Family businesses continue to shun public listings

Succession planning and governance of greater importance for region's conglomerates

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 3, 2014.  Farida F El Agamy ( General Manager, Tharawat Family Business Forum ) founder of "Women in Family Business," an initiative which looks to the impact of women in family owned business as leaders, mothers, wives and daughters.  ( Jeffrey E Biteng / The National )  Editor's Note;  Lianne G reports.
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Going public remains a distant priority for most of the region's venerable family businesses, with succession issues and corporate governance structures among businesses' more pressing concerns, according to the Dubai-based Tharawat Family Business Forum.

“Whether you go public should be one of the considerations you usually take in the lifetime of a family business,” said Farida El Agamy, Tharawat’s general manager. “What comes before that is how do I sustain my company, how do I stay innovative in a very complex business environment today? How do I make sure that my internal structures are strong enough to give me that agility?”

Ms El Agamy was speaking at the ‘Family Business Histories – Capturing the Entrepreneurial Heritage’ event at New York University Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

The region’s largest business families continue to prioritise the development of corporate governance structures, especially the development of clear succession plans, above opening their companies to external investors, she said.

She noted that families also retain a deep emotional attachment to their businesses, and also argue that local capital markets are not as deep and liquid as those in developed countries. Companies also note the volatility of regional stock markets, which are dominated by retail rather than institutional investors, compared with elsewhere.

Nour Abou Adal, a senior executive at Lebanese family business Holdal Abou Adal Group, said the company was not interested in offering shares to the public and financial institutions, with management shying away from being judged by outside investors on quarterly basis.

NYUAD and Tharawat are collaborating on a project to study and record the history of family businesses across the Mena region, with a particular emphasis on six businesses, which include the Holdal Abou Adal Group.

The UAE’s Alserkal Group, established in Dubai in 1947 by Nasser bin Abdullatif Alserkal, has also been selected for the study. Alserkal introduced telephone services in the emirate in 1959, and has grown over the years to encompass several segments including transportation, construction and healthcare.