When a business is passed from one generation to another, the newcomers are faced with immense pressures and responsibilities. Gordon Cairns meets two next generation members from contrasting cultures who have taken different routes to the top
For the next generation, taking over the family business does not only bring financial rewards and a boost to one's self esteem, it also brings the responsibility of securing the company that has been nurtured by generations of your family and, more importantly, taking this business forward in the modern world.
Two such scions of the family from different sides of the world are Tariq al Saffar, a director of Mohamed Ebraham Al-Saffar in Bahrain, and Jonas Bonnier (pictured), who was appointed CEO of Swedish publishing company Bonnier AB at the beginning of this year. And while both men have a different approach to the challenges of the continuing growth of their companies both share similar goals.
The sixth-generation leader
Jonas Bonnier, 43, took a rather unconventional path to becoming CEO of Bonnier AB, the sixth generation to manage the business. After graduating from Uppsala University in Sweden and becoming a languages teacher, he wrote his first novel. He has since written four further novels, screenplays and freelanced as a journalist.
However, he also has a strong business background, working in various roles within magazines at Semic, Fanzine and Bonnier Publications in Denmark. He launched the internet company Bonnier Online and became president for the Bonnier Magazine Group in 2002. During the past three years he has been vice president of Bonnier AB with responsibility for books, business press and magazines, and chairman of the Swedish evening paper Expressen.
Although he is enthusiastic about his new role, it wasn't a position he had dreamed about from a young age. "I think it's going to be great," he says. "It's a job I wanted for the last two years, but expected? No, not really."
He considers the best piece of advice the family gave him to prepare him for his role was to be "nice, happy and humble". But when considering what his goals are in his new role, Bonnier considers the professional to be just as important as the personal. "[My goals are] to have a really good time whilst making a big and profitable business even bigger and more profitable," he explains.
Central to making the family publishing business even bigger and more profitable is the internet. Following the family tradition of new generations diversifying into new areas to grow the business, Bonnier has already launched Bonnier Online, which he says is "a key component in our growth the coming five years".
Since the late 1990s, the Bonnier Family Foundation has operated Gutkind & Co, a programme devoted to engaging, educating and integrating young owners in the family business. Owned and operated by sixth and seventh generation family members, it helped the company win the 2004 Kellogg Award for Special Contributions to Family Business, given by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. The award recognises a business family for its leadership and significant contributions to the field of family business study.
Although Bonnier missed out on the programme himself, he acknowledges the impact Gutkind & Co is having on the business. "It has had a huge impact," he says. "The foundation is for keeping the family company in the family and is for all the cousins and siblings to at least get to know one another."
And for other next generation family business members hoping to lead their own family businesses one day and follow the success of The Bonnier Group, Bonnier offers a very simple piece of advice: "Stay independent."
Returning to the fold
Like Bonnier, Tariq Al Saffar did not assume that he would follow his father into the family business – he became a director when his uncle and company CEO passed away five years ago. However, the 43-year-old did follow a more traditional path into the business world, graduating with a BA in business marketing and communication from Perth University in Australia. He then went onto become a partner in media and communications company Fortune Promoseven when he got the call from the family.
"Generally it is a tradition all over the world that family members will become involved within the business, but for us it is who is best suited for that purpose," he explains. "You can inherit shares but you can't inherit a position.
"It wasn't planned for me to become part of the family business, but when my uncle passed away I was asked to get involved. Now I have two jobs as I still work for the other company doing my old job."
Al Saffar is one of only four family members within Mohamed Ebraham Al-Saffar, Bahrain's top company in the consumer business. The firm distributes Proctor & Gamble products and is responsible for the day-to-day supply and sales of over 200 P&G products to stores ranging from the smallest local grocery stores to the largest hypermarkets. In fact, Al Saffar says it would be difficult to go into a family house in Bahrain which did not contain a product with the name of his family on it.
His father, Jassim Mohammed is now CEO and two uncles are directors. "They are thinking of retirement," says Al Saffar. "Like most people, they want to enjoy the fruits of their success." Although he is the only family member of his generation he is not assuming he will take overall control when the present incumbents stand down.
Al Saffar thinks that the regeneration of family businesses from within can be a positive thing, as long as the fresh energy is directed properly. "It's always good to bring in new ideas, passion and excitement into a business as long as you have a clear structure in place," he says. "The youth are eager to make changes, you just have to harness that enthusiasm in the right way. "We are now looking at the next phase," he adds. "Do we need people in to take it forward?"
And in a business that Al Saffar himself acknowledges to be conservative, the advice he was given when he was younger was: "Tread carefully." However, the message he would like his two children to take on would be quite different: "Make sure you enjoy what you are doing.
"It's very important that you are getting enjoyment from whatever you are doing, then you will put your heart into it," he explains. "That advice is not just for my children, I would say that to anyone coming into the business."
Al Saffar also shares with Bonnier the twin goals of personal and professional success, when he looks to the future of the company. "My contribution to this business is how we can grow it, while continuing with the same name based on the same values," he says. "However, I also want to enjoy the fruits of the business as I believe we don't live simply to work."