Ramia Marielle El Agamy Khan is part of the second generation of her family business and fulfills the roles of CEO of Orbis Terra Media, a global Content Marketing Agency and award-winning Magazine Publisher based in Switzerland, and host of the podcast: The Family Business Voice and Women in Family Business.
Ramia holds an MSc in International Business and Management from Manchester Business School (UK). Born and raised in Switzerland, Ramia M. El Agamy is of Dutch-Egyptian descent and currently lives between Bern, Switzerland, Dubai, and UAE. She speaks six languages.
She is dedicated to bringing the power of content and technology to individuals and businesses to unlock their growth.
[00:00:00] - Ramia El Agamy
I think a family business success is built on the core principle of multigenerational collaboration. I don't think that has actually changed. I think we're still looking at the best case scenario, being multiple generations working closely together and each bringing to the table what they do best.
[00:00:27] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to episode 102 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that looks as you'd expect at all aspects of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR. I'm your host Doug Foulkes.
[00:00:39] - Doug Foulkes
With me is the CEO at WNDYR, Claire Haidar, and this month we are busy spending time with co-founder of Orbis Terra Media, a global content marketing agency, editor-in-chief of Tharawat Magazine and family entrepreneur, Ramia El Agamy. We're talking about family businesses.
[00:00:56] - Doug Foulkes
Last time we got a good background into Ramia's career path, as well as understanding more about the dynamics of a family business. Today we focus more on how multigenerational family businesses will play a role in the future of work and specifically the advantages and disadvantages they face. Claire?
[00:01:14] - Claire Haidar
Ramia, moving us on into the second segment of this conversation where I specifically want to turn a lens on the future of work and how family businesses play into that. You've said it. We lined up the conversation with this in terms of generational family businesses truly do impact the economy and therefore work, which is what we're all about on this show is can you share some relevant and important data with us that's important for this audience to know about?
[00:01:48] - Ramia El Agamy
I mean, this is actually the difficult part about family businesses and contribution. So the numbers are very vague and the studies are very far and few between.
[00:01:57] - Ramia El Agamy
I know from various countries that the contribution to GDP is very significant and the contribution to job creation is enormous. I'll give you the example, for instance, here in Switzerland where I'm from, and Switzerland is like I think currently the second richest country in the world. It's fairly influential in that respect economically.
[00:02:15] - Ramia El Agamy
The SME sector alone, there's like 95% of the SME sector is actually family businesses. You can imagine how much that contributes to jobs and job creation, like their sustainability is absolutely vital for the economy.
[00:02:28] - Ramia El Agamy
Also the same thing I know that the US boasts, I think, easily over 70% of all the businesses in the US are family businesses as well, creating significant jobs and turning around enormous amounts of revenue and contributing to the GDP in an incredible way.
[00:02:44] - Ramia El Agamy
Now, whether to be honest with you, well, when it comes to the actual workplace and the future of work, et cetera, I have to say that I think that it's very hard to say at this stage if we can claim that family businesses necessarily make the best employers or not. What I can tell you, based on the recent pandemic, is that we've seen a lot of family businesses keeping people on during this crisis, maintaining their jobs even though it meant significant losses.
[00:03:14] - Ramia El Agamy
This is a typical family business reaction, you would say. It's this idea that even in times of crisis, we'd rather take the hit financially than to lose our people.
[00:03:23] - Ramia El Agamy
I'm not sure it translates necessarily in like that that's the best work culture or the best workplace. But we have seen that patients that we talk about, that they think beyond two or three years of pandemic, that's definitely been proven, I think, in the last few years. I was happy to see that it was the case that people were prioritized.
[00:03:43] - Doug Foulkes
Ramia, I also have a question around the future of work, and it's really just to ask you, what are the advantages and and the disadvantages that family businesses have over their non-family or traditional counterparts?
[00:03:57] - Ramia El Agamy
This is a great question. I do think actually that there is a competitive advantage to being a family business in this day and age with regards to the expectations people have from what work is going to look like in the future. Because I think even though maybe family businesses tend to be associated with maybe tradition as well, because naturally when you have like a history of even a few decades, if not even like if you're centenarian, et cetera, that could come with a very heavy legacy mindset, like, so this is how we've always done business and this is like how it should stay.
[00:04:31] - Ramia El Agamy
But I actually see like both things. You see those families that might be stuck in that mindset and it becomes a competitive disadvantage for them, because they can't let go of the past, they might not be fast enough in adjusting. But I think those that understand that change is required and tradition does not have to stand in the way of innovation and that you're not losing your history or your legacy by doing things differently, those are the ones that experience the real advantages of being family owned.
[00:04:59] - Ramia El Agamy
Now, because when your family owned or like closely held, if you will, then of course making decisions with regards to these things can be much faster. You can maybe afford to be more flexible. So if the family is aligned, for instance, with regards to how their dividends are being paid, et cetera, and if they're willing to make certain sacrifices, you actually, in a family business, you could create the environment that allows a lot of experimentation with how you want to create a workspace that is right for everyone, how you want to adjust these things.
[00:05:30] - Ramia El Agamy
I think actually, again, like during the pandemic, which I think was like almost like hitting the fast forward button on a lot of what the future of work discussion relates to, I can imagine you guys must have been really... There must have been really interesting for you guys to look at considering how much you talk about this subject. So going towards that hybrid workplace or even totally remote, et cetera.
[00:05:50] - Ramia El Agamy
You could see that those families that have the open-mindedness of understanding that this does not mean a loss of identity for them, I mean, they did so well and they adjusted so quickly. I thought that this was really a testimony to what you can do when the ownership is in the hands of a family. It can really mean quick decision making.
[00:06:12] - Ramia El Agamy
This, of course, is the ideal case to be fair. It can also go the opposite way where family dynamics and family conflicts can really stand in the way of creating a good culture for everybody else. Sometimes family dynamics will also create the kind of favoritism and nepotism that you hear about that will prevent other people from having the careers that they deserve.
[00:06:32] - Ramia El Agamy
But I think like generally in this crisis, I've seen a lot of very positive cases. But again, like I think both ends of the spectrum exists. I think as a tendency, family businesses should consider themselves workplaces of the future if they can embrace that juxtaposition between tradition and innovation, that these two things are not opposites in this kind of a situation but that actually, on the contrary, the tradition makes you strong to innovate.
[00:06:58] - Ramia El Agamy
I think when that recognition is there, you see family businesses do extraordinary things, in my view. I'm not sure if I can say they outperform. They're corporate counterparts or their non-family counterparts in that respect. But I do know when family businesses lean into that, they are almost unbeatable in terms of culture. It's very impressive.
[00:07:20] - Doug Foulkes
Just before you go on, because I know you want to ask something. I mean, one of my thoughts was around a potential disadvantage of the generation gap. You're talking about the future of work and change and innovation. Is that something that can potentially go against the generations if you have an older generation that maybe aren't quite able to keep up with the pace? I mean, the reality is I'm quite finding it quite tricky to keep up with the pace of change.
[00:07:47] - Ramia El Agamy
I think a family business success is built on the core principle of multigenerational collaboration. Even in times like these, like today, I don't think that has actually changed. I think we're still looking at the best case scenario, being multiple generations working closely together and each bringing to the table what they do best.
[00:08:10] - Ramia El Agamy
I think that's what I've seen as well on the families I've interviewed, like those that have embraced that, like that, creating space around everyone's contribution, do the best work honestly. I actually, to be honest with you, Doug, I don't know how you see this, but I actually don't even just believe in that in family businesses. I think generally in business, there should be inclusivity with regards to all generations because I just don't see how otherwise you can build a sustainable business if you only rely on youth or if you only rely on experience.
[00:08:42] - Ramia El Agamy
Neither of these things make sense to me. It might feel like the easier choice because it may be easier to build culture around just one group of people if you don't have to consider different levels of understanding, but I still think that ultimately the most sustainable and the biggest success will come from actually including all the different generations.
[00:09:04] - Ramia El Agamy
I think this might mean creating the communication and culture that really goes both ways. I think if your intention is to stay your family business, of course, at some point you have to ask yourself like, how are we going to involve the next generation? You have to start thinking already about how do we communicate.
[00:09:21] - Ramia El Agamy
A lot of communication comes in. Same thing with the next generation, like if they come into ownership or if they come into the next generation of the family, as in, if they are next generation of owners, they might want to change things about the business so they have to learn how to communicate with the generation that's in charge and convince them and make their business case.
[00:09:40] - Ramia El Agamy
So it's really good training, but I can't imagine this ever working when there's a dominant representation of just one generation. On the contrary, I guess it would totally defeat the purpose of the idea of looking across.
[00:09:55] - Ramia El Agamy
If you want to make it sustainable for decades to come, because that's a big feat, so you need those different degrees of wisdom and experience and innovation. I think that spectrum is extremely important as an ingredient.
[00:10:08] - Ramia El Agamy
That's why I think like those, I don't know if you guys agree, but maybe that's why the Silicon Valley firms and the tech firms seem so sexy because they also were actually extremely ageist in many respects. It was just like a lot of young people... And of course, it's easy to get people of the same age, get them excited along the same culture but I'm not sure it's the way forward for business in the long run.
[00:10:38] - Ramia El Agamy
Because yeah, you might lose that perspective, you might lose the wisdom and the input that you can get from the older generation. So yeah, so the family business construct in that sense lends itself really well I think, to working intergenerationally.
[00:10:54] - Doug Foulkes
With that, we draw the second part of our conversation with Ramia to a close. If you missed the first part of our conversation, you can check it out on your favorite podcast platform or on the WNDYR website at wndyr.com. We'll conclude our chat with Ramia shortly. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.