MLR

World’s largest family businesses have staying power

It might not surprise you to learn that some of the world’s largest companies are family-owned businesses.

business meeting

But did you know that half of the world’s 500 largest family-owned businesses are European, with only 24 percent being North American? And even fewer are from the more family-oriented countries of Asia?

The Family 500 Index, created by the Center for Family Business at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, ranks the largest 500 family firms around the world.

The 2015 study found that 52 percent of the companies are public and 48 percent private. To be considered a family business in the study, the family had to control 50 percent of stock in private companies and 32 percent of the voting rights in public companies.

Retail and wholesale made up the largest portion of companies on the list – 18 percent – followed by diversified industrial products (17 percent) and consumer products (15 percent).

Together, the 500 family companies generate $6.5 trillion in sales and employ 21 million people. Interestingly, nearly half of the firms are fourth generation or older and the average firm age is 88 years (though that number is somewhat skewed by the Takenaka Corp. that was founded in 1610).

The largest family businesses on the Family 500 Index are:

Family Business Country Emp. Estab. Revenue
1.Wal-Mart Stores USA 2.2 M 1962 $476.3 B
2. Volkswagen AG Germany 572,800 1937 $261.6 B
3. Berkshire Hathaway USA 330,745 1955 $182.2 B
4. EXOR SpA Italy 301,441 1927 $151.1 B
5. Ford Motor Co. USA 181,000 1903 $146.9 B
6. Cargill, Inc. USA 143,000 1865 $136.7 B
7. Koch Industries USA 100,000 1940 $115 B
8. BMW AG Germany 110,351 1916 $101 B
9. Schwartz Group Germany 335,000 1930 $89.4 B
10. Group Auchan France 302,500 1961 $85.5 B

Most of the top ten family businesses are conglomerates of many different businesses. Three of the top 10 are automobile companies (Volkswagen, Ford and BMW), three are retail sales (Wal-Mart, Schwartz Group and Group Auchan), two are investment-based (Berkshire Hathaway and EXOR SpA), one is food and agriculture (Cargill) and one is oil and manufacturing (Koch).