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Q&A with Marylise Abou Haidar Sinno

When did you join the family business board and what is your current role?

I joined our family holding in 2007 and the board in 2010. I am currently the Chairman/CEO of the holding company as well as the Chairman or Deputy Manager of some of the operational companies formed in the Gulf area by Capanama Holding.

What challenges did you face when joining the board?

Age: Being the youngest in the company, it was difficult to gain authority over the older staff members through my position alone. I had to first gain confidence in myself and my competencies, and then, with time, I started feeling a respect that was due to my knowledge and experience rather than to my position and my family ties.

Shadow of the boss: I felt the tendency of the clients and their desire to meet with my father directly since they were used to it from before my involvement in the company. It is only recently that they started dealing with me alone, regardless of the presence or involvement of my father.

Genuine business relationship: At the beginning, I had the impression that the staff reported to me just to please my father or to get closer to him through me. It took time to evaluate the quality of such business relationships and to feel that the reporting has become genuinely business oriented.

Self confidence: I will never forget my worries and the stress I had to face when I had to negotiate a major deal in a foreign country on my own and for the first time. I did not sleep for almost a week before that meeting.

What do you think are the three factors that drive board performance?

Knowledge: It is important to acquire a deep knowledge of the company, under all its aspects: financial, legal, operational, etc. and of the shareholders/board members: personality, worries, objectives, complexes, etc.

Goals & Achievements: It is advisable to set up achievable objectives with encouraging reward systems as well as frequent meetings to ensure a regular and proper follow up and monitor the implementation of Board decisions. Avoid the status of a “paper board”.

Priorities: To make sure that the business interests always prevail on personal family interests is paramount. Internal communication is important and essential in this respect.

What are the special characteristics of family business boards?

I would identify the following features that are specific to boards in family businesses:

1. The formation of clans and groups based on family branches.

2. A lack of professionalism at the level of board members.

3. The extrapolation of business problems to family circles.

4. A tendency to align with the founder’s opinion rather than defending objectively and with perseverance the business interests.

What is your advice for young family members who are joining the boards in their family businesses?

For young family members joining the boards I would have the following recommendations:

1. To behave as if they were working in a non-family company.

2. To avoid using the family ties’ strength to wrongfully overrule senior non-family staff decisions.

3. To accept the advice, blame and reprimands of senior staff whether they are family or non-family members.

4. To focus on the general interests of the company rather than personal interests and avoid emotional decisions.

5. To restrict the effects of the business problems to the company meetings and not let them go home with you.

6. To learn from the experience of other family businesses, in order to avoid doing the same mistakes.

7. To take a positive attitude towards the advice of experts and professionals.

Finally, to attend family business conferences and events and learn as much as possible.

Tharawat Magazine, Issue 12, 2011