Women who perform diverse roles in the family as well as in their business are often more flexible and they’re able to make good decisions in the moment while juggling multiple priorities.
Margaret Hirsch has become an inspiring example to businesswomen across Africa, starting from humble beginnings to eventually co-founding and managing Hirsch’s with her husband Allan. Today, Hirsch’s is the largest independently owned appliance and electronics retail operation in South Africa.
It was a small business for a long time and only began to expand significantly when the founders were in their fifties. For 30 years, Margaret poured her energy into building the business. She was 62 when Hirsch’s began its transformation into a business family and she was able to broaden her interests beyond the scope of the core business to pursue several new philanthropic endeavors.
One of her passions is to act as a champion of women’s empowerment. She strongly believes in giving back to the community and is driven by a desire to guide and assist people in less fortunate situations, having firsthand experience from financial and emotional setbacks in her own early life.
“Lioness” of Africa – matriarch of the family business
“Lionesses of Africa” is a social enterprise working to advance Africa’s female entrepreneurs. One of its ongoing projects is identifying and celebrating 100 inspirational African women who are motivating and supporting the entrepreneurial dreams of other women across Africa. Margaret is one these influential lionesses.
One of her enthusiastic interests is creating opportunities to work with entrepreneurs and family enterprises to help them build their businesses. Through a regular series of networking events and conversations that she leads with other business experts from around the world, she provides practical guidance that is helping to build up the business acumen of existing entrepreneurs and those who have a dream of becoming one.
Laying the groundwork for the next generation of the family business
Within the Hirsch family business, the Hirsch’s son and daughter were not encouraged to enter the family business directly based on their parents’ belief that it would be healthy for them to work outside the family first to develop an understanding of what it’s like to be an employee. The Hirsch siblings saw what was going on in the world, considered the options and ultimately made the choice to join the family business.
The Hirsch’s son Richard assumed the CEO role in 2002 and daughter Luci will come back into the business in a larger role when her own children reach university age. In the interim, the family believes that the time that both Richard and Luci are investing in the development of the Hirsch grandchildren will ultimately pay off for the business. Even at their young age, the third-generation members of the Hirsch family are developing leadership skills and are ambitious, high achievers. While no one can say today how many of the grandchildren will have a passion for the Hirsch family business and the capabilities to play a leadership role, the groundwork is being laid. Margaret is confident that at least one or two will join the family business and open an entirely new chapter in its future when they do.
In the current environment – and likely for the foreseeable future – decisions regarding who in the upcoming generations may join the business will come down to their enthusiasm and interest in the business itself, their vision for its future and their capabilities. While Margaret is a champion for the empowerment of women, she does not carry a female or male bias when it comes to selecting the most qualified and capable person for any job, even within her own family.
The value of a female perspective
Without bias, it should be noted that there are some unique and added benefits in the wife/mother/owner combination in family businesses, one of which is the value of empathy that women often contribute. During the early days of COVID-19, the need for greater empathy escalated in many companies, as employees, customers and members of the communities that surrounded them dealt with the anxiety associated with a completely unexpected and unpredictable event. The empathetic ability of many female business leaders came to the fore in helping to address their companies’ business challenges as well as those of the people around them.
While empathy is an important and distinguishing characteristic of many women in family business, Margaret cautions against the tendency of some women to over-nurture and she often reminds budding female entrepreneurs that when running a business, one has to decide what is the right thing to say or do, not what will be nice and make you well-liked.
Women who perform diverse roles in the family as well as in their business are often more flexible and able to make good decisions in the moment as well. As the matriarch of the family business, Margaret understands the complementary value of being able to simultaneously run a family household, juggle multiple business priorities and watch over the people in her life.
As a champion for future generations of female entrepreneurs and family business leaders, Margaret offers this guidance for the next generation of young women who have a passion for their family enterprise and are looking for ways to get involved and rise to the challenge.:
- Put effort into proving you can do the job. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, getting a job in the family business should be based on merit, not kinship and you can look for ways to contribute – even in small steps – that will elevate you in the family’s eyes.
- Have confidence in yourself. When things don’t go well and you think there must be something lacking in you, remind yourself that it isn’t you who is lacking. There are things around you that are getting in the way. It’s up to you to recognize them and work your way around them.
- Have the courage to do the right thing. It isn’t your family that boosts you up or brings you down – it’s knowing what is right and choosing to do it.