Anees Redha Qamar Sultan, Head of Marketing Development, W. J. Towell & Co. LLC,
One of the greatest challenges in human capital management for family businesses is the integration of the next family generation into the business. On the one hand there is the aim to treat every entrant, whether family or not, equally. Yet, for family members entrants from the family do face slightly different working experiences than non-family members. Anees Sultan, Head of Marketing Development of W.J. Towell Co. LLC, tells the story of his first day at work in the family business and what he observed in the ways family-owned companies are managed.
After many years of outside experience, I became a family business member. Our family business, W. J. Towell & Co. in Oman, has been “in business” since 1866. I truly am part of the company’s fifth generation. Today, my father and uncles, their cousins and some of their sons and daughters are active in the company. As a family we have exceeded 100 members years ago, and our head count in the business is just below twenty family members. Very few are in my age group. Whether my generation is new and improved, or the proverbial “spending the money” type is still in debate. But after a conversation with the chairman and then other senior members of the family, I was ushered into the world of family business.
Like any good employee on the first day of work , I showed up at the official opening hour; 8 am sharp. Although I have been working for a good 15 years now, I still have a guilty feeling anytime I see the boss’ car in the parking lot before mine. I soon realised that our boss, the chairman, arrives at work at 7.30 am every day, posing the challenge to all of us to match his pace and at the same time sending a clear message that he is not in the business of watching who’s where.
The personnel team greeted me and they showed me a temporary office, with a quick apology for its size and an even quicker promise for a better one as soon as the space allocations in the building were finalised. I am used to small offices and have great respect for the cost of real estate, so the whole thing did not bother me as much as it did the surrounding well-wishers. Incidentally, I received a cousin only a few days later, and she was visibly alarmed, although never said a word, at the apparent lack of “status” in my 3 x 3 cube. I guess looks really matter, and my office space was upgraded in a month’s time. Being next to HR never really helps if you want the image of a corporate fighter; the new office was on another “business” floor.
On that same first day, at 9 am my time with the chairman started. He asked me to join him for the next few hours to see what he goes through on a daily basis. “You have to switch your mind from dairy products and rice to engineering projects in a matter of seconds,” he warned, and continued to explain how a family business such as ours has developed to host such diverse business lines. A few people whom I had met or known in different circumstances dropped in, and it was a great comfort to be introduced by the chairman as part of the group.
In the midst of an animated historical tale of a principal that the business represents, his trusted assistant appeared to remind him of his waiting guest. “Let him in,” he declares gregariously, “this guy can be helpful.”
The guest spoke on and on and on, and the chairman never even suggested that he was bored or that the message was clear. I was in pain; should I interfere and spare the chairman the unpleasant task of ending this meeting? I remembered my ex-boss at a bank who would bite people’s ears off for enduring half of this imposition. I waited. Once the person left, I asked the chairman why he tolerated such long meetings. “He gives us valuable tips every now and then, so let him have his 15 minutes of importance.” he declared in his wisdom.
Towards the end of another hour, he gave me a few assignments, supported by a bulk of files. Finally he let me go saying: “Eyes are on all new entrants, please prove yourself.”