100 Families Who Changed the World

New book by IESE Professor Josep Tàpies


Josep Tàpies

Josep Tàpies, IESE Professor of Strategic Management and Chair of Family-Owned Business / Photo: Jordi Estruch

What do successful family businesses have in common? According to a new book by Josep Tàpies, IESE Professor and Chair of Family-Owned Business, it’s all down to dynamism and innovation.

Together with co-authors, Águeda Gil and Elena San Román, Prof. Tàpies analyzes cases spanning three centuries of family busineses in 100 Family Enterprises that Changed the World.

From the 18th century Nuremberg cabinetmaker who founded world-leading pencil manufactures, Faber-Castell, to Italian renewable energy giant Falck, which began smelting steel in the early 20th century, the book explores the key ingredients to sustained success and longevity in family businesses from all over Europe.

Along the way, it looks at why the industrial revolution did not begin in Asia, then seat of international economic power; but in Europe, radically transforming the continent beyond recognition.

Innovation – Part of the Family Business DNA

Giving lie to the stereotype of family businesses as risk-averse, overly conservative or even a thing of the past, the book asserts that innovation is part of the DNA of the family business. The longevity of these businesses, passing from generation to generation, makes them more prone to develop a long-term vision. Which in turn paves the way for innovation, says Prof. Tàpies. "Wealth creation within a family business is understood as a legacy that allows them to transform society from one generation to the next."

Innovation is the key to survival, the book argues. By innovating in products, manufacturing, marketing and organizational structure, the businesses profiled not only rose to the challenges of industrialization but carved out new growth strategies to adapt to their times, and drive change. The authors cite food and beverage giant, Cargill, which started out as a wheat producer in the mid-19th century. Today the company spans 65 countries and four sectors, including agriculture, financial services and industry.

Professionalization is also cited as key to sustainable prosperity, though the authors note that successful 21st century businesses are able to professionalize without compromising the family control or core values that underpin the company’s roots, growth and longevity.

100 Family Enterprises that Changed the World combines tips for the future with a historical overview that paints a vivid account of the emergence of industrialization. As Professor Tàpies says: "an in-depth knowledge of the past is one of the most powerful tools to shape the future of business.”

More information in IESE Insight