The “family business” model is proving particularly successful in the complex, globalised economic world of the 21st century. The business paper Il Sole 24 Ore writes: “In an analysis of around 2,500 large and medium-sized companies, family businesses consistently show better results in four performance criteria: growth, profitability and stability, employment and independence.
The phenomenon that hit the headlines as a result of the crisis is, of course, by no means new. Even before the big crash, family businesses were of great, even decisive, economic importance almost everywhere in Europe, especially in Austria, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, where this type of company by far represents the majority in terms of numbers. Many prominent company names can be found in this list, most of them the general public will not even be aware that there is a family behind them. At least it will take a moment of reflection until it becomes clear that Porsche and Oetker, Miele, Fielmann, Lavazza, Pirelli, Bertelsmann and Bahlsen are not just brands, but also family names.
But families also stand behind the Swiss knife manufacturer Victorinox or the Haribo jelly bears – the name is an abbreviation for Hans Riegel Bonn. Lego and IKEA, Barilla, Bauli or Bulgari are just as much family businesses as the German Geobra GmbH, of which hardly anyone will know the name, but everyone will know the products, namely the Playmobil figures popular with children all over the world. If the offspring prefer surprise eggs and the plastic miniatures they contain, they come from one of the most innovative confectionery companies in the world, named after the family it belongs to, which is Ferrero. The German fashion label Joop is family-owned, as are the Italian luxury tailor Ermenegildo Zegna and the Spanish textile chain Zara. Austrian family-owned companies whose names everyone knows include Manner, Julius Meinl, crane manufacturer Palfinger, Rauch Fruchtsäfte and crystal glass specialists Swarovski.
These examples contradict the widespread cliché that family businesses are mostly small businesses that are good and bland in their market niche. Quite apart from the fact that global champions are also active in the so-called niches that lead their industry technologically, there are family businesses of every size. Listing on the stock exchange is not a contradiction to the fact that a family exercises control over such a stock corporation – usually it is a family foundation or a holding company that holds a sufficiently high proportion of shares for control.
This is exactly what applies to the largest family companies. This also includes Frosta AG. The company, which today employs more than 1,700 people and is the market leader in Germany, is 56.5 % in free float. But with 43.5 %, the Ahlers family still exercises control over the company (the shares belong to Dirk and Felix Ahlers). Further information on Frosta can be found in this article published on the Goingpublic platform (attention: article written in german).
In many European countries (and not only), the sales champions are family-run companies. Billions of companies listed on the stock exchange are naturally more in the public eye, although here too the fact that a family holding company exercises control as a core shareholder is often found only in the small print of the annual reports.
Therefore, not only multinational corporations but also our domestic family businesses dare to go public.