Carl Bates - High-Performance Family Boards from New Zealand to Africa


15 March 2021

51 mins 47 secs

Season 1

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode

Carl Bates is Africa's leading educator, appointer and guide of High-Performance boards. As the Founding Partner of Sirdar, he is world renowned for his practical understanding of governance and is constantly invited to share his knowledge and insight on the subject - in Africa, Sirdar is the largest provider of independent non-executive directors to private companies and family businesses.

As a G2 entrepreneur, Carl works closely with his Mother and spouse in his family property business in New Zealand, bringing real world insights to his professional service clients. Carl is particularly passionate about how boards can transform and scale-up privately-held and family companies.

Standout Quotes:

  • "There's a difference between craftsmanship and entrepreneurship" - [Carl]
  • "And I like the term 'Contribution', it's all about what we have to give and finding ways of being more effective in that" - [Carl]
  • "I think having a purpose as a business is fundamental to what building longevity in any business is about" - [Carl]
  • "In businesses, we can see a direct correlation between the makeup of the group of people at the top and the financial performance of the business" - [Carl]
  • "It is a privilege that a family has when they're right at the beginning of the journey, and they make the decision to become a family business... and they put in place the structures at that point because it's a lot less emotional to argue about something that is 10 or 20 years out, than being in the middle of that thing in 20 years time" - [Carl]
  • "Families need to define 'well, what does family mean to you?' - [Carl]
  • "The larger the number of beneficiaries of the family, the bigger the governance framework needs to be at a family level" - [Carl]
  • "There's no such thing as an 'Original Mistake', there are so many families and so many boards around the world who have done this so many times before you, that rather than try and make an original mistake, go and see what other people have done" - [Carl]

Key Takeaways:

  • Carl recalls he initially had no desire to live in Africa, a few years after this, he repeatedly had cause to travel there on business and realized he had to stay, creating offices all around Africa which help families and companies to develop their boards of directors.
  • Starting University at 15 years and becoming a chartered accountant by 21 years, he had always wondered why even though each generation of his family had successful entrepreneurs, there was no build-up and transfer of wealth to the next generation.
  • Knowing most of his great grandparents personally helped instill values that formed the foundation for the role he currently plays in business generally.
  • Carl shares that the purpose of his family business is giving people a place to call home.
  • Explaining the benefits and process of introducing new family members. Carl notes that the disparity in the energy levels between him, his wife, and other family members, allows for productivity to be maximized in different areas.
  • So often the succession planning is focused on when the person passes away, but if we don't take other family members on a journey of understanding the business over time, when the time comes they won't have the understanding of it to enable a successful transition.
  • The Contribution Compass is a tool used to understand family members as individuals, their personalities, and predict the expected roles they would play in the family. It is also used in business as a commercial tool since there is a direct correlation between the make-up of business leaders in any business and the success of that business.
  • Regarding the formality surrounding the entry of other family members into the family business, Carl discloses that nothing would be gifted and members would have to buy into the business. He also emphasizes the need to legalize every aspect of this entry as he recommends for his clients too.
  • I encourage family members to deal with things when they're not topical because that's when it's least emotional.
  • Regarding planning ahead for families, the best place to start is to understand that being a shareholder doesn't necessarily mean sitting around the board table. It is also important to understand Family Governance from the perspective of defining what family means to each member.
  • The Governance structure is predominantly focused on determining directly family-related issues but the Operational Board side is driven by the underlying Family business. This is where families go wrong; when they cannot differentiate between Family Governance and Governance of a Profit Generation Entity.
  • While sometimes the family traditions do serve the purpose of bonding, in other cases, there is some resentment on the expectations from different family members based on such traditions.
  • From Carl to his kids: It is important to spend time with your grandparents and great grandparents or people connected to them from that generation because there are threads that enable you to understand how your family has developed, and what the core values or cornerstones of success for you family are, through that time of engagement.

Episode Timeline:

  • [00:49] Introducing today's guest, Carl Bates
  • [04:04] Carl shares his professional backstory.
  • [14:28] The purpose of Carl's family business.
  • [16:17] Apart from you and your mother, are there other family members involved?
  • [22:43] The Contribution Compass
  • [28:00] In terms of families planning ahead, where do we start?
  • [30:39] Where does the distinction lie between a Family Council and the Operating Board?
  • [34:33] Differentiating between a Family Council and a Family Forum.
  • [36:45] What is one of the biggest challenges that families have when trying to put a governance structure in place for the first time?
  • [38:12] Comparing an Operational Family Business with one that is just "stewarding the wealth".
  • [43:50] How are families celebrating their uniqueness and traditions over the years?
  • [48:50] Carl's letter to his kids.

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Episode Links

  • Carl Bates — Carl Bates is an entrepreneur focused on creating meaningful economic impact within the countries and economies in which he has the opportunity to participate.
  • Sirdar Group — ‘Sirdar’ is the name given to the lead Sherpa on a mountain expedition. Where others view a high mountain as a great challenge or an insurmountable obstacle, the sirdar sees it as a clear path of opportunity. The sirdar builds the right team, chooses the correct route and knows when to go for the summit.