Kuwait's Al Kharafi on plans for the family empire

In his most wide-ranging interview since he took a more prominent role in the family business, Bader Nasser Al Kharafi gives an insight into the restructuring of the firm

In a taxi making its way through Kuwait City on the way to meet Bader Nasser Al Kharafi, my driver looks suitably impressed when I give him the office address, and chats animatedly about the high regard in which the renowned businessman is held.

As one of the most powerful men in Kuwait and a major player in one of the country’s most influential families, this is hardly surprising. Al Kharafi seems to have taken on an almost mythical status; the taxi driver cryptically refers to the fact that the businessman has a reputation for never sleeping because of the many different business hats he wears and the range of company boards he sits on each day.

Al Kharafi holds several high-profile roles within the family business, but across Kuwait itself he is also general manager of investment firm Al Khair National for Stocks and Real Estate Company, the vice chairman of media, advertising and exhibition firm UNIEXPO and is on the board of local giants such as Zain and Coca-Cola’s subsidiary in Kuwait and Iraq.

See the full list of the world's 50 richest Arabs.

It is also no surprise to hear that he may have had some sleepless nights as two years ago he was appointed to the executive committee set up to run the family business, MA Al Kharafi & Sons Company, when his father Nasser passed away in Egypt in 2011.

In the wake of the legendary father’s death, the family, whose wealth was estimated to be around $8.6bn in 2012, set up an executive council to restructure the company and try to fill the void left by the passing of the much-loved leader.

“We wanted to restructure and we already did that and we have the two uncles, the chairman and vice chairman now. The executive committee is really behind the company,” Al Kharafi says. “It is pretty much the same strategy and vision that Mr Nasser had. It [is] just having different people involved in the group. In a group like Kharafi you have a business plan put in place and you try to stick to the business plan when Mr Nasser was running the company.”

While a business plan was cemented, he admits that no formal succession plan was ever drawn up and this was something that had to be worked out among the family and advisors during the restructuring process.

“There was a kind of a succession plan but in family businesses it is a bit different as the whole family is involved. We now have the five executive committee members who run different sectors. They are all family members on the executive committee.”

Looking back in hindsight, he recommends that all privately run family businesses should put succession plans in place in advance. “Definitely beforehand... You need to have a succession plan. If you look at family businesses, when you go to the third generation it starts getting tough taking decisions and definitely when you go to the fourth generation it maybe gets even harder.

“From most of the experience I have seen and the conferences I have been to, for family businesses you should start doing something when you start going into the second generation. You should start having a succession plan and I would advise doing it in the early stages.”

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