Building a family business that can last many generations to come: Irene Wanjiku, founder Rexe Roofing

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Irene Wanjiku, Founder and CEO, Rexe Roofing Products | Photo-Courtesy

Irene Wanjiku is the founder and CEO of Rexe Roofing Products Limited, a firm she established seven years ago after resigning from her job at a construction company. She had joined the company as a receptionist and grew across the ranks learning incredible skills that would later catapult her start-up firm to success. Today, the company has several offices across the country and has an ultimate vision of roofing the world.

In the following interview with StartUp Magazine East Africa, she reveals why she has involved her family members in running the business and why Rexe Roofing is set to outlive many generations to come.

StartUp Magazine:  Let me start by asking your view on running a successful family business. Rexe started from small beginnings and has grown over a short time to be a force to reckon with within the industry. What are the secret ingredients of this success?

Irene:  We run the business professionally. As from inception, we had a strategy and a vision and every decision we make, resources and employees are aligned towards our vision-To Roof The World.

StartUp Magazine:  So what does a successful business family need put in place to  ensure long-term success?

  • Set clear goals from the beginning,
  • Hire professional people. Family member should also be subjected to the same rigorous interview process and must bring in specific skills set that are needed in the business. They should not be hired simply because they are family members.
  • Set up clear internal systems of operations limiting interference from emotionally based decision making.
  • Invest in a good financial structure to ensure that all resources are ploughed back into the business.
  • Resist from taking money from the business for personal use or to loan friends and family members.

StartUp Magazine:  Which are some of your family members who are involved in running the business?

I have had family members fill in positions in human resources, sales, public relations and accounts department but they always work as a team with other professional staff who are non-family.

StartUp Magazine:  I can understand how this applies to those in the business, but how do business families deal with the inactive members?

Inactive family members who are not employed in the business have no roles and derive no benefits from the business. Family members who are in the business work under strict internal systems and there is clear accountability for decisions they make.

StartUp Magazine:  What are the important things to consider in succession plan?

It is important to have a family member who is not only passionate about the business but has the skills and competence to oversee business growth over years to come, in the absence of a direct family member it is better to introduce employee share ownership schemes that ensure the business will run even when the founders exit or retire.

StartUp Magazine:  How does one start this process? But, how do children/family members who have chosen to pursue a different career stay connected to the business?

You can have children as board members to represent the interest of the family stake in the business, otherwise excellent employees who are absorbed as shareholders should effectively run the business.

StartUp Magazine:  What does the future hold for Rexe Roofing Limited?

REXE is at a good time now to expand rapidly to meet the changing needs of our customers. Our market has been mid to high end but we are now developing products to meet the needs of the mass market.

StartUp Magazine:  Other pertinent issues?

I encourage family businesses to aggressively seek expansion and integrate succession planning to guarantee business continuity. This is because local family business offer a great opportunity for job creation and value addition for local products and generation of wealth that is ploughed back to Kenya. However, the government needs to continue to lower the cost of doing business in Kenya as we face high taxes and levies and unstable high cost of electricity, poor infrastructure in rural areas , high security costs, endemic public sector corruption all which limit the potential of family run businesses.

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