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Timeless Lessons From a Fourth-Generation Family Business

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The Cassim family owns and operates Fashion House based in Johannesburg, South Africa. This family business is celebrating 75 years of supplying textile wholesale to resellers, along with ready made curtains and blankets. Mahmood (father), and sons Abu and Yusuf, shared the following lessons that apply to many family businesses, anywhere.

Planting roots has it's advantages.

The family business still occupies the same premises since 1940, although their facilities have spread over the years. They've taken over property both sideways and backwards. The family business was initially a retail store. They diversified into textile wholesale and eventually stopped the retail portion of the business.

"Staying in the same place has been a great advantage. Clients know what to expect from us. We've built up a strong customer base. We know what their needs are so we can service those needs," explains Mahmood. The same applies to joining the family business. Yusuf explains, "Things have already been running for so long. Systems and processes are already in place. You don't have to struggle as much."

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Expand your horizons.

The blessing of running a family business can also be a curse if you don't grow. Mahmood explains, "The most challenging part of family business is that it can run so smoothly. Everything is set in place, and that can be bad if you don't challenge yourself and expand your thinking."

One of the ways to engage the next generation and continue to grow yourself and your business is to introduce new lines of business. For example, Mahmood introduced ready made curtains. He had to learn how to manufacture the curtains and wholesale them to resellers. He encourages families to expand their horizons in their industries to avoid getting into a rut. It's a cure for boredom.

Inherent business acumen and support.

One of the main keys to success for entrepreneurs who want to launch a family business is business acumen. According to Abu, it's inherent in families who build a business together.

He shares, "We've got an inherent business acumen. We've grown up in the business. We understand the business." It's come in handy for implementing change as well. Abu explains, "We've developed networks through the business and those networks are helpful in any new innovation we bring to the market."

The family constantly seeks to innovate and reinvent their products. Abu has experienced emotional, business and financial support from family members when seeking to innovate, and sees that as one of the many benefits of working together in a family business.

Related: Build Relationships That Last

A friendly business environment helps.

According to Abu, South Africa has had a healthy business environment for many years. "The economy grew very nicely through the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We're seeing a bit of stagnation now, but that was key to helping us get to where we are today."

His great grandfather started the business. His grandfather took it over in the 1970s, with his grandmother. Both were active in managing the business and as the economy strengthened, they were able to bring on board other family members. His grandmother's brother still works for the family business. His grandfather's brother also worked for them until he passed away.

Building a healthy internal business environment is critical and may determine the success of a family business. Mahmood leads by example and his children have honored that by following the path set by both their father and grandfather. He also gives them the freedom to explore opportunities.

It's a competitive advantage for entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs should not overlook the competitive advantage that starting, growing or transferring a family business offers. Some entrepreneurs have to start from zero: no contacts, no networks, no proven idea. That's not the case for most family businesses, especially those who have transferred the business to multiple generations. Yusuf recommends, "Use your predecessors' networks and the established relationships that they already have to benefit you. Unless your idea is going to blow the public out of the water, I suggest that joining a family business should be your first goal."

The rewards of building a family business are universal. Mahmood is grateful to watch his children build upon the legacy left to him and one that he in turn wants to leave for them.

Related: The Family Business: Making Sure Both Stay Intact

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