Business

Last updated: 19 october, 2009 - 14:07 GMT

The success of the family firm

Calculator and newspaper

How do the cultures of family firms differ across the world?

They may survive ten generations - but they can be destroyed by infighting.

If your family business survived the French Revolution, a common or garden recession ought to be a breeze. Or so you'd think.

The French group Wendel has been around for more than 300 years; it used to make steel, nowadays it invests in various businesses, including the construction group St Gobain.

It's probably one of the longest-lived companies in the world - maybe because, generation after generation, it's had the stability of the family behind it.

Infighting

However, family businesses have a drawback - relatives squabble.

And Wendel has had a turbulent time recently, with a family feud over the direction of the business, concerns about levels of debt, and a loss of fourteen hundred million dollars this year.

The most prominent member of the family is the French business leader and baron, Ernest Antoine Seilliere.

Lesley Curwen asked him, what sort of benefit family ownership can bring?

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So do family businesses across the world look the same?

Do they suffer the same problems - of in-fighting, spats over strategy and succession - and do they enjoy the same longevity?

The Wendel family gave money to the INSEAD business school, to start an International Centre for Family Enterprise, founded by Professor Randel Carlock, to research some of these issues, and to help individual businesses in different regions.

Lesley Curwen asked Professor Carlock why this particular sort of business model is worth studying.

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