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Can you find success with a sibling as your boss?

By PAUL KARIUKI | July 8th 2016
Ruth Wambui and Simon Chege.

NAIROBI: Family-run businesses can be difficult to manage. Imagine having to fire a relative who is underperforming. And then meeting him or her at family reunions and having to pretend to get along, or explain to your uncles and aunties over and over why you cannot hire them back.

But there are also upsides, which include loyalty, familiarity and you know they will not lie about their job history as you already know it all. A lot of family businesses are now being taken over by sibling teams, which carries its own set of risks, such as a lot of bickering, manipulation and teasing.

Business partners

But Ruth Wambui, 32, and Simon Chege, 27, are hoping to illustrate how sibling teams can take family-run businesses to a whole new level. The two, who operate a computer college in Nakuru, have been business partners for five years and get along well.

Initially, each sibling had an independent life, with Ms Wambui running a cyber café and offering computer services, while Mr Chege worked at a financial institution.

However, Chege felt underpaid and quit his job. His sister offered to train him on computer programmes at no charge, as long as he agreed to be her assistant. Chege accepted. He started out with light administrative duties before being promoted to a computer programmes teacher.

Wambui says when it comes to business, she treats her brother like she would any other employee.

“He is my brother, alright, but business is business and this doesn’t call for treating him in special way as my sibling,” she said.

And as regards training her brother for free? “If you invest in staff training, you will have good and productive employees and I’m seeing the benefits of this,” she said.

Wambui pays Chege a portion of what her business brings in, though she takes the higher percentage as the proprietor.

“I’m the one who meets the running costs and, therefore, determine what he is entitled to,” she said.

And if Chege feels entitled to more money? “We discuss this on a one-on-one basis. I know what the business brings in and what it costs to run it, so I am never unreasonable,” he said.

Wambui agrees, saying her brother is “very understanding and not as troublesome as other employees would be”.

And in the day-to-day running of the business, there is no doubt Wambui is the boss, and what she says goes. Chege, however, has come to accept the power play, saying he owes his sister a lot for getting him to where he is today. Does Wambui consider employing her brother nepotism?

“Our bond goes back a long way and I see no reason it shouldn’t continue into the world of business.”

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