At Akbar Brothers, things are done a little differently. “I don’t know if there’s anyone who does this. At our office, all eight of us directors sit in one room. Not many companies can make $20-30 million decisions in a matter of minutes just by talking across the table,” says Hussain Akbarally.
The tradition demonstrates trust among the leaders in the family-owned business, Sri Lanka’s largest tea exporter, which has now diversified into many industries. It harnesses the expertise and different thinking styles of each family member into each critical decision.
My father told me on my first day the same thing my grandfather told him; ‘This business has my name on it, so don’t do anything to mess with that reputation, because all the good done will be forgotten in an instant.
While all family members are involved to some extent in the tea industry, each has their own business verticals to give leadership to.Akbarally, who has a bachelor’s in Math and Finance from the University of Melbourne and an MBA from the Harvard Business School, is involved in managing the family wealth, as well as strategic investments in hospitality and renewable energy, where the group is also the market leader in Sri Lanka. Now, the group is venturing overseas to build power plants, including in Africa, South East Asia and South Asia.
Akbar Brothers is open to investments in any industry, as long as the ventures are lucrative. However, tea will remain the core business for the family, which will continue to leverage its deep understanding and connections. Akbarally’s grandfather founded the business in 1969. Since then, the firm has gained a 20-25% share of Sri Lanka’s $1.5 billion tea exports.
This is four times larger than Akbar Brother’s closest competitor, Akbarally says.The business has been built on trust. When other exporters may have renegotiated prices with their clients depending on the vagaries of the Colombo Tea Auction, Akbarally’s grandfather stuck to his word, at times selling tea at a loss.
“My father told me on my first day the same thing my grandfather told him; ‘This business has my name on it, so don’t do anything to mess with that reputation, because all the good done will be forgotten in an instant,” Akbarally says. This ethos continues to drive the business forward. Akbarally’s word can be taken to the bank. That’s why he’s doing business with the grandchildren of clients who traded with his grandfather.