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
A lot of people would consider family businesses as being small, like mom-and-pop stores and that kind of idea that people had about it. One of the big things that we try to contribute here is that people realize that actually some of the largest companies in the world are essentially still family-owned enterprises.
[00:00:25] - Doug Foulkes
Welcome to Episode 101 of Chaos & Rocketfuel: The Future of Work Podcast. This is the podcast that looks at all aspects of work in the future. It's brought to you by WNDYR and I'm your host, Doug Foulkes. With me is the CEO of WNDYR, Claire Haidar. This month we're talking about family businesses with co-founder of Orbis Terra Media, a global content marketing agency, editor-in-chief of Tharawat Magazine, and family entrepreneur, Ramia El Agamy.
[00:00:54] - Doug Foulkes
Now, before you jump to the conclusion that a family business is just a mom-and-pop shop and this podcast is not for you, hang on. Ramia is here to explain that the family business model is in fact the most frequently used business model worldwide. In this first episode, we will look at exactly what a family business is, and more specifically, three of the biggest opportunities that are open for women in family businesses. Over to you, Claire.
[00:01:20] - Claire Haidar
Ramia, hello and welcome. It's just so good to have you with us here on the show today. You and I have a kindred connection, which I won't go into in detail, but I'm really looking forward to this conversation because the topic is near and dear to both our family hearts.
[00:01:40] - Ramia El Agamy
Thank you, Claire, and thank you, Doug, for having me. I'm very excited about the conversation today.
[00:01:44] - Claire Haidar
Good. Ramia, jumping right in, in this very first segment of the conversation, I actually just want us to take a big-picture step back and talk about actual family business dynamics. Before we dive into the questions, can you share with us a little bit about yourself and what you do today to set up the conversation? Then we can dive into the more specific nuances of family businesses themselves.
[00:02:14] - Ramia El Agamy
Thanks. Yeah. The very, very short, boiled down version, I think the easiest way to describe what my current activity is that I'm primarily an entrepreneur first and foremost. I should say I'm a family entrepreneur because everything I do in business, I do with my two sisters. Everything I got to do at the beginning of my career, I started off with was incubated, I would say, by my parents. I'm fully embedded into the family-originated business, if you will, dynamics. We started in 2008 when I graduated. My dad had this idea where he wanted to launch a publication for family businesses.
[00:02:56] - Ramia El Agamy
Actually, he had been involved in executive education for many years, has a very successful business in that area. He'd been traveling all over the world and for him, what emerged constantly was that family businesses were these incredibly important contributors to private economies all over the world. That in business schools and generally everywhere, we seem to not focus on them as much as on other businesses. He was very disappointed by that because he felt that their approaches to business and the success that they generated over generations was worth documenting more thoroughly.
[00:03:29] - Ramia El Agamy
Funnily enough, that became our focus, not just in the publishing side, but also in the nonprofit that we created in the Middle East for family businesses in the Middle East where we created a peer network. But maybe to come back to the publishing side, we did start the Tharawat Magazine in 2008, which was a great idea, Claire. You should definitely always start a business in the middle of a financial crisis. Brilliant. I highly recommend it.
[00:03:53] - Claire Haidar
Very good idea.
[00:03:54] - Ramia El Agamy
Yes, brilliant. Honestly, and there went my 20s, as I always say. I really don't remember them, or much of them. We built up Tharawat Magazine and the idea was to create a publication that would take a truly global perspective on the family business topic. Really get all these family business stories from all over the world to share a different best practice in business, a best practice that was focused on stewardship, ensuring legacies that would last for generations and were not just focused on the next quarter, if you will. We built this magazine out of the total hubris that is our entrepreneurial hubris that we somehow thought we could.
[00:04:32] - Ramia El Agamy
We deluded ourselves into being able to, if you will, and we are still here, which is the good news. The magazine today, we carry about 1,300 articles. We've interviewed hundreds of family businesses around the world. It's a podcast, it's an interactive format, and it's just been a beautiful journey. Through that publishing journey, we just became very much in love with just content and the power of content and what content can do for people if it's conveyed to them in the right way at the right time and how transformative it is.
[00:05:02] - Ramia El Agamy
We build Orbis Terra Media around that, which is our content marketing agency, which is my primary concern right now, aside from being on the board of the various other entrepreneurial endeavors that my sisters and I are undertaking. Yeah, it's a very busy life and a very diverse life, but that's primarily what I do. Of course, our spin-off, which I think, Claire, is a little bit how we connected, which is the very important spin-off publication that we created, which is the Women in Family Business Platform, which I'm happy to talk about a little bit more in a minute. I know you have questions about that.
[00:05:35] - Claire Haidar
Thank you, Ramia. We usually don't dive into the specifics of people's backgrounds. We usually keep that to the end of the conversation. But in this case, I actually did feel it was really important for you to lay that stage for us. Let's dive into family businesses. As you say, and I fully concur with your dad around, they get such little attention in executive education programs within universities around the world. It literally is in most cases just a chapter, and maybe one class is dedicated to reviewing them.
[00:06:12] - Claire Haidar
But very very few business schools actually really dive into them and consider them to be an area worthy of significant research and research funding. Talk to me a little bit about the defining characteristics of family-owned businesses and why they really should be treated and seen as very different and very unique in their contribution to capital markets.
[00:06:40] - Ramia El Agamy
Well, it's interesting, Claire, because I'm part of one myself and because I mostly deal with family businesses in my capacity as the editor of the magazine. I don't really think of family business necessarily as special. I think, of course, we have to not underestimate purely from a numbers point of view, they are in fact the norm. It's like the majority of businesses in the world are actually family-owned and family-run. It's just for some reason, I think mainstream media has convinced us otherwise, or we don't ask ourselves enough the question whether businesses are actually family-run or family-owned or not.
[00:07:13] - Ramia El Agamy
Or it's not really something that is foremost to our minds to the running of the business. But it actually is an important factor we have found out. The academic field around family business is relatively young. I think we're hitting maybe 40 years now, so it's still fairly young field, but it's a very fast-expanding field. The more we study family businesses and we compare them, of course, to their non-family peers, the more we do see that, of course, it is a special set of circumstances that you encounter in the family business.
[00:07:42] - Ramia El Agamy
So depending on, I would say, the level of family involvement, the complexity can be quite intense. Because you can imagine, I think we all know here on this podcast what it takes to build a business that in itself is already a seemingly insurmountable challenge. Now you add to that the complexities of keeping your family together in a harmonious way, and then you combine those things into one explosive, very interesting combo. You can imagine that the challenges are slightly different, I think, than when you are operating in your usual corporate environment.
[00:08:20] - Ramia El Agamy
I think one of the reasons why there might have been a lack of attention to family businesses is when I started out in this particular niche topic, what I realized was that a lot of people would consider family businesses as being small, like mom-and-pop stores and that kind of idea that people had about it. One of the big things that we try to contribute here is that people realized that actually some of the largest companies in the world are essentially still family-owned enterprises. So your Samsungs, your BMW, and all of those really well known names. They're actually, they either were until recently, family-owned and family-run, or come from family ownership at the outset which built their success.
[00:09:06] - Ramia El Agamy
I think it's just been really interesting to see how there has been a shift now. We're definitely looking at family businesses different than when we started out 15 years ago. I'm happy to see that because I do think that what I mentioned before, this outlook on this different approach to business, which is more an approach to business that I guess focuses on longevity. Even though longevity, as we know, it's not always the sexiest thing in business because it means it's patience. It's like investing in things that don't immediately show results. It's investing in a culture that is very patient in the long run, etc.
[00:09:43] - Ramia El Agamy
Sometimes you have to do things that will pay off for your children's or your grandchildren's generation as opposed to your own. It's not always the easiest sell, I guess. There's sometimes little immediate gratification. But I do think currently also in this current economy that we're in and the world that we're faced with that is going through a lot of trauma and difficult times in relation to technological change, but also climate. I actually think that family business and the way we approach the stewardship over multiple generations might actually be a much more interesting business model to pursue for these generations that are coming now.
[00:10:21] - Doug Foulkes
Ramia, from my side, it's nice to meet you and welcome to the podcast. Nice that I've got a chance to chat to you.
[00:10:28] - Ramia El Agamy
Thank you, Doug. Likewise.
[00:10:31] - Doug Foulkes
You've chosen to niche even deeper into an already quite specific niche area. Can you tell us a little bit about that and why you felt so compelled to do so?
[00:10:40] - Ramia El Agamy
You know, Doug, I do think it's the usual entrepreneurial mindset of like, you just see a gap, right? And you become passionate about even-ing that out. I do think that at the time when we started, there definitely wasn't enough content about family businesses. Then we built Women in Family Business because there wasn't enough content by women about family businesses. It's always like addressing that next... When we see something that's uneven, I think we just want to address it and even it out.
[00:11:12] - Ramia El Agamy
In this particular case, it wasn't even a very difficult sell in our minds because clearly the moment you look into family businesses, you realize how important they are. It just makes a lot of sense to create content around them, make sure that their stories are told and that they're considered as important stories. Also, that can help so many people around the world. It was a bit of a no-brainer, to be honest with you, once we understood their economic consequence as well.
[00:11:39] - Claire Haidar
Yeah. Ramia, wrapping... If you take the question that I asked you, if you take the question that Doug asked you and you look at the answers that you've given us, I think the main point that really stands out for me is what you said about the fact that we need to stop and actually recognize that the majority of businesses are family-owned businesses or at their origins are family-owned businesses. Even really, really large multinational conglomerates like Samsung, BMW, Facebook, etc. If we look at what we want to discuss on this podcast and where we really want to niche is the role that women specifically play in these family businesses.
[00:12:23] - Claire Haidar
The reason why we specifically want to call that out is because as much as family dynamics has been neglected from an executive education perspective, etc., the role that women specifically play is even more neglected. Share with our audience, what are the three biggest opportunities facing women within this niche area today. I'm very comfortable for you to answer that from, is it the academic research side? Is it within the businesses themselves? But let's just take that broad view. What are opportunities that women can take hold of today in this environment that they weren't necessarily able to 30 years ago?
[00:13:05] - Ramia El Agamy
It's interesting, Claire. I'm very much aware always of these discussions, getting strong reactions out of people. I get a lot of people telling me, "Why do you have a women and family business podcast? It's polarizing." And stuff like that. I always tell them the same thing. I tell them, look, the moment things are equal, I'm happily going to stop this podcast. I will happily not have this discussion anymore. But the fact of the matter is it is not currently equal. Women are not well represented neither in the family business in terms of the roles that they take, nor in the way the thought leadership around family enterprises is shaped.
[00:13:49] - Ramia El Agamy
When I say not well represented, I do not take away from the enormous contribution some women have already made, and some women are leading family businesses to new heights. But I think in terms of just numbers, we're still way behind. That's, of course, because men have historically had the advantage in terms of getting those business roles and have historically had the advantage of being published. It just feels like there's a lot of catching up for us to do in that respect. I think if I may just speak mostly to the role of women in the family enterprise now that being an operational business or being part of a family office doesn't really matter.
[00:14:24] - Ramia El Agamy
I think the big difference in the conversation we have, for instance, on Women in Family Business, our podcast and our blog, is that when you are part of a family enterprise as a man or a woman, you're born into that circumstance. It's not really something that you can necessarily help. Unless you're the founder, who decides to build this business, involve the family, the subsequent generations are born into it. They're born into, oh, the factory down the street belongs to us or the previous generation sold this huge business, and now we have a lot of family wealth and stuff like that.
[00:14:57] - Ramia El Agamy
These are not things you can help. I think what we realized when we had these discussions was that because of primogenitor and stuff like that, and it used to be like father to eldest son for such a long time, how women factor into this paradigm wasn't really thought of until quite recently. Where now we see so many more women inheriting. We see so many more women actually taking on these leadership roles. We see so many more women becoming the main successors, really. I think in this in these next few years, we're seeing more wealth transferring to women than ever in human history.
[00:15:39] - Ramia El Agamy
The thing is that all of these things are happening, but there's not a lot of thought leadership yet by women, for women, for instance. I think these two things play into each other, whether it's actually women not being represented enough in family businesses or women not actually talking enough to the issues surrounding the family enterprise. I think both these things now need to really move fast, in my opinion. I think we are already seeing a lot of families really being very equal about the opportunities that are given to men and women in the families and stuff like that.
[00:16:15] - Ramia El Agamy
But it still feels like it's something that could be accelerated, to be quite frank. I think one of the mandates that we have is to say the more content we also get from women and not just about what is it like to be a woman in business. God knows we've talked about that enough, I think. But it's more about just women lending their perspective on things, typical family business topics like succession, raising the next generation, philanthropy, ESG, all of these things, because we mostly have male perspectives on these things.
[00:16:46] - Ramia El Agamy
Because the workplace is mixed and because inheritance is mixed now, we need more female voices as well. So that was our motivation to build Women in Family Business. That's what we also think is going to make family businesses sustainable in the future is obviously if everyone gets a seat around the table. If all voices are heard. I feel like for a long time I had this problem where a lot of women would pride themselves in their invisible roles. They would feel... I'm not taking away from that. I have them myself in my family. You're the unofficial buffer, you manage things at home and you have a lot of influence there or something like that.
[00:17:23] - Ramia El Agamy
We all have those roles that are not acknowledged or don't come with a business card. But I do think we have to be careful. Definitely, I would never trade visibility over influence, but I also think we need to be careful. If we don't manage some visibility, there's no precedence being set for the next generation. We are sending the wrong message to the next generation of girls or whatever gender you identify with. We're sending the wrong message about what's possible. Representation does matter, I think, also in family businesses, if that makes sense.
[00:17:55] - Claire Haidar
Yes, it does. It completely does. It really does answer my question because ultimately your bottom line summary is it's the female perspective. That's the voice. We're not trying to recover ground that's already been covered or anything like that. It really just is the female perspective because that hasn't really been voiced up until now.
[00:18:16] - Doug Foulkes
That brings us to the end of the first part of our conversation about family businesses with family entrepreneur Ramia El Agamy. To follow this conversation further, make sure to catch the next two parts on your favorite podcast platform or on WNDYR's website, wndyr.com. From Claire and myself, we'll see you soon.