Press release

18 Oct 2021 Singapore, SG

Largest 500 family businesses prove economic resilience despite pandemic

Despite the turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, family-owned enterprises have managed to stay resilient.

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Media Relations Lead (Assurance, Tax, Strategy and Transactions, Growth Markets), Ernst & Young Solutions LLP

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Related topics Growth Family enterprise
  • 16 Southeast Asia’s largest family-owned businesses make the list, contributing US$106.6b to the region and hiring about 900,000 people
  • Family-owned enterprises have opportunity to diversify boards and build legacies
  • Family businesses look to achieve new ESG goals
Despite the turmoil brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, family-owned enterprises have managed to stay resilient. The world’s largest 500 family businesses generated US$7.28t in revenues, employing 24.1 million people across 45 jurisdictions.

Fifty-five of them hailed from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, contributing 87% (US$835b) of the combined revenue in Asia-Pacific. Asia is home to three of the top 20 businesses, as well as the oldest family business in the Index – Japan’s 400+ year-old Takenaka Corporation. In Southeast Asia, 16 family-owned enterprises from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand were among the list, and they contribute some US$106.6b in revenue to the region and employ about 900,000 employees.

Europe continues to be a nurturing geographic environment for family enterprises. Germany is home to 16% of the companies on the Index, reflecting the strength of the German economy and the historic nature in which family businesses tend to settle in the country – 90% of all businesses in Germany are family-run. One third of featured family businesses are based in the Americas, with the US boasting the highest number of family businesses (119 or 24%). These organizations contribute US$2.48t in revenue in the Americas, employing 6.4 million people. Several of the biggest private family-owned enterprises by revenue globally are located in the US.

These and other findings were published in the 2021 EY and University of St. Gallen Family Business Index, which reveals how the largest family-owned businesses have responded to the recent turbulence in the global economy.

Desmond Teo, EY Asia-Pacific Family Enterprise Leader says:

“Of the top 500 family enterprises, Asia-Pacific is home to 15% of them. During challenging times such as the current pandemic, family enterprises are beacons of resilience, and their contributions extend beyond the economy but to the workforce and the community as well.”

While family businesses, especially those in the hospitality and tourism industries, have felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, many took the opportunity to pivot. A number of organizations shifted their manufacturing capabilities to create essential items like face shields and ventilators, while others provided financial support to other businesses, displaying their commitment to innovation and an enduring sense of social responsibility. Consumer family businesses in particular endured, achieving on average US$15.39b in revenue. Overall, family-owned enterprises in the consumer sector remained a significant employer, employing more than 10 million people in total.

Low Bek Teng, EY Asean Family Enterprise Leader, observes that many family enterprises in Southeast Asia are showing resilience despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He says: “Family enterprises are a key component of the Southeast Asian economy, and many have grown significantly over the past decades. They have strong balance sheets and are not only able to sustain the current challenges but also in a good position to grow. Many continue to look at acquisitions or seek IPOs to become public companies. There are various reasons for an IPO, such as tapping the capital market for funds or building brand prestige as a listed company, as well as the ability to use share award to compensate employees. However, in many cases, the founder or family continues to hold a significant or controlling stake in the public company.”

As a growing number of organizations make commitments to diversity and inclusion, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, family businesses continue to increasingly focus on these areas. The average family business board member is 61 years-old, and 80% of businesses on the Index do not have family board members under the age of 40. Bringing in the next generation’s expertise, insights, technology and digital capabilities into the evolving customer landscape can help to sustain growth. And as boards continue to seek to diversify, the share of companies with female family members on boards has improved, reaching 31% in 2021. At the same time, only 5% (27) of the family businesses on the Index have female CEOs, similar to the 8% (41) of Fortune Global 500 companies.

Teo says: “A strong focus on talent, particularly in age and gender diversity, can help to sharpen the competitiveness of family enterprises, as they will be able to better address the increasing demands for ESG, innovation and agility in addressing future consumer needs.”

Looking more closely at ESG commitments, family-owned enterprises are working to achieve new goals. At least 53% of family businesses on the Index are reporting against formal ESG metrics. Half of those (51%) are from EMEIA, followed by companies in the Americas (30%) and Asia-Pacific (19%).

Low adds: “ESG reporting represents an opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact companies are already making, and potentially helps to attract new talent, win customers and grow revenues. We see more Southeast Asian family enterprises have expressing interest in sustainability issues and looking for ways to transform their businesses to be more environmentally friendly.”

Josh Wei-Jun Hsueh, Assistant Professor from the Center for Family Business at the University of St. Gallen, says:
“As wealth grows over generations, the challenges business families face become more complicated. This increasingly requires a professionalized approach to portfolio and asset management. Families are also engaging more non-family directors on boards and top management roles.”


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