family business in Kenya

Advice on running a family business in Kenya

How do you balance family politics and business dynamics? Family business in Kenya prevails despite the bad rep it gets. HerBusiness drops pointers to help family entrepreneurs avoid the pitfalls of a family owned business.

Opinion in the streets will tell you that family business in Kenya is a disaster. That you shouldn’t even think about it. Well, this is only a half truth. They have failings but it’s not as bad as drawn out to be.

A PWC survey conducted in 2014 reveals so. Growth and prospects of family businesses are positive. They also have advantages other startups simply don’t have from the get go. Family businesses raise capital easier, they have innate commitment and a long-term focus.

With that said, family business in Kenya still suffers largely because of two things. These are conflict and succession. This combination prevents family businesses from surviving in the following generation.

So how can families prevent this recurring theme from bringing down a lifetime’s effort?


Families need to understand that it’s a business first. We have strong community and family association in Kenya but this does become an impediment to a successful family enterprise. “Nothing personal just good business.” Family relations must step aside to allow professionalism to prosper.

A basis for this is putting things in writing; even all the loyalty family enterprises tend to have. Another thing to avoid is preferential treatment for certain family members. Cultivating a culture of meritocracy will realize meritocracy. The “mtoto wa boss” tendency is not okay if that is only a sympathy job. Families should base promotion and compensation on qualification and fair treatment.

To avoid conflicts, roles and boundaries should be clearly defined. I know that in this type of business everyone is willing to pitch in for the family. But it’s just going to lead to political alignments when interests and egos cross paths.

Everyone involved should know what their specific role is. This will maintain family harmony and, more importantly, ensure quick decision-making.

In the same vein, let business time and family time be separate and well known. Otherwise family relations will get toxic real quick. It’s a difficult thing to do but it’s worth the effort.

The last pointer deals with ownership and succession. From watching all the inheritance disputes on TV, you know this is the make or break aspect. How does a successful family business in Kenya go about this?

Regulate ownership. It should be clear who owns what and how ownership can be transferred from an individual to another. This will serve as insurance when someone changes their mind years down the road.

On succession, the family must define the when and the how. It’s awkward to do this and can even come out as opportunistic. That’s why you will seek outside help and rope in experts to help curve this out.

A family business suffers from rudimentary fundamental problems. Things that can be dealt with by introducing some levels of professionalism. Keep family in family and business in business.