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Four Lessons Worth Learning From A 154-Year-Old Legacy Business As recently as nine years ago, research suggested that only 30% of family businesses made it into the second generation, and only 3% lasted four generations and beyond.

By Nailesh Khimji

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Business lessons can come from many sources: formal education, deep dives into case studies, analyzing historical trends in an industry, or just simply starting up and learning along the way. But there is a business type whose origins and development are often shrouded in mystery: family-owned businesses. How do you build a successful business where boardroom discussions can just as well be dinner-table conversations? I can tell you that, like Rome, such businesses weren't built in a day.

As recently as nine years ago, research suggested that only 30% of family businesses made it into the second generation, and only 3% lasted four generations and beyond. I'm part of the fifth generation of a family business -Khimji Ramdas- whose legacy spans more than 150 years. Through years of careful knowledge transfer, protecting our core values, and constantly evolving alongside technology, we are now at a stage where the sixth generation has begun their foray into the business.

Here's what I've learnt from being part of this enduring legacy:

1. Innovation and diversification are non-negotiable
Family businesses often have deeply rooted traditions and values, but younger generations must trust their expertise, and make their cases where required. At Khimji Ramdas, our ancestors traded goods using wind-powered ships; today, we navigate global markets with digital strategies and innovative product lines. In a world where tech moves quickly, the newer generations are duty-bound to scale processes and business lines by bringing new tech into the fold. Technology changes quickly, but market trends change even quicker. Your total addressable market (TAM), no matter the industry, is not something to take for granted any longer. Over the years, our business diversified from commodities to logistics, distribution, and manufacturing, and now into more digital-oriented businesses like online travel. Business growth doesn't happen linearly.

2. Prioritize customers and partners alike
Our long-standing relationships with many global brands have allowed us to expand regionally alongside them. This has been possible through prioritizing synergistic relationships based on trust. Traditions and values forge trustworthy relationships that can last generations. These relationships are also gateways into new markets, technologies, and resources along the way. It is also generally a good business practice to avoid any avenues that appear like quick wins- something that is doubly true in the world of family businesses. Relationships are the key to long-term success, and this also applies to all your customers. Treating success like a two-way street that involves all your customers and partners is a good way to frame your thinking.

3. The internal structure is the game
Establishing clear family governance structures is essential for maintaining harmony and continuity within the business. Family businesses don't have to broach this subject as often as non-family ones, but it is important to keep sight of roles, processes, and communication guidelines. Succession planning is also critical. Start grooming successors early, providing them with mentorship, exposure, and opportunities for both growth and to lead new endeavors beyond your generation's expertise. With that being said, while family involvement is integral, also recognize the importance of professional management. Around the turn of this century, our family transitioned from thinking of ourselves as a family-run to a family-owned company. We brought in non-family professionals to manage our operations to enhance efficiency, and laid the groundwork for sustainable growth.

4. Traditions still matter
It is easy to write off tradition and culture as limitations when it comes to innovating. But all generational success is built on some pillars that carry relevance regardless of the times. For instance, ambitious innovation should not come at the cost of the communities that your business influences. Long-standing family businesses are usually reflective of the lives that they have touched over multiple generations, and it is important to understand the values that enable such relationships. Demonstrate your commitment to society beyond profits. Engage in meaningful corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives that positively impact your community. Whether it's supporting education, healthcare, or environmental conservation, giving back fosters goodwill and strengthens your brand's reputation.

Related: For Family Businesses In The Middle East, Formalized Governance Can Help Create Lasting Legacies

Nailesh Khimji

Director at Khimji Ramdas

Nailesh Khimji is a Director at Khimji Ramdas.

For over 150 years, Khimji Ramdas (KR) has been a beacon of excellence in the business world, encompassing diverse sectors such as lifestyle, consumer products, projects and logistics, and infrastructure. With a presence in the UAE, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, and strategic partnerships in India with industry giants like Procter & Gamble, Rolex, Kellogg’s, and Britannia, Khimji Ramdas is synonymous with trust, quality, and innovation.

Nailesh Khimji represents the fifth generation of leadership at Khimji Ramdas. Credited with diversifying the business, Nailesh has established key partnerships with P&G, Rolex, and Kellogg’s in India, and expanded operations in shipping and tourism in the Middle East. Nailesh is not only a renowned business figure, but also the founder of Eshraqa, Khimji Ramdas’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) arm, focusing on education, health, and community welfare, particularly empowering youth and women.

Besides his active involvement in the group’s operations and CSR activities, Nailesh is also a board member of the Omani-French Friendship Association. He also serves on the Cultural Council of Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH), and is involved with the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève. He has also been an active member of the Young Presidents Organization since 2007, where he has held various roles.

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