How We’ve Run a Family Business over 5 Generations

Mar 2021 | Our History

A culture of equality has enabled the five Barrows currently managing the group to successfully navigate the complexities of South Africa’s property market while at the same time avoiding some of the pitfalls that hamper other family businesses. Pursuing realistic expectations with a hands-on approach has been essential to the company’s longevity.

There are 5 Barrow family members currently working for the Barrow Group and they are all equal. This structure makes us unique. We don’t really have titles, we draw the same salary and own an equal share in the business. We all have different roles, based on our individual areas of expertise, whether that be in construction, project management, accounting, quantity surveying or in property development.

Barrow was still quite small when my father joined in the 60s – my dad and his brothers took it to another level. Late in their careers, the business branched out into property development, which was the most significant change over the last 40 years. The South African construction market is very competitive with challenging barriers to entry. Over the last five years, we’ve concentrated on growing Barrow Properties, which has become a big part of our business. Barrow Developments is the glue between the property management and construction arms of the group.

My Dad told me once: bigger doesn’t mean better. There’s no doubt that some of South Africa’s larger construction companies have struggled over the last five years. Several of them have folded. The niche market that we’re in has allowed us to be nimble and flexible.

We’ve got two non-Barrow family members helping us now, Mike Makhudu and Shaneel Singh. They are the first non-Barrow directors of Barrow Construction and are an integral part of the business. That said, because of the way our company is growing, we will anyway have to work on a more commercial basis than a family basis in the future.

Once again, I think the next generation will handle the business more commercially. Also, the sheer number of brothers and cousins is going to create a level of complexity that we have never had before.

If the next generation were to make a meaningful difference in South Africa, I would be very proud. That’s all I really wish for.

(This blog post is drawn from an interview with John Barrow for Tharawat
Magazine in Feb 2019. To read the full article click here:


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