Children Take Over Family Businesses

By Selma Köhn

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Some people are born with a passion towards a certain field or occupation, while others spend their early years figuring out what exactly they want to work as. However, when you are born into a family with its own business, whether it has been established recently or passed down through the generations, your career path is arguably pretty much laid out for you.

Taking over a business that has a strong foundation and name in the market can sometimes be seen as a blessing or a burden.

We spoke to five people who have each stepped into their family’s business and managed to take it further, each with their own style, challenges and philosophy.

Aya Akel
Aya Home Textiles

Coming from a family that has been in the textile business for three generations, Aya Akel followed in her ancestors’ footsteps by creating her own branch of the business, Aya Home Textiles, which she runs successfully on her own.

How was it growing up as a daughter of a successful family in that business? Did it facilitate things for you or burden you more?

A family business is somewhat part of you when you are growing up and the people working in the business become part of the family.

I always knew I was going to run my family business as I used to work with my dad any chance I got. During those times, I would hear stories of my great grandfather, who was a wool trader in Jerusalem, and my grandfather, Ahmed Akel, who had to overcome war obstacles in Palestine before moving his family and business to Egypt and starting from scratch. My father at the age of 21 took over the family’s legacy but created his own business. I believe that every new generation likes to protect the legacy of their ancestors while creating a distinct name for themselves.

I would say it both facilitated and burdened me. Along with this legacy comes a lot of the old generation’s thinking.

When did you decide to become an active part of the family business, and was it your decision? 

I knew I wanted this from when I was four years old when I modeled causal wear for kids for my father’s brand NES. I would watch my father prepare for fashion shows at Club Med Hotel Manial Palace, and he would create such avant-garde pieces all from scratch. My mom was the backstage coordinator and my siblings and I were always part of a show. I realized that this was what a family business was all about: putting all your passion and love into it.

Once I graduated, my father insisted that I find work away from the family business first so I can be 100% positive that I was making the right decision. I moved to the city and worked in advertising for a year, after which I realized that I was born to be an entrepreneur not an employee.

How did you come up with the idea of creating your own line Aya Home Textiles?

Honestly, it was a mix of luck and research. I was given the opportunity to create 200,000 simple, white promotional towels for Dove soap, and so I decided to research and find the best cotton supplier, which was Misr el Mahala company. For four months, I would drive every Monday to the factory in Mahala and check on my order. During the process, I discovered that Egypt produces such beautiful quality Egyptian towels that were unfortunately all exported, and this is where Aya Home Textiles began.

How is it to work together with your family?

When I first joined, part of the deal with my father was that the first two years of would be a learning period where I would just be observing. Finally, after the period had ended, I was given the freedom to try something new.

I think the key advice I would give for people working with a parent is do not fight it. There will be differences, but there is also so much to learn simply by watching.

Would you expect your own children to follow in your footsteps? 

I would love for my children to step in, but I believe that it is their choice.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? 

I see an empowered, ambitious woman who strives for challenges. I see a woman who is constantly scared of failing, which is normal as it pushes you to excel. I also see a woman who can have her own business, be a wife and be a great mother at the same time.

Fatma Ghaly
Azza Fahmy

Fatma Ghaly, the daughter of Egyptian jewelry designer Azza Fahmy, is now the managing director of the Azza Fahmy brand. She joined the business as a part time junior in the marketing department when she was completing her studies and has been involved ever since, along with her younger sister Amina Ghaly, who is the head designer.

You are the daughter of one of Egypt’s most successful women. How does that feel and what does it mean to you? 

I am lucky to have a mother that influences me greatly. For me, she is superwoman, both as a designer and as a parent. I can see how hard it must have been for her to balance a household and a successful business now that I am a mother myself.

How do you achieve a balance between managing a business like “Azza Fahmy” and your personal life?

I realized that work is part of my life and who I am because it is a family business that I grew up with. However, I always have to make sure that I am not giving less in my personal life, especially since I became a mother.

How did the brand Azza Fahmy develop under your supervision? 

With my sister on the creative side and myself on the business side, we are both constantly working together to evolve the brand on these fronts as we take on the helm of the wonderful legacy that our mother has built and developed. We feed off of each other’s insights when it comes to market trends and consumer behavior, which keeps us both in check and equipped with the broad re-inventive mindset we need to expand the business.

How did you manage to make it global?

For us, it was seeing the potential in our unique creations, and that is when I knew that it had to be spread worldwide, not just regionally. It was important that, as our global demand grew, we researched every market individually with its trends and dynamics to see how we could adapt our product accordingly without compromising on our design essence and core brand values. That was and always remains our biggest challenge.

International collaborations have been a part of Azza Fahmy since the early 2000’s, ever since we set out for London Fashion Week ​and New York Fashion Week with renowned designers like Julien Macdonald, Preen and recently, Matthew Williamson.

The brand has also been recognized by international publications like Vogue, Financial Times, Vanity Fair and CNN, in addition to being favored by many global celebrities including Naomi Campbell, Rihanna and Vanessa Williams to name a few. The brand also embarks on cultural collaborations, two of which were Bespoke collections for the British Museum.

What was the most valuable advice you ever got from your mother?

My mother always encouraged me to follow my passion. She has always taught me that nothing is impossible. Looking back at her story, I have realized that if you believe in something, and have enough determination and dedication, you can always turn it into something great.

Mahmoud El Hazek
Egyptian Union For Construction (EUC)

Mahmoud El Hazek joined Egyptian Union For Construction (El Hazek Group) as a teenager, where he witnessed how the group rapidly expanded throughout the years under the efforts of his father as well as his uncles, who are his father’s partners.

How was it growing up as the son of the founder of El Hazek Group?

Growing up and watching my father work gradually embedded in me an innate hunger for success and hard work. Watching him and idolizing him has developed a benchmark that I automatically strive to achieve. I always felt that I needed to excel in order to fulfill the expectations of my family. I come from a family of high achievers, and I had and still have big shoes to fill.

At what age did you decide to take over EUC?

To be completely honest, I knew I would be a civil engineer and thus manage EUC ever since I was 15. I enjoyed certain subjects, which were core competencies required for civil engineering.

Did joining the family business facilitate things for you or burden you more?

I would say both, but it is up to the individual to spin the circumstances around for their own benefit. However, I must admit taking over a company and using the perks of the already established name has indeed created a platform that continues to help me today.

When it comes to EUC, I face daily challenges, the hardest being changing the existing mindset and mentality. Let us not forget that people have a natural innate resistance to change, and I am constantly learning when to let go, when to fight and when to create the balance and win them over.

Would you say success is something you are born with? 

No, I would not say that. As cliché as it sounds, I believe success is definitely something you work hard to achieve. I do not consider myself successful yet; I still have a long way to go!

Apart from that, I think what you are born with or develop at a young age is the hunger and desire for success that is developed and embedded by the environment you are surrounded by. Watching my father and growing up with his expectations of me definitely fostered that hunger.

How did EUC develop under your supervision? 

I believe that the company is on the right track to reach our long-term targets. We have devised a road map since I took over and what is essential for me to do is to make sure that the company is moving along the map set out. Any sort of movement in the right direction is a positive indication.

In the last two years, we have been awarded major projects with both new and old clients. I always ensure that business with existing clients is maintained as it proves good quality and delivery from EUC. It is equally important if not more important to widen the type of construction and the client base to ensure growth and expansion.

We have re-activated our industrial construction competencies and have partnered up with specialized international construction companies to bid for many different types of projects other than residential and thus expanding our potential — like power plants, factories, wind farms, high-rises and so on.

In my opinion, the most important resource for a construction company is its people. I look for young talent that will allow EUC to adapt and mold to the fast-changing needs. Maintaining a learning and training environment to ensure their motivation and thus EUCs productivity is key. Our team has changed drastically over the past two years.

Is working together as a family challenging?

Working with my father and uncle has definitely proven challenging at times, especially when we are disagreeing on a major managerial decision. I must say though that my father has proven to be quite flexible and willing to support my decisions even though they may seem untraditional to EUC’s old culture. A major downfall however is that the line between home and work has completely disintegrated and we find ourselves discussing work related matters almost all the time.

Working with my cousins, however, is very dynamic and proactive. We all respect each other’s capabilities and boundaries and we strive for a similar goal of modernizing the group.

Would you expect your own children to follow in your footsteps?

I believe I will be the type of father that gives my children the complete flexibility to do what they want.I would never force or push them towards a certain career — they need to love it to succeed.

Mohamed Farag
Ashraf Farag, DMA Construction and DMA Farms

Mohamed Farag took over the family business at the age of 28, when his father had built reputable companies in real estate, construction and farming called Ashraf Farag, DMA Construction and DMA Farms. While Mohamed is responsible for generating the income of the overall business, his younger brother, Ahmed, is in charge of the technical and executive part of the business.

When did you decide to become an active part of your father’s business?

I always knew that I would eventually work for the family business as there was no way out of it. Since I was four years old, my father would take me every Friday to look at all the sites and tell me about his work and projects. During my school holidays, he would pay me small amounts of money to go to work.

Despite that, my father gave me the liberty to study whatever I wanted, but he would always tell me that it would come in handy for the family business.

How did these businesses develop under your leadership?

When I joined, everything had to go through my father first, but today, I am slowly changing the culture. I have implemented a hierarchic structure where monitoring work performance is included. I am keen on creating close relationships with my employees and develop them into role models for younger generations.

My thesis in college was about low-income housing, and I developed a passion for that field since then. I believed in my vision that low-income housing is the future of real estate in Egypt, and I knew that as an entrepreneur, you have to take risks.

How did DMA Farms start?

Even before I joined Asraf Farag, I advised my father to establish DMA Farms since he had the land and was doing nothing with it. Agriculture is completely different from real estate or construction. It is an industry where you are very dependent on unpredictable circumstances. When it rains, everything can be destroyed and so could your investments, and so it is a science where one cycle can be good, the other bad. Basically, it is like everything else in life.

How is it like working with your father? Where do you agree and disagree? 

My father is a “one man show” kind of person who believes that delegation is wrong, and this is where we disagree, as I see it as a useful and empowering growth tool. Apart from that, we have a lot of similarities.

When I was young, I always wanted to be as successful as my father who now sees that I can handle the business on my own. I have been involved in his business since 17 years and learned everything from scratch. At the end of the day he is my father and as his son I also have to abide by his word, and I respect that.

How do you cope with stress?

When you have a lot riding on your shoulders, it is hard to find time to stop. After working long hours, and sometimes weekends, I de-stress by making time to workout. I also go hunting, a hobby that my father taught me and that I have had a passion for ever since I was four years old. As with every family, work affects the home. And luckily, I have a great wife who is very understanding and knows how to handle me in every situation. I live and work foremost for my family, my father, my siblings but I need to remember to also treat myself.

Would you expect your own children to follow your footsteps?

I want my son or future children to pursue a career they wish to and I will support them regardless. I want to make sure that the company is up and running without their direct involvement so that they do not need to be there all the time.

Yousef Waly
Al Waly Group

Yousef Waly is responsible for growing the home appliances manufacturing, the marble manufacturing and the foundations construction part of Al Waly Group, a company that his grandfather established and his father further developed.

Does leading the family business at its third generation facilitate things for you or burden you more?

My grandfather had a construction company that laid its ground work in 1958, which was followed by my father setting up the concrete business in the eighties, building it to become one of the leading companies in its market today. So yes, it does both facilitate things and burden me in a way. It facilitated a huge amount of course, as it creates a pre-existing reputation, which is also a huge responsibility, as well as allows me to gain use of the network they have already created.

Was joining the family business your own decision?

I only really chose it after I graduated from university. I was unaware of what I wanted to do as I did not have any sort of industry preference. It was not an easy decision, but there was the constant looming feeling of it since I was younger, that feeling in itself was a sort of cushion to bounce on to. However, I consciously made the choice to join, regardless of any pressure from the family. I never felt forced into it, nor do I feel trapped here because of it.

Are you under performance stress? 

Consistently. These are tough times for our economy in Egypt and all businesses are under great stress. The companies I am managing need to grow, so I have a massive task of planning for the companies with very limited tools, and learning how to make decisions and how to evaluate my options through trying them out myself. Besides it being a family business, and therefore success is expected of me, just as it is expected of my older brother, it is the responsibility that comes with it and the expectation that we are willing to do anything and everything for our organization.

Do you believe that success is something you are born with? 

No, I never considered myself successful. I was generally not a very hard worker when I was younger, but I had good intuition, which helped me through most of my life.

How does it feel leading a company at the age of 25, with employees older than you?

It is a paradox at times, as there are many scenarios where I must decide how to deal with every situation, how I treat others, how I review my own decision making so I can rely on my own judgment and not be misled. I am younger than 98% of the company and constantly have to prove myself. There are situations where I am being played, and others where I am the only one making sense.

I must identify who I should be learning from, who I can trust and who is just agreeing to everything I say and how organizations see my actions and will either rally behind it or judge me because of it. So, I have to set up chains of command and structures that enforce good management to help me enforce my decisions and make the right judgment.

What is the best advice your father ever gave you?

My father’s best advice was definitely to be myself. He has set up a potential empire with various industries and great prospects. He is so respected due to his success and character that he was able to run for parliament with an honest view of changing our country, so I am unable to learn all the norms and the ins and outs of each business and situation from him on a daily basis.

The most effective statement he has ever told me was, “it boils down to being yourself, and applying what you think is right.”

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