chapter
16 Pages

Family Capitalism

The articles in this collection are concerned with family-owned business enterprises and span three centuries and three continents. The reason for the interest of historians in family capitalism is obvious. Few would doubt that the rapid formation of new family firms contributed a vital dynamism during the early phases of modern industrialisation in many countries. However, family-owned business outlived both the Industrial Revolution and the Second Industrial Revolution to remain the predominant form of business organisation up to the present. Family firms account for between 75 per cent and 99 per cent of all companies in the EC, and 65 per cent of GDP and employment in Europe. While the huge majority of family businesses are very small-scale, many are not. In the United States one-third of Fortune 500 companies are currently family-controlled. 1 The list of leading US and European corporations which are family-owned in the 1990s include Michelin, the world's biggest tyre manufacturer, Mars, the confectionery manufacturer, and C & A, the department chain store. Half of the largest 20 Swedish multinational manufacturing firms belong to Sweden's biggest industrial group, which has been owned and managed by several generations of the Wallenberg family. Jardine Matheson, the diversified Far Eastern trading company and business conglomerate, has been controlled by the Keswick family since its foundation in the mid-nineteenth century. On a smaller scale, the international success achieved by northern Italian family firms, producing textiles and knitwear for fashion oriented markets, has become a symbol for the potential of small-scale manufacturing, supported by an international commercial network, in the late twentieth century.2