7 Features of Indian Business Families and How They Make It Through Difficult Times

Indian Business Families
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-sized enterprises), form the backbone of many communities – employing households, forging wide social networks, providing key local services, and launching important social initiatives. They are the most widespread organisations in our country and, I might add, also the most effective. This is because it is in their very DNA to operate against all odds and do more with less.

That is why, when the second wave of the COVID-19, which has ripped through 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 equip business families to regularly navigate difficult times:

  1. They are extremely resilient: Speak to any SME family business owner and she will tell you of the tough times during which she built her business. Or of those dreadful incidences through which her business survived and the inspiring comeback story. Family businesses are rife with stories of successes and failure and falls and rises. They are ultra-resilient and promptly respond to a crisis to mitigate losses.
  2. They are inclusive: Look at a family business setup and tell me you see something you can relate with. I know, right. They are truly representative in that they include men and women; older generation and next gens; owners and employees. They are us. They are the micro-organisations that take forward their entire immediate community. This herd mindset helps ensure that no one gets left behind.
  3. They operate with frugality: Family businesses are often criticised for counting every single penny to the point of appearing stingy (in other words, a baniye ki dukaan). But what is there to be ashamed of in trying to control costs? Frugality does not necessarily mean stinginess. It is precisely this attention to expenses that helps small businesses survive in times of an economic downturn.
  4. They have a long-term mindset: “I am doing this for my grandchildren.” This is the mantra you will often hear from a family business owner. Actually, that’s their entire motivation. To build something that lasts for generations to come. Therefore, any strategy to overcome difficult times is always executed with an eye on long-term survival.
  5. They nurture loyal employers and employees: Family business owners are the last ones to consider letting staff go to save costs. They hold on to as many colleagues as possible for as long as they can. This very culture of considering the workforce as one’s own family – taking care of the staff and providing them with resources to take on independent decisions – is reciprocated by employees in the form of commitment, trust, and hard work. They stand by their employees through thick and thin.
  6. They have a backbone: Family business owners have the courage to act in impossible situations. What’s at stake for them is the livelihood of their family, so they will do whatever it takes to survive difficult times. The owners have conviction, and they are tenacious. And they will not leave any stone unturned.
  7. 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 post the pandemic and is one of the key aspects that distinguish family businesses from their corporate counterparts. Family businesses place people at the centre and show us how an inclusive and grassroots-oriented approach can nurture employees and enable customer-led creativity.

Governments and municipalities must take into account that family businesses, which constitute a majority of businesses in our country, are already suited to lead. The authorities just need to work on supporting framework for them to take charge.

(The article has been adapted from the book 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 the author’s own.