Rami wrote this essay a few years ago in preparation for a family-business conference.
I spent the first three years of my life in Riyadh, after which my parents headed for the British shores, an environment better fit to rear a child. Humble beginnings indeed – a family from the shifting sands of the developing Middle East pushed off, well in order, ready for a glimpse of England. My father founded a multinational group of companies with a presence in 27 countries, a business driven by his commitment and leadership.
Upon graduating from university, my career path remained uncertain. I felt the innate desire to pursue the field of diplomacy and international law, but was unsure how I might serve best. My father possessed a sense of obligation to his country of origin and felt that with his vast experience in the international market place and political circuit, it was time to begin the implementation of a vision for the people of Lebanon. This ambition was becoming a reality; I was soon to take part.
He taught the world new ways to dream, fueling with his own lofty ideals the hopes and successes of the entire project. I sensed the need to join, to be taught by the visionary himself, to learn from the greatest gift available to me at the time, greater than any institution – my father.
I began a twelve-month training program in Dubai, within pipe manufacturing, the group’s core business; upon completion, I joined my father on the campaign trail. On it, I spoke with great leaders such as Prime Minister Chrétien, and Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican.
I have always yearned for the ideal, a vision tempered from time to time by a sense of realism encountered throughout the political road, but one never abandoned. The truth remains that for the very few good men in existence in today’s political arenas, the destiny of even fewer leads them to their ultimate goal of serving their people. Seeing this, I decided to pursue the family business; one not entirely related to diplomacy, since I felt it presented me with a more effective channel through which to serve.
In business, you indeed can serve, as industrial companies allow their management to contribute to the society and economy in which they operate. You achieve national goals at a local level. You can become a major employer in any given region, thus creating the ability to multiply your effect through the sheer numbers under your flag. I have always said that the greatest asset we have is our people. Empowering the people, allowing them to grow, benefits not only your immediate business but also the society in which it functions.
The group has given me an experience, in a limited time frame, which would have been unparalleled, had I opted to join another organization. I’ve been fortunate enough, to be exposed to a number of industry sectors, including media, consultancy, security and publishing, as well as numerous philanthropic activities, ranging from the United States to South East Asia.
Working in a multicultural team with diverse expertise has been perhaps the greatest benefit attained. It has given me an edge in interacting with high-ranking officials, be it in business or in government, and the chance to further my communication and commercial skills while offering a forum to present my views. In response, I have grown in confidence and maturity, working to earn respect amongst my peers.
Being part of this group has also given me the foundation to develop another interest: the creation of a graphic design studio. We set up a firm in the Dubai Media City, Ayam Creative. Our success is evident both financially and commercially. We took the decision to begin an expansion into Europe and the Middle East, and opened an office in London and in Beirut to service those markets.
I intend to continue work on the group’s five-year plan, one leading to an undisputed leadership position in our industry through our growth and acquisition strategy. I hope to be able to develop the family business into the next level of its age, to maintain its forward-looking strategies across new and ever-changing frontiers.
Due to my exposure I have been presented with the chance to develop a network of relationships across borders, and am thankful to have had that opportunity.
To be sure, the family business has shaped me, and I have found my calling in this organization.
My history has formed me into a member of the international playing field; yet, to become the captain of my team, I need to continually build on my base with the tools continual education can offer me.
It enables me to add to the future vision and growth of the family business as well as to my own endeavors, allowing for the generation shift within the group to be a valuable one. I seek to build on the knowledge of old with the rigor of the new. In order to succeed in the aggressive market conditions, of a global economy, one must present their organization with the skills to become the market leaders. We must set the pace.
The role of education
As mentioned I come from a family business and entrepreneurial background. This has exposed me, in a limited period of time, to numerous aspects and experiences in the world of business. However, to see family businesses succeed through generation shifts and transitions and to witness growth and achievement in start-ups, takes more than just the blessed exposure to business practices from childhood. It takes commitment, determination and above all the thirst for relevant and significant knowledge. Continuous education quenches that thirst.
I have been fortunate to build on my business degrees from the UK, in having the opportunity to continuously update and enhance my skill set through executive programs, family business forums and continual education. Currently I have embarked on my Doctorate in Business Administration, majoring in Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Change. My major project will be on transitional leadership in family businesses- a personal journey.
The Course structure is very appealing to me, and enables me to further expand my learning, in an applicable manner to greater enhance the tools and skills required to manage and ultimately, and most crucially, lead my organization to growth and sustainability. The flexibility and range on offering, allows me to create focus in my learning, and my core needs, thus making the degree pertinent to my specific business and industry.
Furthermore, business is not an exact science, and is ever-evolving. Understanding this means that innovative and revolutionary business techniques, methods, and principles are continually developing and surfacing. This phenomenon must be harnessed. These are key lessons, from successful and experienced players, which, if studied, will further equip any individual with a greater set of tools to address everyday, as well as strategic, business issues.
In an increasingly challenging and shrinking global business arena, executives must be willing to learn from others and continually develop their abilities in a structured manner, to face the challenges before them.
“Some family businesses are built to last. Many are not. There are two clear indicators of whether a family business is built to last: its balance sheet and its vision statement. When the balance sheet of a family business is relatively un-leveraged because the owners reinvest the bulk of their profits consistently each year, they are voting with their dollars to build a family business that will endure. One does not question the choice of business owning families who choose to maximize withdrawals of cash for personal consumption. I simply argue that their companies are built to serve the current generation of owner/managers–a legitimate choice, but one, which is inconsistent with an enduring family, controlled business enterprise.” The Family Business Forum.
Our name thus is not by chance, but by design. The usage of the word Future in our endeavors not only within our core business, the Future Pipe Group, but also in other family investments, epitomizes the vision of the Founder and that, which is echoed in our family.
“We build for tomorrow and not for today.”
The Group has a very large Shareholder Equity, reflecting the family vision. We have reinvested the greater portion of our profits year on year, as we look for growth, security and sustainability. We have been fortunate to mainly self finance our acquisitions and growth strategy through our retained earnings and equity in the company. Furthermore this not only lays the foundations of today to build for tomorrow, but also acts as a key indicator to the business community as to our health, intentions, and long-term nature of our strategy.
My father, the Chairman, has always said we are industrialists, and industrialists are a patient breed. When we build factories, they are built for at least a 30-year horizon, so by the very nature of our trade we have to be long-termist and therefore have to account for future generations.
Family business leaders often neglect the issue of succession in their family businesses, particularly if they are entrepreneurial founders. But to do so is to neglect the long-term survival of their business and increase the odds for its failure. For problems of succession are indeed the greatest threats to the survival of family businesses.
Some 75% of successful family businesses fail to survive through the second generation. Far fewer survive into the third. Why? The most common reason is that the goals and objectives of the founding generation are rarely the same as those of the succeeding generation.
The Chairman adopted a careful planning process for ownership, leadership, and management in the business succession process to address these and many other related issues. His belief is that to ignore such concerns is simply a fundamental failure to plan for success. Seen differently, failing to plan for succession implies planning to fail.
Good succession planning does not merely involve designating a family member as the next chief executive and training him or her for the job. Rather, it involves a long-term, continuous effort to balance often-competing interests and pressures that are integral to a family business. These interests and pressures include not only the family members who are directly involved in running the day-to-day business, but also non-family managers and family members who do not work in the business.
The Chairman has always instigated a broad planning process. It has been a comprehensive and ongoing effort to define salient issues in the family business and identify a range of options for each issue.
Our experience has repeatedly shown, that successful planning efforts focus on the process of planning itself, rather than on any particular outcome, in any given scenario. The establishment of an ongoing planning process encourages participants to clarify their often-hazy goals to themselves. This clarification of goals allows for further thought, discussion, and eventual decisions that are more clearly understood by the participants.
This process has allowed for a renewed belief and commitment to our core vision of future planning, and defined an atmosphere of grace and ease in the generation shift. It has enabled my tenure to address the issues raised by the founding generation on the next phase of the business, coupled with the concerns and realities of our current position to develop the Group’s strategic planning and result based initiatives.
The primary distinguishing characteristic of the truly great companies is that these truly successful firms preserve a cherished core ideology. Put another way, they distinguish their timeless core values and enduring core purpose (which should never change) from their operating practices and business strategies (which should be changing constantly in response to a changing world).
We at the FUTURE GROUP are firmly rooted and nurtured by our core values and vision.