The Most Powerful Business Dynasties: Leading Family Owned Businesses
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Wal-Mart Shareholders Meeting 2011

Walmart associates from around globe gather during the 2011 Walmart Shareholders' Meeting. (photo by Wesley Hitt, Hitt Photography)

Before the conglomerates, there was family business. Before the Industrial Revolution in the early 18th century, there was family business. Before the erudition of the Chinese, Greece and the Roman Empire, there was family business. In the post-war era, management experts expected family firms to wane fast, due to the greater ability of professionally-run companies to raise funds and attract top talent. Founding dynasties have held their ground, defying expectations of their demise, and in the recent years, increased their global presence.

In a study by Center for Family Business, the 500 largest family-owned businesses make up 80-90% of firms worldwide and 19% of the companies in Fortune Global 500, and are salient drivers of GDP and job growth. In the Global Family Business Index, the list of who’s who of brands worldwide: Wal-Mart, Ford and Tyson are all present, as are lesser-known companies like Diersch&Schröder,a German mineral oil company that employs only 350 people and yet pulls in $2.5 billion in incomes. With hard work and sacrifice, they have set the foundations of deep-rooted family culture and entrepreneurial spirit that are pinned to a multigenerational family business.

Here are five founding dynasties spanning over a hundred years, across more than three generations that we find incredibly noteworthy.

#1: Wal-Mart
Where: United States
Owned By: Walton Family
Revenue: $485.651 billion
Employees: 2,200,000

In addition to being the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart is also the world’s biggest family-owned business. Wal-Mart’s revenue surpassed $485.651 billion in 2015, and it’s much ahead of the competition in the family business list. It employs more than 2.2 million people, and is one of the most valuable companies across the globe.

In 1962, Sam Walton opened the first Walmart Discount Store in Rogers, Arkansas., a small city in the Ozarks. His momentous idea was well received, and in the following five years the number of outlets expanded to 24 in Arkansas. By 1968, it had stores operating in Missouri, Oklahoma, Clare more and Sikeston, and generated $12.6 million in sales. By 1991 the chain passed Sears, Roebuck & Company to become the nation’s largest retailer.

Today, the Waltons are the wealthiest family on the planet. The Walton family controls more than 50% of the Wal-Mart Corporation, with a combined net worth of at least $160 billion. It can be said that they’re the new Rockefellers, the present say synonym for “vast wealth”.

Of the Walton family decedents, Robson Walton, the legendary superstore founder’s eldest son is the executive of Wal-Mart empire, Jim Walton, his youngest son is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Arvest Bank Group, Inc., and Alice Walton his only daughter, a ranch girl who is named one of the world’s top ten art collectors.

#2: Volkswagen
Where: Germany
Owned By: Porsche Family
Revenue: $261.6 billion
Employees: 572,800

When Ferdinand Piëch, a Porsche family scion arrived as Volkswagen's CEO in 1993, things looked doom and gloom. The carmaker was overspending, overmanned and uneconomical, and had lost its notoriety for quality. How things have changed in two decades: Today, the Volkswagen group's profits dramatically doubled, to a record €202.5 billion ($23.8 billion).

The Porsche and the Piëch clan own a 50.7percent stake in the Volkswagen Group. Ferdinand Piëchsthe grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche, was the chairman of the supervisory board of Volkswagen Group ( parent of Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, SEAT, Škoda, Volkswagen, Ducati, MAN, Scania, Neoplan), until 2008.

The Porsche and Piëch families are the richest and most prominent Austrian family clan of industrialist descending from automotive pioneer Ferdinand Porsche, the creator of the first registered vehicles in Austria and founder of founding member of the 84-year-old Porsche Company. The Porsche-Piëch family lives in castles and villas spread across the resort of Zell am See.

#3: Berkshire Hathaway
Where: 
United States
Owned By: Buffett Family
Revenue: $182.2 billion
Employees: 330,745

The Hathaway Manufacturing Company, a cotton plant started in 1888 by Horatio Hathaway, a Chinese merchant. In the 1950s, the cotton mill merged with Berkshire Fine Spinning Associates Inc., a milling company that had operated since the early 19th century. In 1960, Warren Buffett began acquiring shares of the company, believing then that its price was substantially below its true value. Buffett gradually increased his shareholding to 49 percent and used his votes to change the management of the company.

Today, Berkshire Hathaway owns 9 and a half companies (Heinz is the ½) that are listed on the Fortune 500. Buffet, no fan of inherited wealth, would dole out 85 percent of fortune – about $37.4 billion worth of stock in Berkshire Hathaway, the company he runs — to five charitable trusts, about $31 billion, heading off to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is devoted to improving health and education in poor, developing nations. Charities run by Buffett’s three children Howard Buffet, Susan Alice Buffett and Peter Buffett, and one named for his deceased wife – Susan Buffett - will receive Berkshire stock – a total of $6.4 billion. The grounded billionaire, worth more than $72 billion, still lives in a modest Omaha home that he brought in 1958 for $31,500.

#4: EXOR
Where: Italy
Owned By: Agnelli Family
Revenue: $151.1 billion
Employees: 301,441

EXOR goes back to 1927 when Giovanni Agnelli founded IstitutoFinanziarioItaliano (IFI) to deal with his investment in Fiat, Cinzano and other organizations, in addition to his interests in the town of Sestriere. EXOR is the controlling shareholder of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, CNH Industrial (shaped by the merger of Fiat Industrial and CNH) and of Cushman & Wakefield (the world's privately held Real Estate Services Company). EXOR is positioned 24th richest company in the world according to a Fortune Global 500 list.

The family firm Giovanni Agnelli& C. possesses 51.39% of the share capital. John Philip Jacob Elkann, grandson of Gianni Agnelli, controls the automaker Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (which owns the Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Ferrari, Fiat, Fiat Professional, Lancia, Maserati, Mopar and Ram brands). In addition, he is the Chairman of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the Chairman and CEO of EXOR, an investment company owned by the Agnelli family, which controls CNH Industrial, Juventus F.C., Cushman& Wakefield. According to Fortune, he is the world's fourth most influential manager under 40. The Agnelli family is 3rd on the list of Italy’s billionaires with net worth $13.5 billion.

#5: Ford
Where: 
United States
Owned By: Ford Family
Revenue: $146.9 billion
Employees: 181,000

Henry Ford, an American industrialist and the genius behind the affordable car, was the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and backer of the development of the assembly line technique of mass production. Ford, considered as one of America's leading businessmen, and is credited today for helping build America's economy amid the country's powerless early years. His legacy continues to live on even today.

In 2013, William C. Ford Jr., great-grandson of industrial genius Henry Ford, joined the family business, as the executive chairman of Ford Motor Company. Several more young Fords could join the ranks in the coming years to honor the family’s entrepreneurial spirit and legacy. The Ford family owns less than 2% of the company’s shares, valued at $2 billion, but controls 40% of the voting power through a special class of stock, 71 million Class B shares.

Author
Carrie Ann is Editor-in-Chief at Industry Leaders Magazine, based in Las Vegas. Carrie covers technology, trends, marketing, brands, productivity, and leadership. When she isn’t writing she prefers reading. She loves reading books and articles on business, economics, corporate law, luxury products, artificial intelligence, and latest technology. She’s keen on political discussions and shares an undying passion for gadgets. Follow Carrie Ann on Twitter, Facebook & Google.

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