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Expert Insights

23 March 2021

Charles Russell Speechlys, Strategic Partners of the Asoko Insight West Africa's Family-Owned Business Report

Asoko Insight, in cooperation with BusinessDay Nigeria, has released the first-ever study on West Africa’s Family-Owned Business Landscape. The Report is the most comprehensive study of family-owned businesses throughout West Africa.

Adrian Mayer, Partner and Head of the Africa Group, participated in the launch event (view the event here) and is interviewed within the Report. Our participation coincides with our existing initiatives between our Africa Group, Private Wealth and Corporate teams.

“Charles Russell Speechlys is delighted to be a strategic partner with Asoko Insight for the West Africa Family-Owned Business report. Even though this is the first report of its type, as legal advisers to family owned businesses; we recognise and understand many of the themes and findings in the Report. It is also encouraging to see clients of ours in the companies covered in the report. We look forward to continuing our support of West Africa’s family-owned businesses whilst they take their businesses into the next phase of development." Adrian Mayer, Partner and Head of the Africa Group, Charles Russell Speechlys

Read Adrian's interview with Asoko Insight below and read the full Report here.


Family businesses represent a unique subset of the private sector market. What are some of their main priorities when seeking legal advice?

Family-owned businesses are sophisticated organisations that play an important role in the global economy, and in Africa this is no exception. We know these business leaders to be clever, collaborative and empowering. Our clients look to us for objective input, which can act as a lightning rod for good outcomes, especially as a counterpoint to the subjectivities of family dynamics. On top of that objectivity, they want expertise and experience, which is what we offer. Our law firm has been advising clients in Africa since the 1980s. We work across the continent and have supported transactions in over half of all African countries.

What challenges do family businesses face in institutionalising their governance frameworks?

When family businesses start, the whole beauty of them is that you’re working with your family and have freedom to do what you want, how you want to. As the business grows and gets more successful, more formal processes are needed. Our experience has taught us that ineffective structures lead to bad decision making, which in turn can lead to poor performance, and negative outcomes. Effective corporate governance is part of the tapestry of a successful, well-run business.

A unique quality of family businesses is that they are handed down from generation to generation, with each expected to pass it on in better shape than was received. But despite that expectation, succession is often the ”great unspoken”, or nettle not grasped. The first step to overcoming this is to create an acceptance of the need to talk about it. Next is to engage everyone in that conversation, because there needs to be agreement between the generations on the exercise of succession. Finally, the strategy for it needs to be executed. We have done this numerous times for clients.

Succession is not the only time that changes of control can occur. What dynamics are at play for family firms decisions around liquidity events?

We have experience on both sides of those deal-making events in Africa, acting for family businesses and investors. In our extensive experience, we’ve seen that one of the most important things is to make sure there is a meeting of minds at the very beginning. Both sides need to have the emotional intelligence to really understand the expectations of the other. Investors have to recognise that they are entering a personal and private domain. At the same time, the family needs to be wise to the fact that investors are coming in to make a return because they see the business as a good investment.

Getting to an alignment on strategy, and a personal connection, creates the foundation for the future work together. The time spent in “courting” ahead of an investment decision is well spent for both parties to ensure the deal is a good fit with a shared vision of what the journey might look like.

Over the years, we’ve seen the space between investors and business leaders narrow in terms of the understanding of each other’s needs. There are two reasons for this. First, family businesses are more sophisticated and better positioned to understand the dynamics of investors. Second, investors have become a lot more focused in how they invest, creating dedicated funds for specific industries and geographies, which means they come to the table with a better understanding of the sector and the market. From a business point of view, this development has been useful in that it enables parties to start a funding conversation from a place of mutual understanding and expertise. Even with this progress, taking on an external partner is still an intensely personal and emotive area, and one which requires maturity and patience on both sides. 

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