4 minute read 8 Jul 2021
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Seven success factors of the most inspiring family enterprises of 2020-21

By Helena Robertsson

EY Global Family Enterprise and Family Office Leader

Trusted advisor to entrepreneurial families, their family businesses and their family offices. Excited and proud to collaborate with EY professionals and other professionals around the globe.

4 minute read 8 Jul 2021

The winners of this year’s EY Family Business Award of Excellence demonstrate best practice in entrepreneurship.

In brief
  • The best family enterprises give back to society and do their best to protect the environment.
  • Innovation is an important driver of growth – so is drawing on the talents of the next generation and bringing in external expertise.
  • It is essential for family enterprises to live their purpose and have a passion for what they do.

As the world begins to recover from the shock of COVID-19, family enterprises will play a vital role in driving economic growth and technological innovation going forward. They will also help to reenergize our society by creating jobs and opportunities, and bringing hope to communities that have been badly affected by the pandemic.

If the pandemic has highlighted the resilience and long-term perspective of family businesses, then the recovery will shine a light on their other strengths. These include their strong sense of purpose, their willingness to reinvent themselves, and their determination to have a positive impact on both their communities and their environment.

The recipients of the 2020-21 EY Family Business Award of Excellence collectively embody the very best traits of family enterprises. While they operate in different countries, and in different sectors, they are all outstanding entrepreneurs who demonstrate best practice in many areas. So, what are this year’s award-winners’ success factors? They:

1. Give back to society

Family businesses know that their fortunes are closely intertwined with the communities they serve. Singapore-based conglomerate Hong Leong Group believes that what lies at the heart of its business success is the philosophy that corporations should “give back by paying it forward”. Hong Leong Group has four core businesses – property development, hotels, financial services, and trade and industry – and a foundation formed way back in 1980. The Hong Leong Foundation exists to help the group fulfil its philanthropic mission, which is to champion Singapore’s holistic development. It does this by fostering education, helping the elderly and needy to live fulfilling,  healthy and active lives, and supporting culture and the arts. While the foundation provides financial support, the group’s employees “pay it forward” in practice – for example, by visiting the elderly and participating in food distribution programs.

Denmark-based VKR Group is best known for the window brand VELUX. It is also recognized for its strong sense of responsibility towards all stakeholders. All companies within the group operate according to the Model Company Objective, which was set up in 1965: The VKR Group works with products that are useful to society and strives to treat its stakeholders better than most other companies. In 2016, the group’s holding company joined the United Nations Global Compact, which encourages businesses to adopt sustainable and socially responsible policies. In addition, the group funds a number of foundations that support a diverse range of charitable programs relating to science, the environment, society and culture.

Over the last 72 years, Nuevo Mundo has been leading the Peruvian textile sector with high levels of innovation, sustainability and service. But Nuevo Mundo not only excels in that vein. It is also part of the small 2% of Peruvian family businesses that transcend the third generation, despite the fact that 80% of businesses are family-owned in Peru. Nuevo Mundo continues under the leadership of Boris Schwartzman and his cousins, members of the third generation, who actively promote actions for the benefit of his company, his workers, and the country: leading different initiatives to foster education and training of the actors involved in the textile production chain and encouraging the purchase of Peruvian products in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boris Schwartzman is a clear example that the challenge of doing business as a family in Peru is possible, playing a fundamental role in the development of the country.

2. Invest in innovation and technology

The world’s most successful family businesses are often relentlessly committed to innovation. Slovenia-based Intra lighting produces light fixtures that illuminate business premises, hotels, public buildings, shopping centers and event venues all over the world. To bring its products to market as quickly as possible, it has state-of-the-art in-house laboratories, as well as its own research and development department that researches and tests materials and construction techniques. Thanks to its investment in innovation, and its firm focus on detail, Intra’s modern light fittings are some of the most technologically advanced on the market and achieve high levels of energy efficiency.

Another committed innovator is Austria-based Greiner AG, one of the world’s leading suppliers of plastics and foam solutions. Its products are used to address everyday problems and include shelf life-extending food packaging, safe blood collection tubes, intelligent mattresses, lightweight aircraft and car seating, and plants for the production of high-quality plastic window frames. Over the coming years, Greiner plans to develop entirely new business ventures through the launch of Greiner INNOVENTURES, a corporate incubator to support innovations that are not directly related to the operational business, but which can offer existing customers added value. 

3. Draw on the talents of the next generation

Annaleena Hakola is President and CEO of Hakola Furniture in Finland, which was founded by her grandfather in 1963. Together with her father, she has launched an online store to sell Hakola’s beautiful, but functional, products directly to customers. She is also able to draw on her design training by helping to develop Hakola’s collection, brand image and marketing. Annaleena, who has always had a passion for furniture, believes that her business can be a springboard for talented young designers to realize their dreams.

Agra is an innovative Norwegian brand group that has distinguished itself as a focused food and nutrition group with strong brand names in all the Scandinavian countries. Many of the products originate from local traditional family businesses and brand names, and through emphasis on innovation and customer focus in product development have been further developed in line with future requirements. The family exercises active ownership and in recent years has carried out a successful leadership change to the 5th generation, where the current CEO Knut K. Heje appears forward-thinking with a valuable external career and education in addition to valuable experience from the family business operational business. Outstanding is Agra’s commitment to corporate social responsibility and philanthropy, including the Group's emphasis on the UN Sustainable Development Goals in its strategic initiatives.

4. Protect the environment

Switzerland-based Firmenich is the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance and flavor company. It is also an environmental leader that has committed to being carbon neutral by 2025. In February 2020, it became the first company in its industry to power all of its global operations with 100% renewable electricity. Furthermore, it has embedded the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals throughout its business and is “committed to science-based targets and measurable, independently-verified action to achieve these ambitious goals”. Firmenich is developing sustainable fragrances and flavors by expanding its palette of biodegradable and renewable ingredients. It is also a founding member of the One Planet Business for Biodiversity Coalition, which aims to protect biodiversity and encourage regenerative agriculture. 

5. Bring in external expertise

To go from strength to strength, family businesses may need to bring in external expertise to complement the skills and experience of those family members who are involved in the enterprise. Belgium’s Cartamundi is the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor of board games and playing cards. While it has been lovingly built up by two separate families – with each owning 50% of the shares in the company – the families have consciously chosen for it to be run by professional chief executives and managers, who are not family members.

6. Have a passion for what they do. 

Décio Da Silva fell in love with Brazilian electronic equipment manufacturer WEG after getting to know the company’s technology and industrial process during his youth. During his 18-year-stint as president of WEG, he focused on ensuring that the business retained the spirit and culture of its three founders, Werner Ricardo Voight, Eggon João da Silva and Geraldo Werninghaus, including his father, and pursued internationalization. Such is his passion for the company that he still chairs its board today. 

7. Live their purpose

Romanian food company Șerban Holding Group has a clear mission. It wants “to offer partners quality products and services, to create an environment where employees can make the most of their potential, and to develop a reliable brand for Romania and beyond”. So, in its bakery, it produces cakes and pies for “unforgettable moments” and continuously invests in innovative technologies. It also owns a chain of grocery stores that aim to create a “warm and familiar” environment for customers. In its poultry farming operations, it pays special attention to environmental conservation, animal welfare, food safety and sustainable development.

South Korean-based conglomerate Hwaseung Group is another family enterprise with a big mission. In fact, its mission is so big there are four parts to it. It wants to keep innovating in ways that deliver value to its customers, it wants all its customers to become repeat customers, it wants to provide top-quality products and services that exceed its customers’ expectations, and it wants to help create a better future by satisfying all its stakeholders.

Humans at the center

Family enterprises acknowledge that their people are critical to their success. Without the skills, talent and commitment of their people, they would be unable to grow, innovate, connect with their customers, or live their purpose. For that reason, many family enterprises pride themselves on looking after their people. Hwaseung Group, for example, describes itself as “the very company that makes dreams come true and has people and ability as its center”.

The entrepreneurs who lead family enterprises also deeply appreciate the importance of trust. They know that for their enterprises to continue to flourish from generation to generation, they need to earn and retain the trust of all their stakeholders, including their customers, employees and local communities. The corporate culture of Greiner AG is based on “trust, responsibility and mutual respect.” 

This keen focus on the human element of business is often what sets family enterprises apart from other kinds of organizations. It has underpinned their success in the past and will do so again in the future. As we begin to move beyond COVID-19, into a world that has new priorities but which continues to prioritize human wellbeing, family enterprises will naturally evolve in response. Family enterprises will be needed in the post-COVID environment – and they will be needed more than ever. 

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The winners of this year’s EY Family Business Award of Excellence collectively embody all that is best about family enterprises. They give back to society, invest in innovation, draw on the next generation, protect the environment, bring in external expertise, have a passion for what they do and live their purpose. 

About this article

By Helena Robertsson

EY Global Family Enterprise and Family Office Leader

Trusted advisor to entrepreneurial families, their family businesses and their family offices. Excited and proud to collaborate with EY professionals and other professionals around the globe.