Who makes the business decisions?

Anthony N Sabga III, group CEO of Ansa McAl Group of Companies, and A Norman Sabga, executive chairman during a media briefing on the group's half-year financial results on August 11. The Ansa Mc Al Group is an example of a family-owned and -run business that grew into a leading corporation. - Photo by Sureash Cholai
Anthony N Sabga III, group CEO of Ansa McAl Group of Companies, and A Norman Sabga, executive chairman during a media briefing on the group's half-year financial results on August 11. The Ansa Mc Al Group is an example of a family-owned and -run business that grew into a leading corporation. - Photo by Sureash Cholai

There have been several in-company debates over the years, resurfacing repeatedly, over who bears the responsibility for decision-making within key organisations, including privately established bodies, city and regional corporations such as Tunapuna, on privately donated lands.

Is it those who set it up in the financial sense? Or the people who run the place, in the operational sense?

There was a strong movement in the post-war 1960s and 70s called Workers’ Participation in Management when socially-minded governments, starting in Germany, promoted the involvement of workers in management decision-making in all business organisations.

It took various forms. One was the appointment of worker directors on organisations’ boards. Another was appointing technical or, in other cases, management committees to control decision-making in various aspects of the organisation: marketing, production, discipline and grievance handling; safety and health and, of course, industrial relations.

There was also a movement toward worker ownership of businesses, which took different forms and different modes of ownership, some of which still exist, such as family-owned and -run businesses, union-owned and -run businesses, NGO, CBO or faith-owned and -run businesses, workers' co-operatives, and, at the beginning, credit unions which morphed into financial organisations mainly run by professionally qualified managers chosen by the board of directors.

Next week’s article will deal with these.

Some became the highly successful local corporations of today. Almost 80 per cent of those corporations, in fact, began as mom-and-pop small entrepreneurships or family businesses, and through strict discipline, hard work and sacrifice, moved from family businesses to profitable manufacturing, service and commercial organisations.

The formal definition of a family business is not a sole ownership or a “one-man show.” Those can be successful, but cannot last past the life of the sole owner. They can be sold and evolve under someone else, but the truly spectacularly successful are ones in which the business is actively owned, operated and managed by two or more members of a single family. Members may be related by blood, marriage or adoption.

Basically, in a family business there is the involvement of multiple generations of the same family. There have been many studies of family businesses throughout the international trade world, and the resulting success indicators are remarkably similar when it comes to family involvement.

I am always bemused by the resentment reflected in press and cultural comments attached to what is termed to the “one per cent.”

It is a term which Trinis think we have invented, when it has actually been around since the 1960s.

Words change meanings over the generations. Originally it referred to a Hell’s Angel who had injured someone fatally; then it just meant anyone with an IQ over 200, or an income or a status at the top of the community they belonged to (which included most politicians, MPs and trade-union leaders); and now, at least in TT, it refers to anyone who the speaker considers a stereotype of unfair privilege, income or status or someone who has more of any of those than they have.

Queen’s Royal College where Latin was once taught and spoken. -

This is even though they recognise that the status came from a position of poverty, hard work, determination, strict and not always willing personal sacrifice: a discipline that is handed down from one generation to the next.

Intelligence helps, and business acumen (not the same thing), but not necessarily a high IQ or high academic marks. They will impress parents, but do not forecast accomplishment in the real adult world.

In my own life, including over the years that I spent teaching university students, the high academic scorers were not the major achievers outside of academia. Good pass marks did, however, often gain them good professional positions in the corporate world. They were often employed by the less academically qualified, but those who were from the persevering, hardworking, self-driven and self-disciplined achievers.

They were the ones who were influenced by family members, often fathers, grandfathers, elder siblings or aunts or who invested time and had a genuine interest in them, like the spectacular teachers who taught, mentored and guided the lucky boys in QRC who were enabled to speak conversational Latin as a result. Not that conversational Latin is a useful skill on its own these days, but learning to speak any other language forges synaptic neural connections in the brain that enable other intellectual abilities of creative risk-taking and intuition to develop.

When it comes to creating, growing and sustaining large corporations over generations, however, success at exams is not the
sine qua non (smile – look it up).

According to business authorities such as Forbes 500, it is mainly the ability to read and understand other people: their needs, motivations and ambitions – and how to lead and manipulate them. This does not always make them nice people to be around, but that is not the point, is it?

A famous study done in the late 90s compared the personality characteristics of psychopaths with those of the CEOs of major corporations in the US, where power is prime. I think the character of Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street was based on that study. They can, on the one hand, be self-confident, self-assertive, socially adept, and have a better understanding of human psychology than most other people.

They can also be callous about the feelings of others, lack empathy or guilt about the consequences of their actions, shun intimacy, be egocentric with a genuine need for power.

One of my early HR mentors in the energy industry had a sign on his desk which said: “Good managers are bastards.”

Sometimes they have to be.

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