It’s 'not acceptable' to live off the work of your father - Emirati businessman Mishal Kanoo
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It’s ‘not acceptable’ to live off the work of your father – Emirati businessman Mishal Kanoo

It’s ‘not acceptable’ to live off the work of your father – Emirati businessman Mishal Kanoo

Family businesses, particularly in the Middle East, cannot afford “wastas” anymore

Gulf Business
Mishal Kanoo

Picture this: you work for the family business and you’re the boss’ son. So, you waltz into the office whenever you please and you take a three-hour lunch break, a two-hour coffee recess and you squeeze in a siesta or two (true story, I’ve seen it happen). And as soon as the clock strikes 6, you’re out of there faster than a TikTok video.

Why break a sweat if you can get away with doing absolutely nothing? It’s your family business, after all. What’s your dad going to do? Fire you?

Well in 2021, he may have to. Gone are the days when being the boss’ son or daughter meant you could get away with virtually anything. The culture of “wasta” – or nepotism – is quickly giving way to result-driven employment strategies.

Family businesses, particularly in the Middle East, cannot afford “wastas” anymore.

The numbers don’t lie. While family businesses in the region typically surpassed their global peers in revenue growth, their income dropped in 2019 compared to 2016.

According to the PwC Middle East Family Business survey, 66 per cent of respondents said assessing the right skills is a top concern, while 53 per cent said succession planning is becoming a significant issue.

Decade after decade, the region’s top family businesses survived and thrived because of a “founding generation that forged powerful political and financial alliances”, the survey said. But the current economic climate is proving more challenging than ever.

“The days of double-digit growth are – at least for the foreseeable future – a thing of the past,” PwC said. And so is the culture of favouritism.

Even prominent Emirati businessman and chairman of Kanoo Group, Mishal Kanoo, agrees that the younger generation needs to step it up.

“For the young [Emirati] men, it used to be a tendency of, I’ll live off the work of my father. He had created the family business and I’m part of it, and I don’t have to do much and I can just gossip in the café,” he tells me on business talk show Greenback.

“Now they’re saying no, no, that’s not acceptable. We need you to be proactive, to move, to be part and parcel of this growing economy,” he said.

And he’s absolutely right.

Too many times I have listened to my privileged friends brag about how their futures – and Courchevel ski holidays and London summer vacations – were secured because of their family wealth. And I always wondered, “but for how long?”

I’ve had so many of these conversations with friends I grew up with in Dubai – not that this is limited to Dubai – but they didn’t seem to comprehend that at some point, their family wealth would run out.

And then something truly magical happened. The economy gave us a reality check. Suddenly, even “trust fund kids” – as one of my friends likes to call them – have had to put in the hours. And rightly so. Because no trust fund is going to give you the experience that is gained only by toiling hard.

As Kanoo so accurately put it “even if you’re the son of the richest person on the face of the earth, he or she has the education, the money, the experience; you don’t. There is no gene that a person is successful, it doesn’t exist.”

He added: “When you see the work of an artisan and it’s stunning, you forget that this person had 15, 20, 30 years of backbreaking boring laborious work to get to that point.”

And that is what makes life so wonderful. If I hadn’t chased Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris through an Amr Diab concert in Egypt to get an hour’s interview with him, it wouldn’t have been as exciting. If I hadn’t flown to Beirut having no access to Lebanese fugitive Carlos Ghosn’s press conference before sneaking my way into the hall, it wouldn’t have felt as adventurous. And if I hadn’t ruthlessly followed short seller Carson Block’s activities, I wouldn’t have gotten the first exclusive on the fall of healthcare operator NMC Health.

Yet I didn’t have the advantage of a family business, so imagine what you can do if you’ve got that access, those contacts, those opportunities. Kanoo says it better than I ever could:

“If, while that person was growing his or her business, you were paying attention to what they’ve done, you have a heads up. [You have] a better shot at it, because you were paying attention to what worked and what didn’t work, and you might have a first-mover advantage.

“That could be helpful in what you do. But you will never have the experience and knowledge of the other person no matter how close they are to you,” he says.

So the next time you decide to waltz into the office whenever you like, think again. The culture of “who you know” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Lubna Hamdan hosts the Greenback show on Downtown Dubai TV 

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