My Journey Through Our Global Family Business Class

My motivation for joining this class was to learn more about entrepreneurship and family businesses, to get an exciting spring break trip in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, and to fulfill an elective requirement. I did not expect to learn nearly as much as I have as well as to have half of the great experience that I did.

From the very first class, I learned impressive statistics on family businesses. I was very surprised to learn that two-thirds of all businesses around the world are family businesses and even more surprised to find out that family businesses account for 70–90% of global GDP annually. That bit of information really set the tone for me, in terms of how much I should expect to learn in this class. The statistics on family businesses we learned about also got me ready for the transition into learning more about the problems family businesses face and taught me more about Middle Eastern region as well. In our class, a few of the main topics we learned about were professionalization, including the process of creating a family governance, stewardship, the AGES framework, and Islamic finance. Each of our case studies taught me something new, and exposed me to a different problem family businesses face. These problems include, growth and making the family business last longer than the third generation, which is hurdle most family businesses encounter, choosing the right successor for the business, whether in family or not, and much more. During our trip however, that topics that were focused on were about character, emotional intelligence/ leadership styles, and in learning about the some of the Alumni’s experience on campus.

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Each member of the trip we talked to taught me more about their character, leadership style and personal beliefs. They each taught me about a new aspect of family business that we hadn’t learned about in class. Sultan Olayan and the Mehta’s had our group off to a great start. In the beginning, I expected a majority of the companies we were going to visit, to be very similar to the Olayan group. Very established, professionalized and organized. After talking with him, I was amazed to find out that Sultan had to go through tough rounds of interviews to join his family business, and was even more amazed to find out the company’s philosophy of how they treat non-family employees versus family employees in the business. It was cool to learn about the Olayan’s family governance, and about the fund for family members that Sultan mentioned. Creating a family fund/ trust was a step we saw taken by family businesses in one of our case studies, so it was interesting to hear about a actual fund on the trip. While we were there, I loved seeing the video on Suliaman and how his views and personal beliefs shaped the values of the company. Moving on to the next company, I thought they would be very similar and thought thinking that all the companies we visited, would be similar to The Olayan Group. I was dead wrong. It’s actually very ironic because the Mehta family that we visited right after, was the complete opposite. The tone for the night at the Mehta’s group was more relaxed and taught us more about the family and their beliefs on what is needed to run a business, rather than about the company itself. It was very interesting to hear about how Yogesh Mehta moved to Dubai and started his PetroChemical business. I’ll never forget when he said “as soon as you think you made it, is when you’ll be dead”. He talked about his journey from his first million all the way to 100 million+ and said he would have never grown his business as big as it is now if he got complacent. It was also interesting to hear from Rohan about his own event management company and his journey during and after college. The path to entering the family business was one of our main themes so it was very interesting to see how Rohan was able to get into his family business so easily compared to Sultan Olayan who has to go through rounds of interviews, even as a third- generation family member.

Pierre Choueiri and I

The next day, I was lucky enough to meet Ronaldo Mouchawar and Pierre Choueiri who each taught me about a different aspect of their business and about character. Day two was more about mergers and acquisitions and innovation. We got to listen to one of Northeastern’s finest, Ronaldo Mouchawar, and hear about his experiences with both Souq.com and Maktoob. Ronaldo talked a lot and provided more insight on a personal and a professional level than I could handle. However, if there was one thing that I got from what he was saying, it was that “there can never be too many of the same types of businesses, if they operate differently”. As an entrepreneur it is easy to think about the number of companies that already exist in your relative field and get discouraged. A solution to this problem, and something Ronaldo talked about, was adding something unique and of value to the process or product, as a way to strive in a global market that seems very saturated. This advice which was focused on innovation transitioned us to our next speaker, Pierre Choueiri. The Choueiri group was the company I wrote about for our class assignment and was one of my favorite companies on the trip. Mergers and acquisitions are a great strategy they have been using to grow. The company has been around for about 50+ years and created a good solution for overcoming stagnant or no growth. His company went through the waves of technological advancement , starting from media prints and newspapers, all the way to satellite and web portals. It was interesting to see what their strategy was and how they were able to stay relevant for so long. As the largest media company in the middle east, it was a privilege to be there and to hear from the man who won Advertising man of the year award. Day 2, was definitely one of the better days on the trip, and was also my favorite.

Enjoying the evening reception at the Choueiri Group

Overall, my in-class experience and my field experience in Dubai has shaped and formed a completely different and more insightful person. I have learned more about the family business industry than I could have ever imagined. Through in-class experiences, I learned about problems facing family businesses in the MENA region such as succession planning, a lack of talent compared to outside family members, and professionalization. And through my field experiences, I learned what it takes and what is needed to start my own family business, including character, entrepreneurial spirit, and innovative strategy. Each aspect of both the the in-class experience and the field experience played a critical role in my learning experience and my journey during the class. Before, I had no plans of doing anything even remotely similar to what we learned about in our class. But now, after my journey through our Entrepreneurship and Global Family Business class, my ambition is to someday start my own company and to follow in the steps of some of the great leaders we met during our trip.