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  • Writer's pictureTsitsi Mutendi


This week we continue on our journey with Ms. Olivia Simbajena. Ms. Simbajena is a businesswoman whose business falls under the category of SME and MME. Hers also falls under the category of Family Business. As we have defined before Family Business is a business started by an individual for the benefit of his or her family and is then run by the individual to serve the interests of their communities as well as those of their family. Family Business’s main characteristics are that a family owns the majority shareholding of the business. However, from the characters and their situations, although fictional, we are starting to see that there are dynamic intricacies that effect Family Businesses. Laying down a foundation by introducing our fictional business owners will help to establish context when we go in-depth and unpack more problems and solutions for Family Businesses.

Last week we learned more about our trader turned enterprise builder Ms. Simbajena. Ms. Simbajena is one of the powerhouses in the SME and MME section. Ms. Simbajena is a Trader who managed to open a store, which then became a chain of stores and diversified into manufacturing. According to research done by the UN and World Bank, Women play a crucial role in trade in Africa and will be essential to Africa’s success in exploiting its trade potential. Daily, millions of women in Africa are engaged in one form of trade or another, either within their countries or across national borders. They buy and sell everything, from agricultural produce to manufactured products. It is mostly women who conduct cross-border trade, delivering goods and services, reports the World Bank. They also run the majority of agricultural small landholdings. Indeed, women traders’ contribution to national economies has become essential in boosting trade in Africa. It is well known that most women in Africa start a business out of necessity, and that necessity is to feed their family. Women Business owners are the majority of many Family Business Owners. The biggest obstacle is that they do not see their business as a business that can become bigger than just feeding their family, even though they contribute to the Ecosystem of many economies in a considerable way.

Ms. Simbajena has been struggling with Financial Management, especially her Taxes, and she was unsure what to pay or to whom. The accountant she had hired was not confident, and now she was being informed she had fines. These fines crippled her operational cash flow. 

She is unsure about her hiring practices. In the beginning, she would employ to empower those she believed needed an opportunity like the one she received herself. This strategy at times worked, but as her businesses grew, she realized that some members of her staff were treating customers rudely and at times, stealing stock. She becomes skeptical when hiring. In this process, she has so many family relations now coming asking her for jobs in her stores. 

At some point with her mother’s convincing, she decided to forgive her brothers for their previous behavior when she was jobless and penniless. After all, they are family. Besides putting them as directors on her company paperwork, she decided to bring them into the business to give them a source of income and something to do. Her brothers now worked for her at some of her stores, but she was hearing stories of goods being sold without proper conduct and money not being banked. Her employees were not telling her what was going on, as they didn’t want to upset her brothers. And when she asked the brothers, they would berate her. This conflict was making her uncomfortable. 

To add insult to injury, she was tired of going the cross border route herself. Traveling most of the month was no longer as thrilling as it used to be. And although she had “runners,” now she still was spending most of her time flying to foreign countries to source stock. She had resigned herself to this as she did not want to share her trade secrets with employees as they may take over her business.

A couple of issues are coming up in this installment of Ms. Simbajena’s story. The first being Human Resources. From an administration point of view and an operations point of view. Our founder grew the business without the foresight to plan ahead. Business Planning is an essential part of building and growing a business. And it’s critical to be very clear and precise in every area. This planning will help guide the business and future decisions. Plans can be changed and adjusted because of other contributing factors, but having a plan makes the journey a bit clearer.

In this case, Ms. Simbajena would have had a clear picture of what her Human Resources needs would have been. What skills are necessary, when are they needed, and why? Many factors should be considered when hiring. The criteria Ms. Simbajena used was more emotive and less strategic. With the vision she had for her business, it is clear she should have been more strategic. Again consulting an expert would have helped her with her Human Resources plan, and it would have helped her manage her business better. 

When too much time is spent on stress, less time is spent on growth. 

Besides planning, another issue that is brought up is operations in relation to Human Resources. When growing a business, it is essential to formalize the structure of the business. One way to do that is by putting in place an operations plan and an operations guide. This gives all staff rules and regulations on what to do and when and how. And it also lists your essential resources and how they are utilized. A well-operated business should not be stressing about secrets being stolen because it has in place systems and procedures that protect its “secret sauce.” However, when the business is run and operated with no set parameters or systems, it is all controlled at a central point. It leaves the business vulnerable.

If Ms. Simbajena were to meet an unfortunate accident that leaves her unable to run her business, there is no way her business will run because there is no formal structure to it. No operations plan, no specialization of duty. Everything is hanging in a central power and no other options. If a Family Business is to grow and expand, it must be structured appropriately to allow it to grow. As with a body that has many limbs and organs that function differently, so is a business. And it’s critical that the founder and the family structure their business so well that it can run without their presence but with their overlooking the process. Firstly understanding your business, structuring it, and then seeing the operations run on that structure is a critical step to wealth building as a family business. 

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