Running a family business can be a lot like running a family. It requires dedication, patience, passion, and sometimes some tough love. The rewards, however, can be nearly as wonderful. The pride in reaching the success you set out to achieve is all the sweeter when it's for something greater than the individual. Knowing you've earned stability for your family is a powerful feeling. Despite the rewards, it's a difficult thing to achieve.
YPO member Mounir Kuzbari is full of energy for his family business. He was born and raised in Paris with his Syrian family, before graduating from the American University of Beirut with a degree in finance and economics. He began his career at DVB Bank SE, a German bank specializing in international transport finance. Kuzbari then went on to become co-founder and board member of Adenium Energy Capital, which develops and operates renewable energy projects around the world.
Today, Kuzbari is also the managing director of Novus Aviation Capital, his family's aircraft leasing and finance platform, with assets around $4 billion. He sits on the board of Yellow Door Energy, a spin-off of Adenium, which invests in energy efficiency infrastructure in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. He is a member of the International Society of Transport Aircraft Trading and of the Arab Bankers Association of North America.
On an episode of my podcast 10 Minute Tips from the Top, Kuzbari shared tips on the business fundamentals that can make your family company great:
1. Don't forget it's a business.
Above all, your family business is a business, so make sure you treat it that way. You need to make sure the decisions you make today are setting you up for success in the future. The Kuzbari family takes pride in their success. "Our core business is the aircraft leasing, and that's been in the family for about 45 years now," Kuzbari beams.
But involvement in such a company can be particularly scary during times of uncertainty. "Following the financial crisis...there was an opportunity to go to the family business and set up Dubai operations. So I volunteered and went there and set it up. I grew the platform there and significantly increased the business in the region," he recalls.
The careful business planning continues today. "There's a lot of strategy discussion, and trying to institutionalize the company as a family business," he explains. These efforts are time-consuming but critically important for long-term success.
2. Think non-traditionally.
Kuzbari believes it's good to be a little bit different. "Our business model is quite unique. In contrast to other leasing companies, our business model relies on our balance sheet, but also on the partnerships with institutional investors around the world, such as pension funds and insurance companies, that are looking to deploy and invest capital in the aircraft leasing and finance space," he explains.
He also believes it's important a family company try to evolve in the same way any other company should. "We want to continue to try to innovate and improve," he says. As a result, he's led the effort for his family to get involved in other sectors as well. "In parallel, we were starting this other business around clean energy. I was part of the steering committee and co-founder of that business."
And he's already looking for ways to widen the scope of that business. "The cost of a panel has reduced significantly, and efficiency is improving, and it continues improving. Now, we've got storage solutions that are commercially viable as well. Complementing the solar power, that's going to be a gamechanger," he predicts. Rest on your laurels at your own hazard.
3. Treat employees like family.
Kuzbari is the proud of the people his company employs, family or not. While some family companies struggle to attract and retain top talent, because they fear they will be passed over for family members, Kuzbari has worked to eliminate that notion from Novus. He says, "When we hire people, that's always a recurring theme. 'I'm an outsider, how am I going to fit in there?'" His response is immediate: "And we tell them one thing: In 40 years, we've had very, very low turnover. Probably one or two people have left the business, and they left for very personal reasons."
There's a simple explanation for their longevity. "We've been able to retain talent, and that talent grew with us as the company was growing. You just treat them as family at the end of the day. And that's what makes a difference," he says. Culture is key.
4. Plan for the future.
Novus has a proud history, and Kuzbari wants to see it live on into the future. He's aware that accomplishing this will take both careful planning and adaptability. The company has worked hard to expand its aviation finance business: "We do transactions in [the UEA], in [Great Britain], we have quite a bit going in Southeast Asia, where the market is growing tremendously. We've seen the emergence of local carriers that are really changing the landscape of the aviation space."
Kuzbari has also broken new ground in his expansion into the renewable energy space. "[We've] set up a clean energy business around solar power development, focused on a larger utility scale, so bigger projects with governments," he says. "Our first investment was in Italy, which we've exited recently. But we've grown in Japan, in Jordan...."
But the planning doesn't stop there. "We've been working on our Vision 2020 [initiative]. The ambition is to grow the business into the top 10 leasing companies in the world. We're currently probably in the top 20. The aspiration is to continue to grow the business model, which has proven to be resilient and successful, despite the different crises and the cyclicality of the sector," he says.
On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.