with the understanding of corporate going-ons and practical experience which provided a benchmark for future use. It gave me the opportunity to fortify and validate concepts acquired during my formal education. I then had a practical opportunity to explore what I had already learnt.”
“And finally” he said, “as young adults, you’ll recall, my parents began sharing information from the recently constituted Board, with me and my siblings. They shared the agenda, and minutes from board meetings. This inculcated an appreciation of openness and the all important family value of communication. Today Mum and Dad have stepped aside, and at most only provide a sympathetic ear or act as a sounding board of ideas.”
At one point during the conversation, Luke fell silent, as he looked into his almost empty cup of coffee, as if weighing its precious contents. He then took a deep breath, suddenly looking several years older. And speaking in a slow deliberate voice, he said “Life is short, and you never know what will be thrown at you. To go forward, I owe it to my family, the employees and our clients to put in place a formal, structured, and deliberate program for developing the next generation in the family business” said Luke. This wisdom of my parents needs to continue.
This is what I wished to talk to you about. ………over to you………