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Band of brothers: Why sibling-run firms work

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Role division

Another strength of both being bosses is clear: a degree of role division is possible. For the Issas, Mohsin deals with day-to-day operations, freeing up Zuber to work on long-term strategy. It’s a common theme with brothers – exemplified by another pair of over-achievers: Jos and Ben White.

Having started out selling telecoms kit in 1993, the Whites diversified into antivirus and broadband. In 2007, they sold the antivirus business, MessageLabs, to Symantec for $700m. The secret behind the success” Role division.

“Ben is a mad inventor,” says Jos. “He has dyslexia, was expelled from schools and hates to be hemmed in by regulations. I can write and am good at taking his ideas and bringing them to market. We are very different and our skills complement each other.” Ben agrees: “What Jos is great at is turning my mad ideas into reality. He goes off with them and brings them back, beautifully packaged.”

With Jos at his side, Ben has been able to generate idea after idea. The Whites were the first to deliver antivirus via the cloud, started an ISP before most firms had heard of the internet and have masterminded a string of brilliant concepts – some of which never quite took off, such as a remote back-up service (“we were way too early, this was before broadband”); fax to email (“a dead end”); and letterheads for emails.

Of course, there is still friction. “We fought like cats and dogs,” says Jos. “In 2003, I moved to the US to head up our expansion. I needed to move out of Ben’s shadow and prove myself. It gave us both the opportunity to grow and develop on our own. If the business had stayed smaller, we might have found it difficult to work together.”

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