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FBN in India: mixing tradition and innovation

India is a land of contrasts. Rich and poor are closely interlinked and complement one another in a colourful atmosphere of peace and a unified strength against a backdrop of startling economic growth.

Hosting the FBN's 19th Annual Summit in such an environment turned out to be an enriching experience for all the participants who arrived in New Dehli from all over the world.

While many had already arrived the weekend before to enjoy the diversity of the city, the start of the conference was celebrated with a dinner party at the Sanskriti foundation, which offered a great environment in which to get to know people.

The main business of the summit began the following morning with an opening speech by Laird Koldyke, a member of the Laird Norton Family. He introduced the audience to his American family business history, emphasising the difficulties his family encountered when a change in economic conditions forced them to shift away from their core business in the lumber industry into becoming a diversified investment enterprise. He conveyed a clear message that values, cohesion and family identification were critically important for the core business.

The rest of the day offered a variety of workshops in the morning and afternoon, which were mostly held by family business owners or academics presenting their research. In the morning session I attended an interactive case-study presented by Dr Haluk Alacaklioglu, who described his experiences in restructuring a traditional Turkish business empire belonging to the Sancak family. The family faced enormous difficulties adjusting its Islamic family tradition to fit the requirements of the 21st century.

In particular, there were problems of gender equality and hereditary structures that were difficult to overcome and the audience was quite divided in their opinions on how to proceed on these issues. For example, a Finnish female entrepreneur spoke up for the family's female members who, up till now, had had no say.

However, a German entrepreneur was very much in favour of the original male dominated-dynastical approach the Sancak Family had followed so far, which stimulated interesting discussions.

The afternoon session was led by André Hoffmann, board member of pharmaceutical giant Hoffmann LaRoche and vice chairman of conservation organisation WWF, who focused on the increasing importance of corporate social responsibility in a globalised world. An increased attention to sustainability and environmental protection is not something one would expect from one of Europe's biggest pharma companies, who are usually known for environmental mistreatment.

However, the audience was given a list of guiding principles for a successful entrepreneurial drive towards sustainability and an increased responsibility for their company's stakeholders.

The programme also included an interview with three women, who were all engaged in their family businesses in some capacity. They gave an insight into what it's like for next generation female members to run a company.

Apollo, an India-based chain of 43 private hospitals and pharmacies that is successfully run by the four daughters of the founder, can be regarded as a best practice example of not only social entrepreneurship, but also of a united force of second-generation family members running a company together.

The second evening was organised by Indian FBN members who kindly invited groups of participants to their private homes, which was an enchanting experience for everyone and was highlighted by delicious foods and ongoing discussions about the impressions of the conference. The most impressive observation I made was the fact that each member of our host family was involved in either the family business itself or had created their own business activity.

The last day of the conference included a series of workshops and two extraordinary panel discussions. One concerned the concept of emotional ownership which was led by researchers from the London Business School.

The approach refers to how emotional involvement within a family business is a key factor in its success, particularly for the next generation in terms of drive and innovation.

Three next generation members discussed the level of personal involvement they have in their businesses and how they have overcome challenges and gained support from older generations.

The second panel discussion was held by Franz Haniel, Christoph Schoeller and Arun Bharat Ram, who talked about family involvement in business and generation conflicts. The discussion highlighted the difficulty in maintaining the initial entrepreneurial drive through generations and the participants' individual approaches to overcome the threat of stagnation and fragmentation within their firms.

The most controversial speech of the conference was left to the end. Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and CEO of global telecom conglomerate Bharti Group, talked about his impressive success story to date. he also discussed the future of his business and his mitigation of classic family business values, which were very divisive. Bharti Mittal emphasised his belief that a family background has no influence whatsoever on the success of a business and in fact is a negative rather than a positive.

This view was openly contradicted by Karl-Erivan Haub, who can be counted among the strongest supporter of family business activity in Germany.

The summit ended with a dinner in the legendary Imperial Hotel of Delhi, where in the presence of HRH the Maharaja of Udaipur, the IMD-Lombard Family Business Award was given to Spanish bathroom product manufacturer Roca. The perfect finish to an extraordinary conference.

fbn, India
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