Priyanka Gupta Zielinski on Indian Business Families: After the second wave of the pandemic, family businesses will lead the charge nationwide.
Family businesses in India, which are typically SMEs (small and medium enterprises), form the backbone of many communities – employing households, forging broad social networks, providing key local services and launching important social initiatives. They are the most widespread organizations in our country and, should I add, also the most effective. That’s because it’s in their very DNA to operate through thick and thin and do more with less.
That is why, when the second wave of COVID-19, which has ravaged India, is over, it will be family businesses that will show us how to operate in this world of unpredictability.
Here are seven characteristics that keep business families going through tough times on a regular basis:
- They are extremely resistant: Talk to any family business owner and she will tell you about the tough times she built her business. Or those appalling incidents his company survived and the inspiring story of his comeback. Family businesses are full of stories of successes and failures, falls and climbs. They are ultra-resilient and respond quickly to a crisis to mitigate losses.
- They are inclusive: Look at the setup of a family business and tell me you see something that you can relate to. Is not it. They are truly representative in that they include men and women; the older generation and the next generation; owners and employees. They are us. It is the micro-organizations that move their entire immediate community forward. This herd mindset helps ensure that no one is left behind.
- They operate with frugality: Family businesses are often criticized for counting every penny to the point of appearing stingy (in other words, a baniye ki dukaan). But what to be ashamed of for wanting to control costs? Frugality does not necessarily mean stingy. It is precisely this focus on spending that helps small businesses survive during an economic downturn.
- They have a long-term vision: “I’m doing this for my grandchildren.” This is the mantra you will often hear from a family business owner. In fact, that’s their whole motivation. Build something that lasts for generations to come. Therefore, any strategy for overcoming difficult times is always executed with an eye on long term survival.
- They nurture loyal employers and employees: Family business owners are the latest to consider laying off staff to cut costs. They keep as many colleagues as possible for as long as they can. This very culture of seeing the workforce as its own family – caring for staff and providing them with the resources to make independent decisions – is reciprocated by employees in the form of commitment, trust and hard work. They support their employees through thick and thin.
- They have a spine: Family business owners have the courage to act in impossible situations. What is at stake for them is their family’s livelihood, so they will do whatever it takes to survive the tough times. The owners have conviction, and they are tenacious. And they won’t leave any stone unturned.
- They care about humanity: The South African Bantu word ‘ubuntu’ has a beautiful translation: ‘I am, because you are.’ It refers to the universal bond that connects all of humanity. Ubuntu is central to our survival after the pandemic and is one of the key aspects that distinguish family businesses from their corporate counterparts. Family businesses put people at the center and show us how an inclusive, bottom-up approach can nurture employees and enable customer-driven creativity.
Governments and municipalities must take into account that family businesses, which constitute the majority of businesses in our country, are already fit to lead. The authorities just have to work on a support framework for them to take charge of themselves.
(The article was adapted from The Ultimate Family Business Survival Guide written by Priyanka Gupta Zielinski and published by Pan Macmillan India.) Priyanka Gupta Zielinski is a business leader, entrepreneur and author. The views are those of the author.