Are family businesses really more resilient, agile and adaptable than other business types? And, if so, have they been able to tackle the challenges of COVID-19 better than most and, perhaps, emerged even stronger?

The shock of an unexpected global pandemic provided an opportunity for the Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) Project Global Consortium and KPMG Private Enterprise to come together to find the answers to these questions by taking a firsthand look at how family businesses have responded to the pandemic in the Global family business survey: COVID-19 edition and report.

Global survey data was collected between June and October 2020, followed by input from family business leaders, academics and family business advisers in January 2021. The experiences and insights from family businesses in the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East & Africa have revealed a roadmap, not only for mastering a comeback in their businesses, but for leading a global economic recovery.

"Stimulus packages introduced by various emirate-level authorities, as well as the Central Bank of the UAE, total approximately AED 126.5 billion. In addition, the government’s Virtual Labor Market assists companies and employees affected by COVID-19-related precautionary measures. The goal is to keep as many people as possible employed." – Anurag Bajpai, Partner, Private Enterprise and Family Business Leader, KPMG Lower Gulf

Resilience is in their DNA

Family businesses play a vital economic role in most countries worldwide and particularly in the UAE. Not only do they make an important contribution to GDP, they also employ a substantial portion of the global workforce. With such important contributions to the world’s major economies, it is no surprise that family businesses are primed to be the engine of the global economic recovery from COVID-19.

They are in the best possible position to assume this leadership role because of the unique attributes of family businesses, not the least of which is their well-known long-term orientation. It’s common to hear remarks about family businesses thinking in terms of quarter centuries and not the short[1]term returns for the next quarter. They are focused on building a business that will be carried forward by each generation, which gives them the time and patience to think strategically about the business and to plan for the long term. This futuristic outlook is deeply embedded in the culture of family businesses and it’s amplified by the family’s strong values and clear sense of purpose.

These attributes are built into the DNA of family businesses and are often seen as unique and striking competitive advantages. They are the strengths behind the resilience that has made so many family businesses successful in dealing with the immediate impact of COVID-19, then swiftly turning their attention to longer-term strategies for steering their businesses and families forward.

From initial shock to the current reality

There have been numerous academic studies and opinion pieces in recent months regarding the impact of the pandemic on family businesses. When the STEP Project Global Consortium and KPMG Private Enterprise came together with the Global family business survey: COVID-19 edition, we had a clear purpose. Our goal was to uncover meaningful insights that would help family businesses learn from each other’s experiences and provide guideposts for advancing their businesses into the future. We weren’t disappointed. As one family business leader described, “One door closed, and 10 more opened up.”

Without question, the global economy is in motion and, as family businesses continue their focus on building for the future, they will likely remain in the driver’s seat of the economic recovery and provide important guideposts for others to follow. We expect that their insights will help to open up many more doors of opportunity for family businesses in the UAE and around the world.

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