Editorial by Vincent Valeri, Family Enterprise Advisor and Legacy Coach, Canada and Ramia Marielle El Agamy Khan, Editor-in-Chief, Tharawat Magazine

A Shared Past

Sharing knowledge, innovation and skills is how we grow, not only as people but also as a society. It’s a straight line drawn through a complex and hotly contested issue – whether or not international borders come between us.

That migration is and always has been prevalent is not up for dispute, however. The history of the human race, starting with our early ancestors’ first steps beyond the Rift Valley, is one of continuous movement.

Where this movement takes us, both in life and in business, is as diverse and various as humanity itself. Those who move – immigrants – give their lives to the places they go and, in doing so, often give life to their new homes as entrepreneurs.

An Inherited Present

Many nations owe their prosperity and identity to their forebearers from overseas and around the world. In the United States, roughly one in four residents is foreign-born or the child of foreign-born parents. In the United Kingdom, roughly 10 per cent of the population originated from other countries. Before recently, however, the UK had traditionally been a net exporter of immigrants, contributing significantly to the populations of other nations for over two centuries.

For many immigrants, starting a family business is not only a means of survival; it’s a way to participate in a new country. The value immigrants add with their participation is undeniable; yet, for reasons often rooted in fear of language, religious and cultural differences, many have forgotten how this past came from elsewhere and led to their inherited present. Making these connections possible is essential to our future.

“the path, though difficult, is at least well-paved in terms of precedent.”

Why Do Immigrants Start Family Businesses?

From Kraft to McDonald’s and Tesla, some of the world’s largest and most innovative companies were established by immigrants or their children. In the US, immigrants are more likely to start a business than their fellow, native-born citizens, with approximately one out of ten self-employed. Immigrants are also responsible for 25 per cent of new businesses created. In the United Kingdom, around 14 per cent of businesses are started by immigrants.

The correlation between immigration and entrepreneurship is a widely accepted phenomenon; business-friendly governments around the world are passing legislation making it easier for entrepreneurs to immigrate. Singapore, Asia’s booming start-up hub, signals their understanding of foreign-born potential with a dedicated employment pass for prospective entrepreneurs called EntrePass.

The contributing factors of immigrant success often go beyond ambition or aspiration and land squarely on survival. Language and cultural barriers can make entering a new country’s workforce exceedingly challenging, especially if discrimination plays a factor. Similar roadblocks exist where access to education, professional resources and recognition of qualifications are concerned, which is why your Uber driver might be a doctor.

In circumventing these hurdles, entrepreneurship is often born out of necessity. Its expression – the continued growth of the business – however, is closely tied to identity. The bold, risk-taking determination that causes a person to immigrate is the same grit that makes family businesses successful.

For many, there is no turning back, no going home and no giving up. There are, however, the tremendous resource of family and inspiration from those previous movers. For immigrant businesses around the world, the path, though difficult, is at least well-paved in terms of precedent.

“Learning to overcome is both a defining characteristic of immigrant family business and a factor in their overwhelming success.”

What Makes These Businesses Different?

Influenced by the struggles they faced in the country they left, many immigrants transfer their will to survive into the businesses they start. The challenges of their past continue to fuel their present and future growth, even after a measure of wealth and comfort have been achieved.

Learning to overcome is both a defining characteristic of immigrant family business and a factor in their overwhelming success. Immigrants and their children founded nearly half of Fortune 500 companies, and among the top 35 performing companies, their number rises to 57 per cent. Businesses founded by immigrants employ millions around the world, contribute significantly to their new country’s GDP and help safeguard against the economic stagnation of static populations.

The success factors of immigrant entrepreneurs coming from hardship, for example, are, if not translated, then at least communicated to the next generation. Often, they continue to play a significant role in the business’s sustainability and upward trajectory, but they can also cause problems.

Exceptional Movers – The Ripple Effects of Immigrant Entrepreneurship
Image via Shutterstock.

Flipping the Switch

It might be paradoxical, but the survival instinct that helps make many immigrant businesses a success can also restrict their potential. Many second-generation and, more commonly, third-generation members born into a family business wrestle with the goals set by previous generations. When someone tries to flip the switch from surviving to thriving through enterprising growth and expansion, an internal clash of cultures can threaten a firm’s stewardship. In this regard, full ownership of a family business can be just as hard for a subsequent generation to take as it can be for a previous generation to relinquish.

Multigenerational conflicts aren’t culturally specific. Instead, it’s the prevailing shift in attitudes from traditional to modern, involving everything from gender equality to operational models, that generates contention. Hard work might be the foundation, but the advantages of next-generation technology allow for working smarter, not harder. It’s balancing the past and the present to find the collaborative potential of multiple generations that generates sustainability over time.

“Their contributions exist even when the dialogue around immigration digresses into oversimplified, misinformed and forgetful polemic.”

Everyone’s Dream

As the global population ages, immigration remains a vital component in filling labour and services gaps across international borders. Immigrant businesses are vital to the culture and quality of life that many enjoy today, as they form a fundamental part of growing and revitalising regions, cities and communities. Their contributions exist even when the dialogue around immigration digresses into oversimplified, misinformed and forgetful polemic.

This dissonance, like the movement of people around the world, is nothing new. Immigrants have always succeeded in spite of it. Economics aside, societies have much to learn from immigrant-owned firms. Boldness to face the unknown in search of an ideal world, overwhelmingly to the betterment of everyone involved, is wholly exceptional.

Exceptional Movers – The Ripple Effects of Immigrant Entrepreneurship
Vincent Valeri, image courtesy of the author.
Why Your family business is a Movie Script Waiting to Happen
Ramia El Agamy, image from VSCO.