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Europe’s top 25 family businesses and leaders

With just days to go until the winners of the Families in Business Awards, in association with Societe Generale Private Banking, are announced, CampdenFB takes a look at the shortlisted candidates and businesses – and their achievements.

With just days to go until the winners of the Families in Business Awards, in association with Societe Generale Private Banking, are announced, CampdenFB takes a look at the shortlisted candidates and businesses – and their achievements.

The winners will be announced on 9 July at an awards ceremony in Amsterdam, which will be held at the Heineken Brewery, one of the Netherlands’ most iconic family businesses

Top Family Business

One hundred and ten years in existence, De’Longhi has firmly established itself as the maker of quality household appliances such as its iconic Artista Series espresso machines and Pinguino portable air conditioners. Still firmly controlled and managed by the De’Longhi family, with Giuseppe De’Longhi chairman and his son Fabio chief executive, the Treviso-based manufacturer has been notching up some impressive results at a time when many European businesses are struggling. In the two-year period from the beginning of 2010, revenues were up 32%, and net profits nearly tripled in the same period, proving that the euro crisis has been no hindrance to De’Longhi’s success. In recent years, the group has diversified more away from its home market, both in terms of where it makes its products and where it is exporting them. De’Longhi continues to launch interesting initiatives, recently buying the rights to manufacture Braun branded products from Procter & Gamble.

Gebrüder Weiss
One of Austria’s oldest family businesses, Gebrüder Weiss has had an impressive 10 years – revenues at the company almost doubled between 2001 and 2011, hitting the €1 billion mark for the first time in its history last year. But perhaps more impressive is the business’s many centuries in operation – it traces its roots back more than 500 years. Much credit has to be given to the Weiss and Jerie families, who have led the company through huge changes. They have now left the day-today management in the capable hands of non-family Wolfgang Niessner. Under his leadership, Gebrüder Weiss has focused on international expansion – building operations in central and eastern Europe, and setting up joint ventures in Georgia and Romania. Asia also hasn’t been overlooked. But the founding family is still very involved in the business – two next-gens, Wolfram Senger-Weiss and Heinz Senger-Weiss, sit on the group’s management board.

Hermès Group
Established by Thierry Hermès in 1837, the Paris-based firm is one of the oldest fashion houses in the world, famous for its beautiful leatherwork, like the Birkin and Kelly handbags, and of course its scarves. Few businesses in the last few years have championed their family credentials as much as Hermès. That commitment might be a response to waking up one day to realise one of its great competitors, LVMH, had built up a substantial stake in the business, but it is also borne out of the desire to keep the business in family hands. This commitment has worked, with the 70-plus members of the sixth-generation family business establishing a holding company that controls the majority of the shares. Control has further been strengthened by the appointment of family member Axel Dumas as chief executive, who will replace non-family Patrick Thomas next year. The business is thriving, with revenues rising by nearly 50% to €2.84 billion between 2009 and 2011. That might be more to do with the incredible demand for luxury goods in the last few years, rather than the re-engineering of the ownership structure, but excellent growth at Hermès has reinforced family control.

Lego Group
Since its humble beginnings in 1930s Denmark as a maker of wooden toys, Lego Group has become one of the most famous brands in the world – it was ranked among the 10 most recognisable companies globally by Reputation Institute this year. Employing about 10,000 people and selling its bricks in 130 countries, it remains firmly in the hands of the founding Kirk Kristiansen family, with Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen and his son Thomas sitting on the company’s board. The family brought in professional management in the early 2000s – a move that’s paid off handsomely with sales almost doubling since 2008, hitting €2.5 billion in 2011. But none of this is at a loss of the founding family’s values, particularly when it comes to quality, the community and the environment. “Only the best is good enough” has been the Lego Group’s motto since its inception in the 1930s and the family pushes this, says a company spokesman. “The family ownership means that there is a very strong culture in the company – a sense of developing and producing more than ‘just another toy’ and a sense of consistency.”

In its 90-year-plus history, Ottobock has relied heavily on two things – entrepreneurship and the family. And this continues to pay off for the German prosthetic and wheelchair-maker, which was founded in 1919 by Otto Bock in response to the large number of amputees returning from World War I. Now headed by his grandson Professor Hans Georg Näder, who took over in 1990 when he was just 28, the business is experiencing strong growth. Between 2008 and 2011, revenues increased by more than 22% to €582.8 million. The Duderstadt-based firm is a world leader in its field, known for being at the cutting edge of prostheses. So it’s no surprise that Ottobock is an official partner of this year’s Paralympic Games. The business is very proud of its family links and believes the family’s continuous involvement is important. “Continuity is a mainstay of our growth course,” it says. Under Näder, who was named Germany’s entrepreneur of the year in 2003, the company is also heavily involved in philanthropy, and was recently engaged in training prosthetists in Haiti to help children injured in the 2010 earthquake there. 

Top Family Business Leader

Rodolfo De Benedetti (Cir Group/Cofide)
Since taking over the management of the family holding companies Cir Group and Cofi de in the early 1990s, Rodolfo De Benedetti has proved he’s as much an entrepreneur as his father. While Carlo was behind successful Italian firms such as computer manufacturer Olivetti, food company Buitoni and telecommunications group Omnitel, Rodolfo has focused on restructuring Cir Group, turning it into a diverse holding company. Although he maintained the business’s core investments in traditional sectors such as publishing and the automotive parts industries, the company ventured into new areas, such as energy and care-homes. And despite the tough trading conditions in Italy, under the 51-yearold’s leadership, revenues at Cir grew by more than €300 million to €4.52 billion between 2007 and 2011.

Jean-François Decaux & Jean- Charles Decaux (JCDecaux)
Brothers Jean-François Decaux, 52, and Jean-Charles Decaux, 42, who have been at the helm of JCDecaux since 2000, faced their toughest challenge in 2009 – when revenues at the French outdoor advertiser fell by almost a quarter of a billion euros. They took quick action, introducing a cost reduction programme and suspending dividend payments. It paid off – the company recovered fully in 2010 and by 2011, sales had reached €2.46 billion. Under the brothers’ tenure, the company also became involved in self-service bike schemes in cities across the world, including Paris. They are committed to keeping the listed business, founded by their father in the 1960s, under family control. But they are also keen to expand. So, if the company’s healthy cash balance isn’t suffi cient, they have said they would reduce the family’s 72% ownership, but only if they retain full control. The pair have a good relationship, with sibling rivalry not proving a problem. As well as sharing the chief executive role, they take turns to chair the management board.

Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller (Trumpf)
Nicola Leibinger-Kammüller took over as chairman and president of machine tool producer Trumpf in 2005 when her father, Berthold Leibinger, stepped down from his position. Leibinger-Kammüller had a rocky beginning, with revenues at the family business dropping by almost 40% between 2007/2008 and 2009/2010. But the 52-year-old has been commended for playing a big role in turning around the fortunes of the company – it posted its most successful year ever in fiscal 2011 with sales jumping by 50% to €2.02 billion. Leibinger-Kammüller’s success story is largely due to her intimate knowledge of company operations – her whole career has been spent working across various divisions of Trumpf since 1984, when she joined the group’s public relations department. Economic turmoil notwithstanding, Leibinger-Kammüller has pushed innovation – under her tenure, funding into research and development rose to almost €160 million last year from €135 million five years ago.

Richard Oetker (Oetker Group)
Richard Oetker may be famous in Germany for surviving a horrendous kidnapping in the 1970s, but he’s also one of the country’s most successful family business leaders. The greatgrandson of the company’s founder, Richard took over managing the 100% family-owned business in 2009 – he has been on the executive board since 1996. He’s been good at decentralising management, allowing senior executives considerable freedom to be “creative”. The diversified holding company, which today makes more revenues from its shipping business rather than from its more famous baking products division, had revenues of €9.5 billion in 2010, up nearly 20% from the previous year. Under Oetker’s tenure, the group has expanded in eastern European markets and is now, despite being German, one of the biggest producers of frozen pizzas in the world. He is a worthy top family business leader.

Juan Roig (Mercadona)
Juan Roig has been at the helm of supermarket group Mercadona for some 30 years, taking over from his father, the company’s founder, at the age of 32. During the last three decades, he turned what was a small regional supermarket chain into one of the biggest retail empires in Spain with annual revenues of more than €17.8 billion. And despite Spain’s woes, under Roig’s leadership, the business continues to grow – turnover was up 8% in 2011. In the 1990s, he introduced the Total Quality Management system into the business, which deals with the company’s relationship priorities – from customers to workers to suppliers to management. It was so successful, it is often taught at business schools as an example of an exemplary corporate structure. His four daughters sit on the company’s supervisory board, but they are expected to work hard. “My daughters have the same opportunities as Mercadona’s … employees to run the business – because property is inherited, not a job,” the Mercadona president once said.

Top Family Business Rising Star

James Ferragamo (Salvatore Ferragamo Group)
James might be viewed by many as the heir-apparent to his father Ferruccio, who chairs the Florence-based fashion empire established by Salvatore Ferragamo in 1927, but he’s certainly not taking that for granted and is proving himself in the meantime. With an MBA and a background working for Goldman Sachs in London and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, he came in well equipped to work at the nearly 100-year-old family business. Initially working in the women’s shoe department – the company’s biggest division – James next went on to be general merchandising manager and then women’s leather product director in 2008. Under his leadership, revenues at the leather goods and handbags division increased by 24% to €309 million last year. Few next-gens are better equipped to take on the responsibility of running the family business.

Jens Fiege (Fiege Group)
Next-gen Jens Fiege is proof of his family’s commitment to keeping the logistics company, Fiege, family owned and run. The fifth generation to work in the German company, Jens first joined Fiege, currently owned by his father and uncle, in 2004 and oversaw its international operations. Since then, the 38-year-old has climbed up the ranks to take charge of business development and engineering, becoming a member of the company’s board in 2009. The family is a strong supporter of the involvement of next-gens in company management – Jens works alongside his cousin Felix, who is responsible for Northern and North-Western Europe and is also a board member. Before joining Fiege, Jens gained valuable outside experience, working for fellow family-controlled business Bertelsmann and Lufthansa’s logistics division. 

Ramon Näf and Sarah Flieg-Näf (Naef Group)
Ramon Näf and Sarah Flieg-Näf, a Swiss brother and sister team, have both worked in Naef Group, the family business founded by their father, for over a decade. Ramon, 34, holds the chief executive position, while his 31-year-old sister is the chief financial officer. Innovation has been at the heart of the business since Werner Näf first developed a reliable method for the internal sanitation of pipes – and the pair are keen to keep this up. For the siblings, it’s not just a matter of getting the family business right; they also pay close attention to family relationships. “In the same way that a ballet dancer tries to move both legs with an equal amount of force when doing a split, we try as a family and a family-run firm to devote our energy simultaneously to both and to divide it equally and fairly,” says Sarah, quoting her parents’ motto. But relationships also extend beyond the immediate family, says Ramon. “The employees are the people who make a company successful. They are part of the family.” Under their leadership, with its strong focus on innovation and relationships, revenues at the business have been growing by between 20% and 25% annually.

Anne Kirstine Riemann (Riemann)
After studying law at Copenhagen University and gaining an MBA from New York’s Columbia Business School, in 2002 Riemann took over the eponymous family business, a Danish skincare specialist set up by her father in 1979. In under a decade, the 38-year-old chairman of the board has tripled turnover by increasing the firm’s focus on its less well-known antiperspirant, and improving the marketing of its central product, a high-factor sunscreen. When Anne Kristine took over, 90% of income came from the sunscreen, but this percentage is now more evenly split between the two products. She also redesigned the company’s factory, combining a love of Danish design and a keen knowledge of technology, and prides herself on knowing the names of every member of staff. She’s hoping to expand into the southern hemisphere.

Cristina Stenbeck (Investment AB Kinnevik)
Thrust into the family business nearly 10 years ago after the unexpected death of her 59-year-old father, Cristina Stenbeck has more than proven her worth running Investment AB Kinnevik. Few felt Cristina could cope, given that the then 24-yearold had just two years’ work experience at Ralph Lauren in New York. But she didn’t let her inexperience stand in her way, reassuring management and shareholders that she was more than up to the task of managing the business soon after joining. Cristina has been a keen proponent of the stewardship of the family business, taking responsibility and ensuring that the legacy of her father remains central to the company, but at the same time instilling fresh ideas. Her skills as a shrewd manager of the holding group are reflected in the steady growth in revenues and profits during the last few years against the background of the euro crisis and global economic woes.

Top Non-Family Director

Per-Arne Andersson (Kinnarps)
Per-Arne Andersson only took over as chief executive at workplace furniture supplier Kinnarps last autumn. But the former economist is already leaving his mark. With the sector still struggling, Andersson, working with the board, has introduced a four-year plan aimed at improving margins and results. And it’s paying off – the business, which reported revenues of SEK4.2 billion (€475 million) in 2010/2011, is expecting a rise in both margins and sales this year. Much of his success is down to his strong knowledge of the company – he worked at the family-owned business for over 16 years and for the two years prior to being made CEO, he was vicepresident. He reckons finding good teams to work with – “the right person at the right time” – is his greatest achievement.

Hartmut Jenner (Alfred Kärcher)
Hartmut Jenner has been chief executive of the world’s biggest manufacturer of cleaning machines since 2001, presiding over a period of strong growth with revenues rising by nearly 50% under his leadership. The engineering and business studies graduate joined Alfred Kärcher in 1991, working with various divisions of the company including heading the business in the US before being promoted to the top job. Beyond his obvious abilities as a business leader, Jenner also presided over the establishment of the Alfred Kärcher Foundation, which supports young scientists who carry out research in the area of cleaning technology; Jenner chairs the foundation. Kärcher is a third-generation family company that traces its origins back to the early 20th century. It is a classic example of Germany’s Mittelstand family businesses.

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp (Lego Group)
Jørgen Vig Knudstorp joined Lego Group in 2001 and was named chief executive in 2004. With the company losing hundreds of millions a year at the time as children turned to computers and high-tech gadgets for entertainment, Knudstorp set about reviving the family-owned business. The former McKinsey consultant retained Lego’s heart – its bricks – but embraced modern trends, offering products based on Batman comics, Star Wars movies and Ferrari racecars. In doing so, he’s managed to achieve strong business growth while also continuing the family’s desire to do good. Revenues increased from DKK6.7 billion (€901 million) in 2004 to DKK18.73 billion last year, while net profits increased to DKK4.16 billion from a loss of DKK1.93 billion when he took the helm. At the same time, under his watch, the company has increased investments in renewable energy, while charitable giving is also on the up.

Wolfgang Niessner (Gebrüder Weiss)
Wolfgang Niessner gets glowing reviews from the Senger-Weiss and Jerie families, owners of one of Austria’s oldest family businesses, Gebrüder Weiss. Joining the management board of the Vienna-based business, Niessner was made chief executive in 2005 and has overseen rapid expansion at the transport and logistics company. But from the moment he took the job, the spotlight was on Niessner. After all, he became the first non-family chief executive of a business that can trace its origins back to the 15th century. But those who know him say he’s worked well with the family both inside and outside of the business. He’s been described as innovative, creative and open-minded. His skills have transferred into strong revenue growth at the family business, which employs more than 4,500 people worldwide, with revenues hitting €1 billion last year.

Patrick Thomas (Hermès Group)
Thomas has presided over extraordinary growth at Hermès in the last few years, with revenues up a spectacular 50% between 2009 and 2011, but his main claim to success must be his ability to keep the family business from being acquired by a competitor. Thomas was the first non-family member to head the 174-yearold company when he was appointed CEO in January 2006. Four years later he had to defend the company against a possible hostile takeover by arch competitor LVMH. Working with the family, Thomas put up a pretty good defence, setting up a new family holding structure, and presiding over strong revenue and profit growth. Family member Axel Dumas might be coming in to be joint chief executive with Thomas, but there is little doubt the 65-year-old has done a sterling job at protecting the family legacy at one of Europe’s greatest fashion houses.

Top Sustainable Family Business

When it comes to sustainable practices, family-owned brewer Bavaria is top of the game. The Dutch beer-maker, run by the seventh generation of the Swinkels family, has done much to become energy efficient, reusing gases and solid wastes produced during beer fermentation. So much so that in 2010 the company became the first drinks company in the Netherlands, and the world’s first brewer, to implement the ISO 26000, the social responsibility guidelines provided by the International Organization for Standardization. The €400 million-plus independent business has also reduced its water consumption by 15% over two years. Its focus on improving safety at work has also paid off, with employees taking fewer days off due to accidents. The family says its environment-friendly practices are only the “starting point” for passing the business to next-gens in a “responsible manner”.

The French biomedical family business, a specialist in the area of in vitro diagnosis, takes sustainability seriously and has incorporated sustainable principles into its working practices in five areas: energy, waste, paper, water and emissions. In 2009 it installed 22,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels at a US factory, which allow it to entirely power the cafeteria from a renewable source, while buildings in France have turf roofs for insulation. Closed-loop water-cooling technology has been installed into a Spanish site, saving 14,000 cubic metres of water annually, while numerous buildings now have “dry landscaping” – flower-beds which need no watering. To reduce emissions it switched from air-freighting products from the US to China to shipping them, and it estimates its use of teleconferencing for meetings saved 1,363 tonnes of carbon dioxide in its first year.

Ikea, the flat-pack giant founded by Ingvar Kamprad, is on a mission to cut carbon emissions. It’s making major investments in renewable energy, such as installing solar panels on buildings, as it moves towards its goal of using 100% renewable energy. In fiscal 2011, more than half of its buildings’ energy needs came from renewable sources. The company has also upped its efforts to source timber from responsibly managed forests – last year, 16.2% of its wood came from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood. Cotton is also a big issue for Europe’s largest furniture provider. But with the WWF, it is encouraging more sustainable cultivation methods among cotton farmers in countries like India, Pakistan, China and Turkey. Last year, almost 24% of its cotton came from sustainable sources, up from 13.4% in 2010. Philanthropy is a big deal, particularly in developing countries – where Ikea partners with organisations such as Unicef and Save the Children to help families and children. It currently funds programmes expected to help an estimated 100 million children. Last year, the Ikea Foundation donated €65 million, up €20 million on the year before.

Italcementi Group
Italcementi’s commitment to sustainability goes back to 2000, when the world’s fifth largest cement producer joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Since then the Bergamo-based group has spent more than €2 billion to renew its plants and reduce its carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and dust emissions. Controlled by the Pesenti family, Italcementi has also worked hard to increase safety in its workplaces, where injuries have decreased by over 75%. The company, which owns more than 50 plants across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, has installed solar panels, and built wind farms and waste heat recovery units to cut down its non-renewable energy consumption. It’s also trying to reduce the use of raw materials such as calcium and iron, and is engaged in a number of education and health projects across Asia and northern Africa.

Wates Group
For a builder, the most obvious way to improve sustainability is through minimising waste and reducing the carbon footprint, two things which Wates prides itself on. It says that 95% of non-hazardous waste produced by its activities is diverted from landfill, and at a third of its sites that number rises to an admirable 99%. All timber used meets FSC requirements, or the equivalent. In the last year it has reduced motor vehicle emissions by 4.2%. But Wates goes beyond taking care of the environment, and since 2006 has run a scheme called Building Futures, which trains unemployed people and tries to get them into jobs. In the past five years 363 people have graduated from these schemes and 57% are in employment or further training. In 2010 Wates organised 13 Building Futures programmes, 70% of them in the UK’s most deprived areas.

In order to be considered for the award, the family business must have annual revenues of at least €100 million, have at least second generation or more of family involvement in the business and the family needs to control at least 25% of the voting rights in the business. The business will also need to be headquartered in Europe.

Guido Corbetta
Aidaf-Alberto Falck professor of strategic management in family business
Professor of corporate strategy at Bocconi University

David Bain
Editorial director and head of research at Campden Wealth

Jozef Lievens
Head of the Family Business Network in Belgium
Lawyer and partner at Eubelius

Leif Melin
Director and head of the Centre for Family
Enterprise & Ownership at Jönköping International Business School in Sweden

Tom Rüsen
Witten Institute for Family Business
Managing director of Witten/Herdecke University

The shortlist was announced on June 25th

For more information about the nomination process, please click here or watch this SGPB video.

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