Famous family businesses - who owns what?


Liliane BettencourtAFP/Getty Images

The powerful L'Oréal matriarch Liliane Bettencourt (pictured), France's richest woman, recently made way for a new generation. The 89-year-old, who has dementia, has been removed from the company board. Her seat has gone to her 25-year-old grandson, Jean-Victor Meyer, who will sit on the board along with his parents - affirming the family's commitment to the company.

The cosmetics giant is but one of a number of major companies around the world that are still controlled by the founding families.

Two thirds of small businesses in Britain are run by families but a lack of succession planning means only a fifth ever hand on the baton, according to the Institute for Family Business. The sad truth is that 80% of first-generation companies never make it to the second generation, and only one in ten make it to the third. For example, there were some 600 family-run breweries in Britain in 1900 but that number has dwindled to just 28.

This is partly because founders often can't let go. The institute says one US entrepreneur only gave his 68-year-old son the power to sign cheques when he reached 92 - because his hands were too shaky.

However, there are quite a few well-known family businesses that are flourishing.

The L'Oréal empire was founded by Eugène Schueller, a chemist (and Nazi sympathiser) who invented modern hair-dye. He left his fortune to his only daughter, Liliane. Worth some €16bn (£13.8bn), she became estranged from her only child, Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers, in 2007. Bettencourt had showered a socialite and photographer, François-Marie Banier, whom she reportedly regarded as her son, with gifts and cash worth almost €1 billion - but her daughter claimed that he had taken advantage of her mother's frail mental state and took legal action.

He was arrested again in December over charges of defrauding the L'Oréal heiress, after a French court ruled that Bettencourt was in not in a fit mental state between 2007 and 2011. Bettencourt has also been accused of making illegal election campaign donations to French president Nicolas Sarkozy's right-of-centre UMP party. The family row and political scandal do not appear to have harmed the business, though, which is the world's biggest cosmetics group and France's most profitable company.

Here in Britain, the Daily Mail and General Trust has been run by the Rothermere family since the 1920s. Lord Rothermere took over the Daily Mail in 1922. The company's current chairman, the fourth Viscount Rothermere, Jonathan Harmsworth, took over on his father's death, when he was only 30. He controls the majority of DMGT's voting stock. Best known for the Daily Mail, it is one of Europe's largest media companies with a presence in Australia, the US and eastern Europe and employs 16,000 people.

Associated British Foods is the company behind Kingsmill, one of Britain's largest bread brands, along with Twinings tea, Silver Spoon sugar and Ryvita crisp bread. It also owns the budget fashion chain Primark. Founded by Toronto-born Willard Garfield Weston in 1935, ABF has grown into one of the largest food companies in the world and is now run by his great-grandson George Weston. The Weston family control ABF through the family holding company Wittington Investments, which owns 55% of the business. The family fund also owns the luxury food store Fortnum & Mason and Heals. Last year ABF and Whittington were accused of tax avoidance by UK Uncut during anti-cuts protests.

Laing O'Rourke, Britain's biggest privately owned construction firm, was founded by Irish labourer Ray O'Rourke and his brother Des in the family garage in 1977. Based in Dartford, Kent, their original firm R O'Rourke & Son merged with John Laing in 2001 and has grown rapidly since then. It employs 27,000 people in the UK, Germany, India, Australia and the United Arab Emirates but remains a family firm. Major shareholder Ray O'Rourke runs the company as chairman and chief executive, while his brother serves as joint deputy chairman. The firm is involved in the 2012 Olympics and Heathrow Terminal 2, and also worked on Terminal 5 and the Channel Tunnel rail link.

Some of America's biggest companies are still in family hands
For example, Mars remains a private company and its board is made up of Mars family members. The company dates back to 1911 when Frank C. Mars started selling homemade candy from his Washington home. The business took off after he launched the Milky Way bar in 1923 and he went on to hire full-time staff. Today the firm has more than 65,000 employees around the world.

Having grown from humble origins as a grain storage facility at the close of the American civil war in 1865, food and agricultural giant Cargill is now the largest private company in the US. With its roots in the pioneer farming lands of America's Midwest, it is still owned by the Cargill and MacMillan families. It faced a major crisis in 1910 after its founder William Wallace Cargill died, leaving a small business empire that had too much debt and had grown too rapidly. But his son-in-law John MacMillan stepped in, taking decisive action to reduce the debt burden over time and soon the business was growing again. The grain trader branched out into beef, pork and poultry processing and even steel making. Cargill's current chief executive, Gregory Page is the first outsider in the company's history - all the others have been from the Cargill or MacMillan families.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer and the owner of UK supermarket chain Asda, was born in 1962, and the founding family still controls 48% of the company through the Walton Family foundation. The son of founder Sam Walton, Rob, serves as chairman and his brother Jim also sits on the board. The company has been criticised for not allowing its workforce to become unionised, and became a target in documentary maker Michael Moore's film Capitalism: A Love Story. He exposed Wal-mart's practice of taking out insurance policies on its staff and cashing in on their deaths without telling their families.

Carmaker Ford, founded in Detroit in 1903, is still owned by the family, and three Fords sit on the board. Its executive chairman is William Clay Ford, Jr., the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford. The firm is famous for its Model T, which was introduced in 1908 and became one of the most popular cars in the world, with more than 15 million produced in the two decades to 1927. During the second world war, along with other carmakers the Ford plant stopped making cars and turned out bombers, armoured cars and troop carriers instead. Ford is one of several big car companies that had to be rescued by the Obama administration during the recession (the bailout was opposed by the Republicans and this may come to haunt them during the election campaign).

Back in Europe, the list of car-owning families includes the Agnellis in Italy, whose sprawling business empire includes Fiat and football club Juventus, France's Peugeot dynasty, and Germany's Quandt family, a major BMW shareholder.

Founded by the great Italian industrialist Gianni Agnelli in 1899, Fiat found itself in a real mess less than a decade ago. A new book by Jennifer Clark, a Milan-based business journalist, blames poor decision-making and a series of deaths in the family. It had five CEOs in two years. Yet Fiat survived and now seems to be firmly back on the road, with chief executive Sergio Marchionne and John Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli, behind the wheel. Elkann took the chairman's seat at Fiat in 2010 at the age of 34 (he has been on the board since he was 20), and backed Marchionne's takeover of Chrysler nearly three years ago.

In France, the Peugeot family from the Montbéliard region initially set up a specialist manufacturer of laminated steel and tools. Armand Peugeot then started making bicycles in 1886 before becoming passionate about automobiles. He created the first petrol-driven Peugeot in 1891, fitted with a Daimler engine. His cousin Eugène was hostile towards the motor car, however, and the two cousins soon went their separate ways. In 1896, Armand founded the Société des Automobiles Peugeot. Today the carmaker is part of PSA Peugeot Citroën, headed by fourth-generation chairman Thierry Peugeot and the family remains a major shareholder. This week Peugeot struck an alliance with General Motors under which the US carmaker will become the second-biggest shareholder in the French firm after the Peugeot family.

After the second world war, the Quandts owned a vast conglomerate including a large stake in BMW. Industrialist Herbert Werner Quandt is credited with saving BMW from bankruptcy in the late 50s and building it into a luxury car brand. He left his wealth and shareholdings to his children, who are among the country's rich and sit on the BMW board. A few years ago a German TV documentary forced the Quandts to face their unsavoury past: Nazi profiteering and the use of female slave labour in factories during World War II.

No list of family businesses would be complete without News Corporation, owned by the Murdoch family and run by family patriarch Rupert Murdoch since 1979. For a long time he seemed invincible, but last year's phone hacking scandal forced the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World and thwarted his planned full takeover of Sky. He flew over to London recently to stamp his authority on his UK newspapers, and launched the Sun on Sunday, which sold 3.26 million copies on its first day - the biggest sale of a UK newspaper for four years.

The future of his son and heir-apparent James is less clear since he became embroiled in the phone hacking scandal. He finally bowed to public pressure and resigned as News International chairman this week, but remains parent company News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer and keeps responsibility for BSkyB even though he is moving to New York.

Family feuds can destroy businesses - or sometimes make them thrive
One of the most famous family feuds that lasted for decades ended in 2009 with a football game and a handshake. Born into a family of cobblers, brothers Adi and Rudolf Dassler worked side by side at the Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory) in the 1920s. In the 1936 Olympics Jesse Owens ran in Dassler spikes. But they later fell out and became bitter rivals. This resulted in Adidas and Puma, two separate firms based in the same north Bavarian town which became two of the world's largest and most recognisable sportswear brands.

Apparently, the rift dated back to an incident in 1943 when during an Allied bomb attack on Herzogenaurach Adi and his wife climbed into a bomb shelter that Rudi and his family were already in. "The dirty bastards are back again," said Adi, apparently referring to the Allied warplanes - but Rudi thought he meant him and his family. The feud divided the town, where about half the population wore Adidas and the other half Puma. While the brands are no longer controlled by the founding families, Puma founder Rudolf's grandson Frank Dassler raised some eyebrows in the town by working for Adidas as a legal consultant in 2006. A few years earlier, though, that would have been unthinkable.