Interview with Boris Matijas, Archipielago

Five years ago, journalist, writer and family business expert, Boris Matijas, founded Archipielago, a learning platform for family businesses in Spain and Latin America. Matijas developed a passion for family businesses and successfully embarked on this entrepreneurial venture after previously reporting on and working with renowned family business foundations and associations in both Spain and Mexico. Today Archipielago is one of the largest Spanish-language resources on family business content and best practice.

Tharawat spoke with Matijas about the vision of his organisation, how storytelling allows for greater cohesion and the reasons why family businesses are great role models.

Why did you found Archipielago?

After having executive roles in many different family business associations and foundations, I wanted to do something on my own. A passionate group of us decided to create Archipielago, a network of family business related organisations and associations. We provide them with our services, which focus on three main activities:

Providing families with comprehensive access to academic research. We offer institutions tailor-made solutions on how to translate and make their theoretical and academic knowledge accessible to a wider audience. For example, we helped the Family Business Chair at IESE, a major business school in Spain, build an entire video library with information relevant to family business owners and experts. At the same time, we also worked with ESADE, another top European business school, helping to edit its first family business newsletter. In these tasks we employed all sorts of media like podcasts, articles and videos, to make the academic knowledge comprehensible.

Telling the stories of family businesses. Our experiences convinced us that the cohesion of a family business is directly related to the pride it takes in its history. We feel proud businesses have a strong incentive to continue transmitting their legacy to the next generation. That’s why we were among the first to have started writing books, producing videos and even illustrating comics for families. The entire process of collecting individual experiences into one story takes a few months. In that time, through narrative processes many families make new discoveries about their legacies, which can be an immensely positive experience, for the entire family business.

Providing education for managers, consultants and advisors. We offer tailor-made modules to update practitioners. The idea is to share and spread the best management and government practices that can be learnt from family businesses. This year Archipielago will start providing special training events in which we will share tactics employed by successful family businesses with non-family owned institutions and organisations.

Why is the conversation around family businesses becoming so increasingly important?
The economic crisis we witnessed over the past few years is also a moral crisis. After seeing economies collapse due to the unethical short-term financial instruments based growth, focus has shifted back to the real economy, and in the real economy you mostly find family businesses.

There are important lessons to be learnt from family businesses. The stigma used to be that family owned companies are unprofessional, nepotistic and avoid risk, but we know that this is not true. Their strategies can easily be learnt and transferred to other companies. As a result, we are starting programs that teach family businesses best practices outside the family business field.

The knowledge field itself has recently experienced a boom. Regions like Latin America have started demanding quality content, training, education and consulting for family businesses, which has considerably widened our perspectives.

Education is becoming more and more valued and at the same time more and more accessible. We are living in a time in which information is a major resource. That is why without education there can’t be growth. The demand is huge which is also dangerous. Today there are organisations in almost every country that offer family business programs. Increasing competition in education places more and more pressure on institutions to attract clients, offering more competitive prices, but institutions are struggling to finance themselves and offer good quality programs.

In Spain, we are at a crossroads in that respect. For over six years, many qualified and talented youth have left the country in search of better opportunities. If our companies do not invest in bringing this talent back, we will face a lot of problems in the near future. Family businesses will have to solve these issues.

Archipielago produces comics to illustrate family business stories.
Archipielago produces comics to illustrate family business stories. Courtesy of Archipielago