The Family Business Office (FBO) Regulator has recently returned from attending the successful European Family Businesses (EFB) Summit in Spain, a meeting of the EU federation of national associations which represent long-term family-owned enterprises, including small, medium-sized and larger companies.
“The EFB is the main organisation in Europe established with the aim to promote the growth and continuity of family businesses in Europe, through a European project based on freedom, shared values, the rule of law, prosperity and social justice,” explained Malta’s FBO regulator, Dr Joseph Gerada, adding that the EFB was founded in 1997.
“Its summit is organised once a year and it brings together family business offices like ours, as well as key stakeholders and main players established as family businesses.” Throughout the summit, discussions and presentations were held on the main hurdles and obstacles faced by family businesses in Europe today, as well as other mainstream issues that may affect business in general.
This year, it was organised in Madrid, and featured renowned speakers including the President of Spain, Pedro Sanchez; the former Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls; the Lord Mayor of Madrid Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida; and Mariano Puig, the former President of Puig, the $2 billion revenue multinational fashion, perfumery and cosmetics company behind world-renowned brands such as Puig, Paco Rabanne, Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera and Jean Paul Gaultier.
“Being part of the forum of discussion was crucial for Malta, as it’s vital for us to participate in decision-making processes which may ultimately lead to policy changes affecting Europe and its member states,” Dr Gerada continued.
This is especially true, he said, since family businesses make up between 65 to 80 per cent of all European companies, accounting for – on average – more than 40 to 50 per cent of all jobs in Europe. Family businesses also constitute a substantial part of existing European companies and have a significant role to play in the strength and dynamism of the real economy.
Considering the key takeaways from this year’s event, Dr Gerada highlighted the presentation of the eighth European Family Business Barometer, which was prepared in collaboration with KPMG Enterprise. The survey received more than 1,600 responses from family business executives in 27 countries across Europe and highlighted family businesses getting ready to hand control over to the next generation.
During the presentation, facts and figures on family businesses in Europe, including their performance, were presented and discussed. “The information collected showed that Europe’s family businesses remain positive about the future, even in a time of rising economic and geopolitical uncertainties,” Dr Gerada said.
“Innovation, training and education, and diversification are key priorities as they adapt to a fast-changing world – while planning for succession is increasingly on families’ minds. Beyond that, this year, the family business community also sent out a clear message to decision-makers: improve the Single Market, and focus on fostering global trade.”
Dr Gerada explained that one of the topics that attracted most comments and interaction was sustainability, with two items on the agenda dedicated to it. “The topic of sustainability in its various facets has become of utmost importance over the years, including locally. During the event there were presentations from companies that have been developing entrepreneurial ideas that are both profitable, and respectful or beneficial to the environment.”
Two of these presentations were by Jean-Nicholas D’Hondt, CEO of Pollet, and Javier Goyeneche, Founder and President of Ecoalf. “Mr Goyenche explained how he gradually grew frustrated with the amount of waste he saw being produced by the fashion industry.
He embarked on a mission to create an entirely new concept that would combine his design sensibility and understanding of the fashion consumer with the latest in recycled materials. In 2012, he launched Ecoalf, named after his son Alfredo. The idea was to create a fashion brand that is truly sustainable, with the goal to create the first generation of recycled products with the same quality, design and technical properties as the best non-recycled products. That way he could demonstrate that there is no need to use our natural resources in a careless way.”
The Regulator said he was inspired by Ecoalf’s ambitious 2015 project, Upcycling the Oceans – an unprecedented effort to help to remove waste from the bottom of the oceans thanks to the support of the fishermen off the East Coast of Spain. “Watching Javier’s presentation helped me understand the extent to which Maltese family businesses can contribute to the preservation of the environment,” he continued.
“Unfortunately, many companies feel that initiatives of this sort are not profitable. But, from the experience of companies such as Ecoalf, it is clear that, with the right attitude, dedication and development of profitable concepts, even activities that ultimately lead to the benefit of our environment can be lucrative.”
Reflecting on the summit, Dr Gerada said that it did not change his agenda for the year to come as such, but listening to the discussions definitely helped him to develop ideas that he will be able to share with local family businesses. “It also helped me realise how important it is to build a strong network with other family offices and organisations, as well as family businesses around Europe,” he said.
“Shared experience may lead to the creation of synergies within our own ecosystem. We often complain that businesses in Malta have an additional obstacle than those located in mainland Europe – insularity. However, with the internet and easier communication, barriers are starting to come down.
“I believe that there is great potential for creating a platform for family businesses in Europe where networks can be created and pursued. This could lead to further cooperation, the sharing of experience, expertise and knowledge, and the development of sustainable concepts in collaboration between European family businesses,” he asserted.
As the year draws to a close, Dr Gerada is now taking stock of the work completed in 2019 and preparing the annual report for the year. Having only taken over in September, he is now considering what has been achieved and what still needs to be done.
“Our workload is increasing and the Family Business Office has an important role to play in the years to come. Over the past two months, I have had some meetings with the Family Business Committee of the Chamber of Commerce and there is clearly a lot of enthusiasm by its members to continue developing the reach of the Family Business Office, both with its members as well as with other family businesses in general,” he noted.
Moreover, education and training will take priority. “We shall definitely be focusing more on the educational aspect, so that we can reach out to those generations that require guidance and help to ensure their business’ continuity. Plus, in January, we will be holding an event with the Gozo Business Chamber and launching the Family Business Office in Gozo to provide our services there too, supported by and situated at the Ministry for Gozo,” Dr Gerada concluded.