Editorial | Family businesses and the need to ‘shape up and grow’

Family businesses will continue to play an important role within the economy but it remains crucial for the collective good that they also embrace change


Family businesses have always been an integral part of Malta’s economy, operat-ing in a variety of sectors.

From tourism to manufacturing; from retail to importation; from transport to lo-gistics; family businesses are present everywhere.

But in an evolving global scenario that sees businesses being burdened with more onerous obligations – whether these are stringent anti-money laundering rules or environmental criteria – Maltese family businesses risk extinction unless they change.

In the words of Silvan Mifsud, chair of the Chamber of Commerce family business committee, family businesses need to “shape up to grow and survive”.

On Wednesday, Mifsud presented the results of a survey carried out with more than 100 family businesses and the findings made for some grim reading.

Chamber President Marisa Xuereb did not mince her words: “The survey results make for some alarming reading, with many of our family businesses falling short of implementing basic and vital elements of good governance which are a necessi-ty for their continued success.”

The results of the survey show that 17% of family businesses do not have a func-tioning board of directors. Almost all of these businesses do not have a written strategic plan. Only a third of all family businesses have a written succession plan, a vital component in the long-term success of any family business.

These issues of concern are not to be underestimated but neither should the chal-lenge of implementing change when family relationships are involved.

Enterprise Minister Miriam Dalli acknowledged as much in her intervention.

“The government understands that the continuity of family businesses is essential, but not necessarily easy and often requires family business owners to make choic-es and take decisions which are difficult,” she said, noting that the hurdles family businesses face go beyond any day-to-day work challenges other companies face.

Within this context, it is important that family businesses are provided with struc-tured help to enable them to make the transition towards more robust and for-ward-looking companies.

There are some notable examples of family businesses that have evolved into large groups over the years, some with interests abroad. Each company has had its par-ticular trajectory but inevitably the common strategies stand out: roping in exter-nal directors and managers; diversifying portfolios; engaging in long-term succes-sion planning; allowing investors to join and bring added value.

Getting there is not easy. Some family businesses will crash under the weight of strained personal relationships, while others will fail to innovate and flounder in the face of competition and increasing regulatory demands.

But others will realise the potential to grow and survive. These businesses must be supported administratively.

Dalli told the chamber audience that a long-term strategy is required to under-stand the needs of family businesses, which in turn will help identify the support that is needed most.

However, any support must also be tied to concrete plans for change that will en-able the business to evolve, modernise, and grow.

Family businesses will continue to play an important role within the economy but it remains crucial for the collective good that they also embrace change.

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