Succession Stories host Laurie Barkman talks with Tsitsi Mutendi about addressing the challenges of Entrepreneuring families. Tsitsi is an internationally recognized Family Business Expert and Family Office Advisor focused on building multigenerational family wealth. Two past generations of her family were entrepreneurs but faced various challenges. Tsitsi did not inherit financial wealth but did inherit the entrepreneurial spirit to build three of her own businesses in Zimbabwe. Tsitsi is also the co-founder of African Family Firms, an association for Family Businesses operating on the African continent. She is motivated to help family-led companies with their family systems and business systems and be able to pass on their wealth— whether it’s wealth of knowledge, wealth of assets, or wealth of experience, from generation to generation.
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Succession Stories is an award-winning podcast guiding entrepreneurs from transition to transaction. From building value to letting go. The show received the 28th Annual Communicator Award for Audio & Podcast Excellence and is ranked in the top 2.5% of podcasts globally.
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Tsitsi Mutendi is an internationally recognised Family Business Expert and Family Office Advisor focused on building multigenerational family wealth. Two past generations of her family were entrepreneurs but faced various challenges. Tsitsi did not inherit financial wealth but did inherit the entrepreneurial spirit to build three of her own businesses in Zimbabwe. Tsitsi is also the co-founder of African Family Firms, an association for Family Businesses operating on the African continent. She is motivated to help family-led companies with their family systems and business systems, and be able to pass on their wealth— whether it’s wealth of knowledge, wealth of assets, or wealth of experience, from generation to generation. Enjoy my conversation about addressing the challenges of entrepreneuring families with Tsitsi Mutendi.
Tsitsi welcome to Succession Stories. We met recently because I was on your podcast, Enterprising Families and it was a joy to be with you. You lift up other people, you just have that way about you and I’m so excited to learn more about you, your family enterprises and your story.
Well, thank you so much, Laurie. I’m excited to be here and I’m honored that you actually were a guest on Enterprising Family, so it’s great to be able to return the favor and be a guest on your amazing podcast.
You have a very cool accent, so why don’t you tell us where you’re from? Where are you? We are talking across the globe today. Tell us about you, tell us about the business history of your family.
Okay, so today unfortunately, you get to miss out on a usually very sunny Harare which is in southern Africa, so I’m currently in Zimbabwe, which is my home country and in the capital Harare, we have a little bit of a thunderstorm going on outside. It’s the first time we’ve gotten rains in months so it’s a bit cooling, which is great and yes, we are like hours and hours apart but then Zoom and technology has allowed us to be able to have this conversation.
A little bit about myself. I am a third generation family business owner so what does that mean? It means for me, I grew up surrounded by family businesses, both my grandparents from my mom’s side, and my dad’s side were family business owners so I grew up in the energy of entrepreneurship and the energy of founding and building businesses. My parents who became medical practitioners, during their lifetime also took the entrepreneurial bug and they actually became, although there were medical practitioners, they set up consultancies across our home country and so we spent a lot of my childhood traveling from city to city. My parents could help people in the different cities that they had consultancies in but our home base was a small town, which is actually the oldest town in my country and so I’m a small town girl that then decided she likes the big city.
When I grew up, after high school, did my degree; at about 19, the entrepreneurial bug hit so being a third gen doesn’t necessarily mean that you inherit everything that comes from the different generations, as I have learned on this journey. It means that sometimes in a family, you have those people that have that enterprising bug that stays with them and because they grew up in this environment, they feel aligned with that, because it’s something that just feels natural. For me, being an entrepreneur has always been the most natural feeling, to be able to guide my own ship. I think one of my most favorite poems is Invictus where I am the master of my soul.
I love building businesses, I love exploring the possibilities, serving people with goods and products, as well as being able to invest in creating futures for other people. At 19 I got my first job and because all entrepreneurs at some point, you feel like, “Let me go work somewhere for somebody because it makes sense,” but by the time I was 23, I realized that was not for me. I wanted to definitely create my own destiny and I started building businesses. Needless to say, like every entrepreneur, you will fail a couple of times, if not many times.
I eventually got it right about 27-28 when I founded a magazine that started out–that came from a personal experience I was having. I felt like I needed to tell my story but I also felt like I needed to tell other people’s stories and the best place I bought would be a magazine because when people pick up magazines, they’re aspirational, as well as they can be very informational so by combining those two things, I was onto a winner, and it became one of the most prolific magazines in my whole country. It took me to so many amazing places, I got to meet so many people and tell so many incredible stories so I stayed in publishing to tell stories, because I truly believe that the humanity of being human is being able to share our stories and my publishing firm is now 15 years old. Then, at some point in my journey, I got married, had children, three beautiful souls, and the responsibility of taking care of other people. That comes with its own. When it came time to educate them, I decided to go off the well worn and known path and send my children to what we call traditional schools where we know what’s going to happen next and I decided to instead set up a Montessori primary school that allowed me to teach children to be innovative to just believe in the child and believe what they what they capable of so that’s how I got into a Montessori education, sSo the school is about five years old now.
Then at some point, and it says, with my entrepreneurial story, something personal happens to me, that makes me feel like there’s somebody out there who’s probably going through the same thing, and I want to help them in some way, as well as while I’m helping myself. When my dad passed on, about four years ago, that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, I’m actually a third gen. Oh, I come from a family business background, oh, I just didn’t happen to be in this space. I just didn’t happen to be entrepreneurial, something along the line kept on passing on’ and I kept on seeing this, surrounded by this. In honoring my dad, and being also the executor of his estate, I wanted to find out how I could make my family businesses successful how I could make what I had been building what I have been passionate about, become something multigenerational, that could actually pass on intentionally instead of just hoping it does pass on and so I then went on a soul searching journey and ended up as a family business advisor so I work with families to understand what their journey looks like, and what their challenges are and hopefully, by the end of whatever experience they have with me, and in their own journey, they can pass on more than just the entrepreneurial spirit to their next gen.
That’s a great introduction, just to be just so I’m clear, when you say third gen are you referring to that each generation were entrepreneurs, or that there was a business that the next gen took forward to the next level?
So each generation was entrepreneurs, there were entrepreneurs, so from my grandparents on both sides, they were entrepreneurs, they ran their family businesses, so they were family business owners back in the time of colonialism and during that time, they had general dealers that were like the general stores in small towns and they built up these businesses, and they were really prolific in the areas that they were in. However, something happened within the families that caused the breakdown of the families and then the businesses on my maternal side, there was a divorce, my grandmother and my grandfather parted ways and because of that, they, I think they didn’t realize when it was happening, that my grandmother was actually the brains behind the business. She was the one who ran the business and so when she left the business, it caused the gradual breaking apart of the enterprises.
There was no intentionality in terms of this financial stronghold is what pays the bills and keeps us all going. That break also then left a lot of financial issues within the family. Then on my dad’s side, my grandfather, also a general dealer, had a prolific career from headmaster to becoming a master farmer, had lots of land, cattle, the whole thing. One day he woke up to go to the cattle corral, to check on his livestock, had a heart attack and died and his oldest son, my uncle, then took over the family business. As you know, back in the day before, we were very clear about equity as well as the fact that experience helps and training people for succession helps. It was just ‘the oldest son takes over’ and he had no experience in business and he wasn’t able to run the business the way my grandfather did. The family business soundpoint disintegrates into absolutely nothing so my parents lucky enough, they got a good education. They went into health care, and they built up their careers but with entrepreneurship, once you’ve seen it experienced it, and you feel the euphoria of it, and you see how much of a difference it can make, that at some point, instead of just working for government, and then joining another person’s practice, they decided to go off on their own and set up their own practices.
In setting up their own practices, they then started sending more and more of these practices across our country and all of a sudden, they had this family business that was running, and they were able to build wealth and accumulate assets from it. Unfortunately, their marriage didn’t end too well, it had its own complications, and then the economy took a hit and so that all that family business broke down at some point every and everyone went their own way but there was nothing to inherit in all three generations so I’m the third try. Usually they say shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. In this case, it would be we’re starting with every generation, hopefully the one will get it right and be able to pass it on and we can try out the shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves after that one.
Wow, what a story. Well, you definitely have an entrepreneurial gene in your family and that was passed down but as you say, there were some generational shifts, especially with colonialism and I’m just curious about how you think about that going forward? Are you creating your businesses with the eye towards eventual succession within your family? Your kids are younger, I assume because you mentioned in the maybe school age, primary school but how do you think about it for your third generation entrepreneur? How do you think about breaking the pattern?
I feel like there is potential value or there is a lot of value in passing on some sort of wealth whether it’s wealth of knowledge, wealth of assets, or wealth of experience, from generation to generation. As much as I heard the stories and saw the work, going in, I didn’t really participate, I think, in my parents’ business. At some point I participated when I used to help out as a receptionist and things like that but that participation really goes a long way. Conversations with next gens around, what is it that we do? Why is it important, and also even the current gen, the founders, realizing that businesses are financial assets, they’re important financial assets.
Because unlike a job where if you lose the job, the income is gone. With businesses, sometimes it takes a bit of effort to lose the income and to lose the organization, especially with something that was thriving and when it gets to a point where it’s slowly coming to a halt, these are two different systems. There’s the business system and the family system, you can pretty much pinpoint on each system what is being done wrong and find a way of plugging the problem or finding a way of healing the problem. The thing with family businesses is that for the longest time, you always get that labor. This is a family business, and people look at it sideways like, well, it’s not really meant to last but the truth is, many businesses contribute to a large percentage of global GDP, which is I think, is over 85% and is one of the largest employers after governments globally. That means from the smallest family businesses, startups to the big compliments that we see now and we think are huge corporations, there are families behind these stories that put some effort into building these businesses and so for me, I know that what’s important is because I’ve been passionate about the businesses I build, sharing my history, sharing my passion with my children, having them understand why I built these businesses, they might not always be passionate about the same things, but they might bring a different element of passion, from their perspective into the business that in a new generation could rejuvenate the business or take the company in a different direction equally, so if they want nothing to do with the family business as they know it they might decide to just be responsible owners and know that they’re stewards of the wealth and whatever is made from the family business, they can enjoy the dividends of it and they can pass it on to next gens to their children and their grandchildren, because who knows they might be or might not be successful in their own career choices and their own paths.
If we create something that is successful, and that is building wealth, wouldn’t it make sense to look after it? Wouldn’t it make sense to create responsible owners of it because being an owner doesn’t necessarily mean you have to work in the business doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be involved in the day to day running of the business but you have to be responsible, understand how the business works, understand how the business is growing, why the business is growing, put the right people in the right places so that businesses can continue growing. I mean, just like we choose banks to grow our wealth, or investments, to put our money into to grow, family businesses are investments that are passed on to us, by people who are passionate, who put in money, who put in sweat, who put in tears and I think most importantly for me, is I would like my children to have a positive experience of being children who grew up in family businesses. I feel like the story that has been perpetuated about family businesses is that the parents or the founders just don’t have time for their children, don’t have time to relax and to have fun, and to enjoy the fruits of the family business until they’re older.
I try as much as possible to involve my children, as young as they are now, to understand that they are responsible to a certain extent, to what happens within the business, and some of the choices we make and that this is a fun experience. This is an experience where we’re creating something together, as opposed to “I’m building something that you need to take care of when I’m no longer there, and it’s your responsibility,” but it’s like, “How fun is this? Look at us changing the world. Are you enjoying changing the world? Or would you like to see it differently?”
That’s an amazing way to look at it. I love how you’re involving your children and giving them a point of view about the world and making a difference and being active in it and it ties well with your development of the Montessori program, because you wanted to give them experiences that are kind of outside of a pre-described path. In your experience with family businesses, from your personal experience, your professional experience, what do you see as these most important areas to address for challenges, like food and water like sustenance, if you don’t do these things, the company will die. What do you think those things are?
I think the first thing that I would look at is the business system. Is the business system working? Have you chosen the right resources? Are you putting the right resources into the places that they need to be to make the business sustainable, we can’t neglect the business system in itself, because they are ways of measuring success in business, their ways of seeing whether we’re making a profit or not after a period of time, or how it’s happening and why it’s happening, so understanding business systems is essential for any business owner. Because it can quickly red flag areas that are not working that you need to put resources in or appoint the right type of staff.
Now the complication that further compounds it is because when you’re a family business owner, you have the family system that equally balances out what happens in the business system. As we start out, I think even when you look at the billionaires of the world, like Jeff Bezos, I think we’ve all seen that iconic picture where he’s sitting in his garage, and he’s got this handmade sign and backwards and Amazon and when he started out, and it was just selling books, he had no idea. He had absolutely no idea whatsoever what was coming. He knew there was a future that was going to be digital. He had a gut feeling. He had looked at the business system, he had changed the metrics on it and he kept on changing them. They keep on changing it. I mean, Amazon is consistently looking at how to be better but when it comes to the family system, at no point in time could have predicted that he was going to get divorced. At no point in time did he predict that he’s going to have a home where his children will have to have parents who are co-parenting and there will be step parents involved. At no point in time did Mackenzie think she was going to go through another divorce and still be a shareholder with a large amount of wealth. No point in time that she thinks she’s going to be in the dating pool, and she’s going to be a billionaire and she doesn’t know whether the people are looking at her because they like her or because money is attractive. I mean, these are relationship issues, these are female issues. These are parenting issues. These are all like the children they had before Amazon is Amazon, now completely different to the children that were born after Amazon became somewhat successful.
I remember reading something the other day where they said, “As business owners and family businesses, what we need to be conscious of is that once when we start out our businesses, like when I was first building, my first child, probably experienced that Tsitsi who was trying to make ends meet, who was trying to build this business, who was like, we can’t be splurging on these things, because these are luxuries,” and then my youngest child walks into a house where she’s like, “This is the norm. I mean, like we get whatever we want, however we want it,” because she came when I was vaguely more successful. I was much, much more successful than the first child so each child has had to experience a mommy that is different at every level that they’ve come into the family. Looking at these systems, and understanding these systems and understanding the perspective of each person in them, and how they feel about it is key. If you don’t do that, those conflicts, those grinding at each other feelings of entitlement feeling of worthlessness or worthiness comes from the fact that we’re not really looking at the systems that we’re dealing with and managing them within the space that they are in and not trying to take one system and apply it on another one and vice versa.
Your husband comes from a pretty big family who has pioneered a spiritual movement I think in your country, and maybe in other countries. What does family legacy mean in that context?
I think I’ve learned quite a lot from my husband’s family because as much as I think I come from a big family, my husband’s family, yeah, it’s really, really big. His grandfather was like father Abraham, he had many, many wives and from the many wives he had many children and so when my husband looks at his aunts and uncles, they come up to about 76 of them.
Then when you think about cousins, my husband is third gen and my children will be fourth gen so they have built this movement, this family organization over 113 years now and I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my husband’s family is that family will always remain family. No matter what you go through, no matter how many fights you have, what type of fights you have. Conflict, disagreement, family will always remain family and family trumps everything. They have mastered family assembly, because naturally they meet more times in a year than most families of that magnitude and they’ve mastered family council because they’ve tapped into our cultural heritage and everybody knows what position they play, everybody knows what role in the decision making they apply to. There are strict regulations on who can contribute towards certain decisions and who cannot. It gives some sort of order, especially when there is a family size like that because for most families to get to 500 members, it would be like in 14-15 generations we got in four and so to be able to make a decision that aligns with everybody you have to have a set rulebook, which written or unwritten applies.
I think they’ve been able to do that in the most intriguing way because I come from a very small family and I can map to the third generation and say, “Okay, this is my grandmother. This is where the mistakes are made. This is my grandfather,” and when I look at my husband, I’m like, “Y’all running Olympics for conflicts and issues,” but the one thing that remains at the top of mind for them as a family is that a family trumps all things. As long as we are family, we can resolve it, we might not always agree, but we can agree to disagree and I think that lesson for me, is a very humbling one because I’ve seen in smaller families, even with families I’ve worked with where people are quick to want to dismiss a relationship and say, “You know what I can do without you, cutting you out of my will, I’m cutting you out of my life,” and we then tend to forget that family is more than just a will. It’s more than just having someone in your life. It is the essence of experiencing life with other people, and knowing that their presence is there, whether they’re physically there or not knowing you can pick up the phone, and they will show up and knowing that you know what, at the end of the day, even as the sun goes down, tomorrow’s another one, it will come up again.
In your experience, any top three words of wisdom that you want to share with a business owner who’s listening?
Top three words of wisdom. First and foremostly, understand that conflict happens. Conflict because it’s inner conflict with ourselves, are we doing the right thing for ourselves? Are we doing the right thing for our families? Are we doing the right things for our businesses? That conflict is going to always be within and without, you’re going to clash with other people. Take time to empathize, take time to put on somebody else’s shoes for a minute. Especially when you feel emotional about something, take a step back and understand that not all conflict is a bad thing. It means that there is something that needs to be addressed and this is your opportunity to address it so don’t be afraid to take it on.
Second lesson is that tomorrow’s another day and I always say this continuously. There are days where we are overwhelmed as business owners, there are days where we’re thinking our business is going to make it our family’s going to make it is what we’re doing with it, it is worth it. That is why you have communities that support you because somebody out there is finding value in what you bring to the table. When you feel overwhelmed, and it’s not working out, that’s just for today and today is going to be a memory tomorrow, it’s going to be another day in history tomorrow. Do what you can to make it count for today but if today is not making it count, please chalk it down to experience and no tomorrow is another day.
Three, family is what drives us. As much as we have looked for inspiration and passion in everything we do, it always comes back to whether we want to feed our loved ones and provide financial security for them or we want to provide solutions that could have saved them, or solutions that can still save them, or solutions that can still save those that that are an extension of our loved ones and so don’t forget to hug the people that you care the most about because sometimes that’s all they need more than just the financial security. They just need you to say “You know what, I’m here for you, I will always be here for you,” but while we’re at that, we need to make sure that this financial nest egg keeps on going.
That’s awesome. Thank you. You have so many inspirational quotes in your life. Is there a particular one that you’d like to share as an inspiration for entrepreneurs?
There is one that I always put on my email and I think anyone who has received an email from me has probably read that famous one. It was shared by all Monday, no,Og Mandino and I keep it to heart. It’s more of a mantra that I repeat over and over every day to remind myself that there is always a bigger picture and the quote says, “I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain and not shrink to a grain of sand. Henceforth, I will apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.”
Powerful, powerful, if people want to get in touch with you, what’s a great way for them to do that?
I am available on social media, more so on LinkedIn. If you reach out through LinkedIn, you will be able to find me as Tsitsi Mutendi. I also have a website that is my name; Tsitsi Mutendi.com so you can find me on my website and through my website, you can find the various businesses that I work on, and the various events I participate in and you can reach out to me and I always make time to respond to emails, and connect with people who make the effort.
Tsitsi, thank you so much for being with me today. It was a joy to speak with you, and have you on the show.
Thank you so much for having me, Laurie.
Listeners, thank you so much for your support. Catch Succession Stories on your favorite podcast player or YouTube, and subscribe to the show! If you want to maximize the value of your business and plan for future transition, reach out to me for a complimentary assessment at meetlauriebarkman.com. Join me next time for more insights from transition to transaction. Until then…here’s to your success.